After sinking 118 hours into its great predecessor in 2013, I wasn’t sure if Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate could hook me again. Yet, after 20 hours, I can’t stop playing. I want to fight more bosses, acquire more resources, and build incredible weapons and sets of armor. A new focus on making Monster Hunter a bit more accessible to new players hasn’t caused this juggernaut to miss a beat, whether playing the solo campaign or with a four-person hunting party in online multiplayer.
Monster Hunter is best described as a greatest-hits collection of boss encounters. Each beast has a unique fighting style, and uses animated tells (instead of ugly health bars or icons) to allow you to stay out of harm’s way and counter attack if you react quickly. The new lemur-like Kecha Wacha, for example, uses long arms to swing around stages and pop out to surprise unaware hunters. That fight is completely different from going up against the returning gorilla monster Congalala, which uses brute-strength attacks and can cut farts that prevent you from healing.
Beating those monsters rewards you with resources, which are then used to construct cool new weapons and armor to slay more monsters. It’s a fun loop that’s kept fresh by smoothly increasing challenge, and a huge variety of opposition and weapon and gear types. The only times that threaten to break the cycle are a few dull missions that send you to collect eggs, mushrooms, or other raw materials. Those aren’t the monsters I’m interested in hunting.
Most of these strengths I’ve mentioned are carried over from previous games in the series, but Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate changes things up by adding interesting vertical thinking to the already staggeringly deep combat system. These more agile hunters can easily vault up surfaces or scramble up walls with a few button presses. It encourages moves like running, leaping, and bringing down a satisfying mid-air chop on creatures that hang out near a ledge.
All that complexity is daunting, but Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is better at introducing new players to the fine art of slaying monsters than any previous game in the series. That said, it could still do a better job of communicating some essential ideas. The sheer variety of weapons open from the start can feel overwhelming and, since Monster Hunter relies on mostly text to explain how they work, picking the right one comes down to a lot of trial and error. Once you land on the right one for you, the experience gets much better from there, but it definitely requires a little patience.
Once you get the hang of them, these weapons deliver the same amazing variety and depth they have in previous Monster Hunter games. Each of the 14 weapons has layers of depth and nuance to wrap your head around. The Insect Glaive is one of my new favorites. It has the speed and reach of a nimble Long Sword, but is also home to a bug assistant that can be sent out to steal enemies’ essences and provide buffs for speed, attack, and defense. The ability to pole vault at any time also makes it the coolest-looking weapon of the bunch, and one that fits well with the more acrobatic combat. A runner-up is the mighty Charge Axe, which has equally impressive properties that include charged-up attacks that deliver a satisfying wallop to enemies large and small.
Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate’s diverse locations show improvement over the prior game. The bustling town of Val Habar looks and feels significantly different to the ashy Harth. Each place and the subsequent areas that open up feel much more connected than in previous Monster Hunter games, and I was impressed to see the world change to reflect my actions in the solo campaign as my caravan of adventurers completed quests. The village of Harth came back to life by the end of my time there, with revived color, lava pathways, and animated villagers that looked much happier than when I first arrived. The campaign nails a satisfying feeling of accomplishment as the journey unfolds.
A few simple taps on the 3DS touch screen can quickly switch you between solo play and local or online multiplayer, which is a great ease-of-use improvement over previous portable versions of Monster Hunter. But since progression in solo campaign and multiplayer are counted separately, you have to repeat some of the most boring quests a second time. It’s a tiny annoyance, relative to the grand scale of this game, but it’s unfortunate that this repetition means you have to repeat stuff that wasn’t fun the first time. At these moments, Monster Hunter is trying to re-emphasize the importance of materials for building traps and potions, but these aren’t lessons worth learning twice.
Just when you think the fight is over in Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, the next challenger steps in and ups the level of competition for another satisfying round of combat and loot. Very few games can hook me in for 100 hours, but this installment adds enough new creatures, weapons, locations, and fighting moves to expand and reinvigorate my lust for the hunt.