This post was written at the request of T1GZ of ns4g.com. Really, it could stand to be trimmed down a lot, but damn do I love Monster Hunter, so I went crazy.
It’s important to preface this with a disclaimer that I’m a giant Monster Hunter fan. I got into the series with Monster Hunter Freedom 2, and have been locked in ever since. I mean hell, I got a tattoo of the health bar and clock HUD across my chest. This isn’t going to be about a strict and critical analysis of the Monster Hunter games – it’s going to show how 4 Ultimate took everything 3 Ultimate did and made the game so much better and you should stop reading this and go buy it and play it right now.
Still reading? Okay, it’s time to look at the specifics and show you why Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate deserves to have you playing it (especially if you played any previous entry). The changes can be classed into three categories, each one having a very different impact on the experience, but vitally important to making 4U the pinnacle of hunting monsters.
First, there’s a large number of gameplay changes that make for a very different fight. Where 3U included the underwater gameplay of Tri, 4U realized that a different type of interaction with three dimensions could be a lot more fun. Underwater fighting resulted in severe difficulty navigating, problems with finding the monster, and having to know two movesets for your preferred weapon(s). MH4U added a ton of variety to the terrain in a topographical sense. Now, instead of what were primarily differently shaped flat open areas, almost every section of every map has some slight ledge that can be hopped up (by simply running into it – the character pulls themselves up automatically) or jumped off of (by running or rolling off the edge, giving you a chance to attack while you jump and possibly mount the monster).
In every Monster Hunter prior to 4U, it was all about “where do I stand in order to block or dodge the next attack?” The varied terrain in 4U has changed the question to “how do I use that ledge over there to mount the monster before it has a chance to hit me?” The new area design has transformed the game from hunts that move from one room to another with no variation (even the addition of water in 3U didn’t truly add more strategy, it just spread the same strategy out over an extra dimension) to a game where every change in position drastically alters your opportunities and options. Being in a different area means genuinely different fighting – your choices are completely different from one section of a map to the next. In case you’re wondering why I can’t shut up about this, just know that in FPS terms, it’s like the difference between Doom (no jumping or vertical aiming) and Tribes (where you fly around with jetpacks).
Mounting the monster through use of ledges or the Insect Glaive (one of two new weapons in 4U) may only be a simple minigame that lets you know the monster down for some free hits, but damn, it lets you knock the monster down for some free hits. The Insect Glaive lets you jump without a ledge, and adds some fascinating new options to combat (like leaping over a charging monster instead of trying to block or get to the side). Weapon number two is the Charge Blade, which transforms between a sword and shield (for blocking and quick attacks) and a massive axe-thing (no blocking and slow, but can dish out massive damage). And, c’mon, everything is better with transforming.
It’s important to note here (for those not as familiar with the MH series), each weapon makes for a completely different play experience. The difference between Lance and Dual Blades is as vast as the gulf between chess and Assassin’s Creed. Because they feel like totally different games, adding additional weapons is like putting out DLC where you can play through Assassin’s Creed as Solid Snake (actually, that sounds like a lot of fun). The fact that these are two completely new weapons and not just them adding back in old weapons that a previous version took out (shame on you MH Tri for taking away all the fun toys) is a giant bonus.
There’s a few more gameplay changes, namely the addition of the randomly generated Everwood expeditions, a couple of new status effects that really mix things up, and a new weapon type that sharpens as you dodge, but those are all pretty much covered by this sentence alone. So lets talk about the narrative changes (which are really just gameplay changes in disguise that will help you trick your friends into finally getting into this series with you).
Monster Hunter Tri pioneered having a tutorial of any sort, and that was nice. After struggling through MH Freedom 2, which was apparently built on the design philosophy of “you’ve played a game before, so you know what you’re doing,” (which works great in the exploration and discovery driven Souls series, but is just depressing in a tightly controlled monster murder simulator) Tri was a magical experience. The game actually wanted me to understand the basics! 4U takes this to a whole new level. You have to make a Steak and Mega Potion to finish out your first couple of Quests. The game actually walks you through all the important bits, and makes sure you know two of the most important resource preparation techniques in the game. This isn’t the game holding your hand – it’s a series that’s previously believed in sink or swim to the extreme finally displaying some common courtesy.
