Review by dolphinmage

Reviewed: 02/24/15

Shaky Ground

Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is a 3ds exclusive title in the long running Monster Hunter series. I’ve played several of the previous Monster Hunter titles, so I would be considered by some to be a veteran hunter. Even so, this review will be helpful for both veteran hunters who want to know what is different about this new installment, and new hunters who would like to know if this is the best place for them to start when diving into the series.

A Tale of a Scale:
Story has never been a large focus in Monster Hunter games, but MH4U attempts to expand on what little is usually offered. It provides multiple villages to visit, and its central cast is much more prominent. However, at its core, the story is still the same one about a terrible monster menacing a village. The extra screen time given to the characters only serves to emphasis how limited they are. Each character has one defining characteristic that manifests in every line of dialogue. The villages are visually diverse but are basically identical. The only reason you’ll visit most of them more than once is to check for the one or two villagers who will hand you a quest to add to your list.

Ultimately, it would better serve the game to either back off on the story like it did with previous games—especially considering how chatty all the characters can get—or to actually flesh it out in a meaningful way. MH4U falls between these two options, which leaves too much of a focus on a story and characters that aren’t really worth that much attention.

The Calm before the Storm:
As is generally the case for Monster Hunter games, the time you spend preparing for battle can mean the difference between victory and defeat. The series staples are all here. You can craft weapons, armor, and decorations from the materials you gather from the field. You can eat meals that boost your stats and provide special bonuses. You can combine materials like herbs and blue mushrooms to create healing items. Slight changes were made to some of the usual formulas.

In previous games, you had farms and traders with which to quickly procure additional goods. In this game, you have one trader who serves multiple purposes. He will take resource points you gain automatically at the end of every quest, and put in an order for items you’d normally get from a farm or trader. He has a very limited selection of materials, even if they come very cheap. You can also trade certain monster materials for other ones from monsters that don’t make an appearance in this game. Occasionally, he’ll offer a village request for things like adding more cats to your cat resort. This system is fine, even if his selection feels really bare bones compared to the ones offered in the other Monster Hunter games. His shop upgrades so easily, you barely even notice it happening, which feels a little unsatisfying compared to other games where you had to work a little harder to upgrade your farm. That might not be a problem for people who would like more content offered with very little fuss.

Felyne companions are back, and when you create your character during the initial customization, you’ll have to customize your Ace Palico as well. I would’ve liked to customize his personality along with his meows, since I had had enough of the arrogant type of followers after putting up with the quarrelsome Shakalakas from MH3U, but that is a minor gripe. More annoying is the way the palico system is set up. Within each field location is an area devoted to cats, a felyne shrine, if you will. A palico waits in this area for you to scout him out. They fall under different types of battle assistance such as healing, support, and bombs. Once you recruit them, you can basically equip them to your Ace Palico. Depending on which ones you equip, your Ace gets different abilities. Equip two healer cats and your Ace gets access to better healing spells. Equip two supports and your Ace can set traps. It’s a lot more cumbersome than previous games that allowed you freer access to equipping skills of your choosing on your companion.

Aside from back up, your extra felynes can be used to fish or can be sent on a mini game mission to acquire scraps for their own armor and weapons. You can recruit dozens of cats, and will want to if you plan to engage in these activities or acquire a diverse set of skills for your Ace. It can be a hassle to scout them out though, especially if you don’t feel like making a side trip every time you enter a mission to face down a monster.

Outside of normal quests, there is the Expedition mode, which is a poor replacement for the Moga Woods from MH3U. It is a randomized, linear location where large monsters will appear according to your forecast. You’ll find that it doesn’t take too long before you recognize that there is very little actual variety to this place. Treasure rooms might spawn, but mostly you just have the opportunity to fight a monster that will completely abandon you if you take too long to defeat it.

If any of this sounds confusing, have no fear. MH4U takes tutorials to an unprecedented level in the series. In the beginning, even the most mundane of tasks is accompanied with an extensive amount of help. Anytime you talk to someone who might have gameplay associated with them, you get to endure a lengthy explanation and then are faced with the help screen. And this was after I told the game that I didn’t need the tutorials when it gave me the option. I understand that certain elements of the game can be a bit obtuse, but the previous games offered introductions into the gameplay and help manuals that weren’t quite so distracting.

A Monster’s Game of Hide and Seek:
After you’ve finished the initial prep work, you can find most of your quests waiting with the Guildmarm. I say most, because some quests are only given by seeking out their corresponding NPCs. I would’ve preferred all to be readily available at the desk, but some people might find seeking out these additional quests to be appealing, even if the dialogue given when receiving them is the long winded version of the paragraph used to describe the details of your mission. Only the single player missions are available with the Guildmarm. The Gathering Hall provides the multiplayer missions, with the exception of the G rank level of difficulty, which is found elsewhere.

