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If you’re new to the Monster Hunter franchise (like I am), jumping into a game as dense and time-consuming as Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is quite an investment. For once, the game demands a fair amount of graft for rather feeble initial rewards, but there’s one thing I should definitely mention from the offset: it’s difficult to put down.
Taking off from where the Monster Hunter series ended back in 2013, the Ultimate version adds a dense layer of 3D to the running, slaying, returning, running, slaying, returning methodology. That might sound a bit boring, but it genuinely isn’t.
You play as a hapless, burgeoning hunter who hasn’t quite got his sword dirty as yet. The opening sequence is rather majestic, and really lets the New 3DS’s 3D system sparkle. Nevertheless, you land up on the Caravaneer’s ship — the chap you’ll end up engaging with more often than not in the game — sailing to the town of Val Habar on a sand ship. At this point, you’ll realise that when things are calm in the Monster Hunter world, it usually won’t be the case a few seconds later.
Of course, the first tutorial challenge is a bit of a faff, running up a monster now attacking the sand ship you find yourself on to retrieve the Caravaneer’s hat. Nevertheless, after this show of heroism, the Caravaneer appoints you as his loyal hunter-in-training, and this is ultimately where your quest begins.
The first mission is probably a bit of hunter-gatherer 101, but taking time to explore the landscape and master your camera panning skills is essential, although the camera behaves a bit more in Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate than Majora’s Mask. This tutorial also teaches you a valuable lesson in the game — collect everything, and anything, you can if you find it. These items, such as mushrooms, honey, whetstones and the like can all be crafted for use on quests — from developing health-restoring potions to sharpening weapons and catching bugs, these items can be godsends when you’re flailing around in the red zone.
The main objective of the game, ultimately, is to complete mini-tasks of gathering, hunting, slaying or simply sitting on your ass and eating, something I found quite fun for some reason. Additionally, once you’ve passed the first quest (essentially, gathering up various number of mushrooms) you can return to your quarters where your “felyne friend” awaits. In MH4U speak, your Palico, or in traditional English, a talking cat.
They are essentially your feline quest buddies, backing your out-of-kilter ass up whenever monster hunting gets a little too hairy — which it tends to do, often. Palicoes are also a brilliant way to solve the non-multiplayer issue. Without the need for a companion, you can play a solitary mission alongside a comforting figure.
You’re also allowed to own and train two Palicoes at a time, which means while meowmeow catches some rest, friskywhiskers joins you on a potentially harrowing journey. Mind you, it’s quite difficult to kick the bucket in this game early on. Palicoes also have a ridiculous amount of cunning and will-power, so the entire experience is genuinely absorbing and somewhat addictive. You want to push on, you want to level up to meet more demanding monsters. And demanding monsters you definitely will encounter later in the game.
The real difficulty, or joy of the game, is engaging in combat. While the Palico is usually controlled by its own cat-minded AI, you are tasked with scurrying around using the Circle Pad, the C-Stick and the punch and slash buttons. It’s not an easy task really, especially considering the response time of the hunter suggests he was in another part of the universe altogether. The movement, nonetheless, is rather lifelike, with barrel rolls, hacks using weapons and climbing all dispatched in a very physically sound way. It makes slaying monsters seriously satisfying, as it isn’t quite as hack ‘n slash as some other 3DS titles can be.
Notably, the graphics are marvelous on the small screen. Although the game is playable with the 3D off (something your eyes will duly thank you for later), switching the 3D system on is pure delight, especially when engaging in quick fight scenes or those roaming few-and-far-between cutscenes.
And speaking of cutcsenes, perhaps the most annoying part of this game is the level of character interaction — they just never stop talking. This can be remedied, or course, by switching the verbose mode off, but I still found the residents of Val Habar to be much too talkative to my liking. Often these little words of wisdom (or five-hundred word verbal essays) are integral to your advancement in the game, but after a while, a gamer really just wants to get on with it and ruin things on his own accord.
With that said, it’s hard not to fall in love with this game’s overwhelming charm and heart. The characters are fun, the mechanics are true, the graphics are splendid and the gameplay is well-paced, especially during quests. It also gives gamers a fair chance of taking a break, although you probably wouldn’t want to once you’re locked in. Perhaps the only real gripe is the time one needs to defeat this game, but perhaps that’s a blessing and not a curse?
To be honest, it’s probably a game you could play over and over again and never get bored or disinterested. It really is quite a marvellous creation.
Verdict: If you love adventure RPGs then Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is a game you should definitely add to your New Nintendo 3DS arsenal. Although there are moments when I cussed and snarled, I was engrossed by the gameplay experience and encouraged to play until my fingers and eyes hurt. I just wish I could have a real Palico following me around with a sword.