There are constant updates and plot developments in the starting area, and throughout the Caravan/ single player portion of the game, you get to visit a variety of locales. Sure, you can go on any Caravan Quest from any village, but it’s a breath of fresh air to talk to new NPCs, see new places, help them sort out their troubles and actually see things develop and change. The game adds some fun plot without placing new restrictions on your play. Unlike previous entries, NPCs had a lot of personality, and I felt like I was in a bunch of different places rather than using different skins for what effectively amounted to a menu where I get my in town business done before I start playing the real game. In 4U, in town business actually feels like a part of the game.
The inclusion of companions that aren’t supremely irritating was also very welcome. Tri and 3U gave players Cha-Cha (and Kayamba), an obnoxious Shakalaka that I can assume was meant to be charming and instead makes me want to sacrifice the mechanical benefits of a companion in exchange for not having to deal with them. 4U brings back the best possible companions: Palicoes. What’s a Palicoe? How about a cat person you can deck out in mini versions of your gear and bring along to hunt monsters. How would you like a whole island of them, and you can recruit different ones constantly (instead of being stuck with two static companions, one of which is so terrible that even the other one comments on how terrible they are)? It’s a good thing you like cat puns (you do, right?), cause Palicoes in 4U are all cat puns all the time.
Finally, we come to the most important changes in the game: improvements to convenience. At its core, Monster Hunter is about doing the same thing over and over again (hunting monsters, in case that was in any way unclear). As a result, even minor inconveniences can have a massive impact on your game experience, especially if they come up a lot. 4U truly shines here: it makes for the most pleasant player experience yet in a Monster Hunter game.
First, when you’re actually out on a hunt/Quest, you have an entire extra screen in your bag. In previous entries, you had three screens to your bag, period (excluding the gunner pouch, but that was all only ammo). If you started with three full bags, well, good luck picking up any items. In a game where you need all sorts of things for a successful hunt (potions, mega potions, steak, antidotes, traps, tranquilizers, hot/cool drinks, honey, herbs, blue mushrooms, combo books, and all sorts of other stuff), you can run out of space before the hunt even starts. This only gets worse when you recall that you need to pick up items on your hunts to make new weapons and armor, and to refill your used supplies. 4U maintains game balance by only letting you bring three screens of items, but lets you have a field pouch once you start, giving you a place to put things while you’re actually on the hunt. This sounds like a small touch, but I promise, it’s a game changer when you get to later High Rank and G Rank where every item counts.
As previously mentioned, though it ties in with the improved story, you can learn to play the game by playing the game rather than reading a guide online. This is a great touch if you’re not familiar with all of the game mechanics or are a newcomer to the series (it’s also good if you have friends that are normal, sane humans and you want to get them in on the hunting).
The biggest convenience change is a very simple one, and if you haven’t played Monster Hunter before, you’ll be shocked it’s a new feature. This is the first handheld Monster Hunter to feature online multiplayer. Let me explain how you played online with MH3U to give you a taste of how exciting this is to have. You needed four items: MH3U (3DS), MH3U (WiiU), a 3DS, and a WiiU. You would have to transfer your save from the 3DS to the WiiU, go online and play. Oh, and when you’re done, if you forget to transfer back your save to the 3DS (about a 5 minute process) and head out, I hope you have other games with you, because you won’t be playing your save file of Monster Hunter. Like I said, 4U includes online multiplayer, so there’s none of that garbage.
Okay, I think I’ve droned on long enough about the massive improvements from 3U to 4U. It’s interesting, looking at them one by one, they don’t seem like such a big deal. Seeing them all in one place, it’s easy to see why MH4U has got me back on the hunt again. If you somehow struggled through all the words I put on this page and aren’t convinced, well, there’s a demo, so go try it out. But really, just go buy it already.