There are the usual filler quests like gathering mushrooms and defeating small enemies, but the majority of the missions focus on hunting boss monsters. You are thrown into a location and must check the different areas for a chance encounter with the target monster. Some skills can be used to get a hint of where the monster is, and if you see a hot air balloon in the sky and wave to it—via your gestures menu—you can also get a hint. Otherwise, prepare to do a lot of running and climbing. Despite how nimble your hunter feels, MH4U’s emphasis on cliffs and ledges means you will often be slowed down by the need to traverse these. These obstacles can be deadly as well as annoying.

New to the series is the ability to do jump attacks and mount a monster. Jumping can only be done off all those little edges and cliffs, so it is really limited, and mounting can only be done if you do a jump attack at a monster. One weapon is a notable exception to this rule. Unlike with the water mechanic in MH3U, mounting is at best a gimmick, and at worst a way to ruin the balance of the game. When you mount a monster, you have to alternate between mashing the attack button and holding on when the monster gets angry. It takes a while to do, and when in multiplayer, it leaves the other players twiddling their thumbs. If they attack while a player is mounted, the player is flung off. If the mount is completed, the monster falls to the ground, just as it might normally do if tripped or staggered. When playing single player, you are given very little time to rush the monster for an attack. When playing multiplayer, the other players can immediately go in for the kill, assuming they haven’t all fallen asleep waiting for the monster to fall over.

Monsters seem to gradually become harder to mount the more times it is attempted within a single battle, but the game seems to expect players to want to mount frequently, even if this takes a lot of the thrill out of the hunt. To compensate for this, the monsters seem to pause for breath and stagger a lot less frequently during normal combat when compared to MH3U. This leaves them open to attacks a lot less often, and encourages the use of mounting to slow them down, especially since they chain attacks a lot more frequently than in the past.

To allow for lots of mounting opportunities if you aren’t using the mount happy weapon (the Insect Glaive), the terrain has lots of bumps and grooves for jumping purposes. Even more deadly is all the cliffs. You can jump from them, but your view can also be obstructed by them. For a game where every action takes time, being unable to watch for the tells of the monster can be very dangerous. In fact, the terrain in general seems designed to make it very difficult to not only watch the monster, but be able to judge where its attacks will come from and whether they will hit you.

A Pretty but Poorly Designed World:
The game looks very nice, with vivid colors and smooth graphics, but the location designs are a mess. Gone are the little details that made the hunts feels like a slice of nature. Each area feels bland, and too much is recycled between the different locations so they don’t even feel that unique. For example, every location has either a webbed room or a vine filled room, regardless of whether that makes sense for that particular ecosystem. Monsters no longer seem as confined by their natural preference for certain terrain. They’ve somehow managed to strip a lot of the atmosphere out of the locations, which was part of what made the games so immersive. So while it is still an impressive looking game for the 3ds, a glance at the details shows the cracks in the picture.

A Vocal Bunch:
As is the norm for the series, the music is atmospheric and intense. The monsters get their own theme music, and so do all the towns. I have no complaints with the monsters’ roars, but the inarticulate garbling made by the people during cutscenes got a little weird. I know that other games haven’t given spoken lines to characters during these types of scenes, but MH4U had far too many scenes of this nature for that approach to feel right.

All Together Now:
While MH3U for the 3ds had local multiplayer, you previously had to own the Wii U version to access online multiplayer. No more are 3ds owners left to their solitary hunts if they couldn’t persuade their friends and family to join them. MH4U has both local and online multiplayer to add a little special something to the experience. Hunting in packs is always a fun diversion, so it’s great that online was added for MH4U so more people could give it a go.

The Fight Goes On:
This game packs a tremendous amount of quests and fourteen weapons to try which will grant you hours upon hours of entertainment. It can be a slow burn though, since this game is especially bad about roping off new content. You’ll end up fighting the same monsters repeatedly until things really open up at the upper high rank and G rank levels. If you are just starting out, this might not be such a problem, because it gives you ample time to practice before throwing more monsters at you. If you are a veteran hunter, it feels a bit too padded, especially since some monsters are Expedition mode exclusives, which leaves less variety for the standard quests.

Should You Leap into the Fray?
If you love Monster Hunter, this is probably a no-brainer. Despite the fact that MH4U heavily clings to its traditions while forcing a sprinkling of modern mechanics, it’s still Monster Hunter. If you’re craving the thrill of the hunt, it will satisfy those cravings. If you long to hunt with others, but don’t have any options available on-hand, MH4U will grant you those online encounters you seek. If you need your hand held through countless tutorials before you feel fit to tangle with the baddest beasties around, MH4U will suit your needs. However, I feel like Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is just a better game, even if you are new to the hunt. So I really can’t recommend Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate over its predecessor unless you fit one of the previously mentioned exceptions.

Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Product Release: Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate (US, 02/13/15)

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