One of the most in depth, difficult and time-consuming video game series returns for the Nintendo 3DS, and despite its awkwardness, moments of extreme frustration, and general lack of accessibility, the latest installment looks likely to hook in yet another group of video gamers this year.
The “Monster Hunter” series is perhaps the biggest video game series many American gamers have never heard of. This is mainly because of the series’ focus on multiplayer, that normally requires four friends all with the same system and copy of the game. Unlike in the gamer-heavy land of Japan, most American and European gamers don’t usually have access to that many gaming friends.
However, “Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate” (Capcom) has implemented online multiplayer for the first time on handheld, finally making one of the key features accessible to a wider number of Western gamers.
It helps, too, as these monsters are no tiny Pokemon. They are huge gargantuan beasts that require planning and strategy to bring down, and it helps to have buddies along for the ride. A fight with one of the behemoths can easily take 30 minutes, and requires you to be stocked with traps, potions, antidotes, energy drinks, and even hot drinks to keep you warm in icy climes.
The enemies have a range of different attacks that can quickly overwhelm you if you don’t have your wits about you, from poisons, to fire, to claws that can tear you to shreds. Consequently, “Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate” rewards careful planning, research and preparation, and harshly punishes gung-ho adventuring.
The gameplay is split into the aforementioned hunting and also crafting, where you collect herbs, insects, berries, minerals, and other useful items that can be used to make potions and ammo, or forged to make better armor or weapons needed to fight the various mega-beasts.
It forms an addictive feedback loop whereby you kill the beasts to get access to new areas and get more money, so you can get more materials, so you can upgrade equipment, so you can kill more beasts.
The graphics leave a little to be desired, although this can be forgiven for the huge worlds the game throws you into -- enormous and impressive considering that it is a game for a handheld console.
The creators have made a significant effort to make the game more accessible to newer players, and it does come some way in doing this. The introduction is gentler than in previous installments, and there are plenty of missions to help you get your footing. Controls are also fairly intuitive. If you have the new Nintendo 3DS, the extra thumbstick will help you navigate the camera, but playing with the older models is still a comfortable experience -- helped greatly by shortcuts like the ability to track the camera onto a big monster with the push of a button.
Concessions to newcomers aside, gamers looking for a pick-up-and-play experience should look elsewhere, for even as its most welcoming, MH4U is still a tough cookie, that requires a lot of time, effort and patience.The game has so much depth and requires so much from the player that it will be overwhelming for many.
One of “Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate"'s understated qualities is its charm. Although a hardcore game with a fairly minimal story, it is still packed with its share of characters and loveable moments that will draw you back into the world. My personal favorite was the cat who dances to a little jingle as he whips you up a batch of food before each quest.
However, “Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate” is a flawed title. It is unwieldy at times, still very unwelcoming to new players, and boss battles can sometimes be much more of a slog than need be. It isn’t welcoming for kids or those looking for a quick pick-up-and-play title. However, its charm, enormous depth, and the intense satisfaction that comes from toppling a gigantic monster with three other people is one of the best on any console right now, and those looking for a challenge need look no further.
"Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate" is available now for Nintendo 3DS.
RRP -- $39.99