Over a year since the original game’s launch in Japan, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is finally set to release on these shores next month, alongside Nintendo’s snappily named ‘New 3DS’. Whilst the new hardware and it’s second analog nub will certainly help you get the most out of the title, owners of the ‘old’ 3DS and 2DS haven’t been left out in the cold and will be able to embark on hunts alongside their freshly unwrapped console brethren on February 13th.
Monster Hunter is amongst Capcom’s most iconic series, though it’s never entirely found a home in the West. In Japan the franchise’s popularity is immense, and since its first appearance on the Playstation 2 in 2004 it has firmly embedded itself in Japanese culture. Its subsequent move to handheld and Sony’s PSP gave the console a killer-app, and helped ensure its popularity, particularly amongst gamers in its home nation. Such is the series success that Monster Hunter Portable 3rd’ remains the all-time highest selling game for Sony’s handheld system, despite never being released outside Japan.
In 2009 though, Capcom shifted the main focus of the franchise to Nintendo’s platforms, with titles appearing for the Wii, Wii U and 3DS. The 3DS iteration of Monster Hunter Ultimate 3 picked up as the spiritual successor to the PSP entries, and that included its rigid adherence to local ad-hoc multiplayer rather than offering an online option. Monster Hunter Ultimate 4 however finally looks to remove that barrier, by providing four-player online hunting on the go, bringing it further in line with modern gaming tastes, and potentially setting the series up for the global domination it’s always looked capable of.
With this early hands-on the first and most immediate difference when starting Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is the new setting. It wasn’t something I’d spent much time thinking about but in the last ten years there have only really been three distinct versions of Monster Hunter in the West, with the rest of the series’ entries being made up of expansions or remasters.
Personally speaking that means I’ve spent the last five years playing Monster Hunter Tri, as well as its expansions, across three platforms, with much of the same content being shared between them. It’s indescribably refreshing the moment you arrive in the first new locale of Val Habar, despite the availability of much of the series’ home-base staples of merchant, blacksmith and guild representative.
Even more refreshing though is that as you progress you unlock further home locations across the map, bringing variety and further characters to the game. A personal highlight so far was discovering The Assembly in Dundorma, where you can simply sit and listen to haunting musical performances, a world away from the often intense action.
The online multiplayer is perhaps going to be the defining new feature for players, though sadly at the moment the Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate gathering halls are somewhat quiet. That said I managed to play through a few quests with a writer from an Austrian games site and it went very well, the whole experience working smoothly and seamlessly. Even the ability to send friend requests was exceedingly straightforward, adding the player to your 3DS friends with a couple of button presses, which is surprisingly better than the console’s own system, and very unlike Nintendo’s normally restrictive nature.
The newly released demo that Nintendo sent out can give you a taste of what we can expect from the full release, providing relatively fuss-free four player multiplayer, though meeting up with friends is a lot easier in the full release. The demo served up a few connection issues, booting myself and our Features Editor Jim Hargreaves out at various points, though hopefully these are problems that won’t affect the main title.
Beyond the much sought after online multiplayer, the other headline features for returning players is the new emphasis on increased mobility and two new weapons, the Insect Glaive and the Charge Blade, as well as new areas to explore and of course new monsters to hunt.
The Insect Glaive is, on early impressions at least, a blast to use, providing you with an insect sidekick that harvests monster extracts which you can then use to power your character up. Different coloured extracts provide buffs for attack, defense and mobility depending on which part of a monster you’ve targeted, providing a serious boost, particularly if you can gain all three at once.
The key though is the enhanced mobility the weapon also provides, allowing players to vault into the air to attack from above, or seamlessly move to different levels. You can also use it to perform the newest move in Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate’s arsenal; mounting a monster. Players can also jump from ledges and cliffs onto a monster, hammering away at them while trying not to get shaken off. It’s fun stuff, and a welcome addition to the gameplay.
The Charge Blade isn’t quite as radical a departure as the Insect Glaive as it bears a lot of similarities with the Switch Axe, allowing you to transform between a sword and shield setup and an axe. There’s a good amount of versatility available between the two modes, which allow players to get in with a few swift attacks with the sword before letting rip with the slower but more destructive axe.
Alongside its transformations you also fill phials with each attack which, when full, allow you to unleash a powerful charge attack. There’s certainly plenty for hunters to consider when using it, and it’s a cool looking weapon as well. Since a good portion of Monster Hunter is outfitting your character in the coolest manner possible it’s fair to say that it’ll find plenty of fans.
At this early stage in our playthrough, and given the immense number of hours a Monster Hunter game is capable of digesting, it’s a little early for hyperbole, but impressions so far are positive, with Capcom refining the strengths of the series whilst retaining its quirky character. Either way, hunters old and new don’t have too much longer to wait, and it’s possible that Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate could be the ideal companion to that New 3DS you’ve been eyeing up.