This review was originally written for 3DS Blessed, found here.
Videogame sequels walk a tightrope – especially ones in popular series. Developers have to decide if they want to build upon the past experience or forge a new one, and both choices have drawbacks.
A game too rigidly modelled after its predecessor risks stagnation. A game breaking new ground risks alienating an existing fandom.
With over a decade’s worth of games behind it, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate walks this same tightrope. There’s no doubt that it’s a bigger, better version of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate (like, duh), but does it stand out against the increasing numbers of rival Hunting Action titles out there?
The answer is yes – barely.
So, what is Monster Hunter? It’s a multiplayer action RPG where you play a warrior with an oversized-but-ineffective weapon. You use it to crush the skulls of small monsters, carve them for resources, craft better (and sillier) weapons and armour and repeat the process against larger monsters.
Essentially it’s like the water cycle in that it’s never-ending and I need it to live.
Monster Hunter’s gameplay loop is compelling – it’s the same game design psychology that has you endlessly run dungeons in World of Warcraft or Diablo III, but unlike those games, it does a better job of hiding the slot machine element of proceedings by making pulling the slot’s arm bloody difficult.
I’m being flippant, but Monster Hunter is hard. It’s the OG of contemporary games that improve player skill through repeated thrashings (sorry, Dark Souls), but the finer mechanics of what you need to do to survive are relatively laid out on the table for you.
The end result is a game that, I think, is good at encouraging you to be good at it. Losing a hunting quest wastes relatively little time – and there’s tangible progress made, even if your play session consists of a single quest.
But again, these are all things most games in this genre do. So what’s MH4U adding to the table?
Jumping! One of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate‘s flaws among fans was its added dimension of underwater combat. It was a freedom of movement not seen before in Monster Hunter, but it was also slow and disorienting.
MH4U won’t let you get any more than ankle deep in water, and instead lets you take to the air… kinda. The game landscape is now littered with ridges and cliffs, which you can throw your hunter off for a dramatic jumping attack. Landing on a monster can trigger a mounting attack minigame with the potential to disable them for precious seconds.
Nearly all weapons in the game have a jumping attack and a new weapon, the Insect Glaive (because Bug Staff didn’t sound exotic enough, I guess), has an elaborate pole vault as a central mechanic.
It’s a good addition – the hunting locations (which have always felt well-realised and believable) gain a metaphorical and literal depth as you plunge over waterfalls and scale up steppes.
This, along with the game taking place across several base camps and the narrative following a travelling caravan of Hunters gives the game world an ecology and sense of place that the series has longed to achieve.
All this scale and detail can actually be a little overwhelming – there are over 90 monsters to fight with additional, more difficult variants. For every core mechanic offered to you, there are 4 or 5 smaller mechanics that affect it.
Those who can keep all those gameplay plates spinning and love doing it will go far into the game’s increasingly demanding (read: ‘bullshit’) quests for literally hundreds of hours.
For those who want to dip a toe in, MH4U can cater, but not as much as you’d think. There’s hand-holding available in the opening hour if you need it, but the primary way the game adapts you to the experience is the availability of other players.
By being on the 3DS, MH4U is almost guaranteed the kind of wide, always-on playerbase that the series never properly got on Sony’s hardware. So despite not being the easiest Hunting Action game to play, new players stand a better chance of finding a mentor to show them the ropes, rather than having to refer to long-abandoned wikis and FAQs.
In almost every other respect, MH4U is only really just catching up to its peers – the multiplayer is fully online and not just local-only, but that’s been true of other games for years.
There’s an amusingly written story that’s more involved than what Capcom’s previously tried, but “Has a plot!” isn’t a great selling point for the back of the box. Well-crafted DLC packs with cross-over content releases on a monthly basis, like literally any game with a high enough production budget these days has this feature.
Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is an excellent sequel, bigger, smoother and more approachable than any of its predecessors. For those who were left cold (or who had their fill) from 3 Ultimate, I couldn’t say that 4 Ultimate will win you back, but it’s also the only Hunting Action game you’ll ever need.
- Combat is always demanding, always rewarding.
- Incredible detail paid to game world and ecology.
- I can make a suit and top hat from butterfly wings.
- By far the best Monster Hunter game ever made.
- Does little to stand out from its peers.
- Later content relies on tolerance for obviously unfair fights/requirements.
Final rating: Want a well made game? 9/10. Want an experience? 7/10.