Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate 3DS review: easily the most engrossing instalment yet

3DS; £39.99; Capcom

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The Independent Tech

Unlike many RPGs, where a traditionally slow start draws you into your role as reluctant hero, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate throws players in at the deep end. As soon as you’ve chosen a character (and accompanying Palico, a kind of warrior cat) you find yourself on the back of a flying caravan, firing cannonballs wildly in an attempt to avoid the affections of a particularly murderous sand dragon.

After this rather grandiose warm-up, players arrive in Val Habar and begin performing the usual RPG tasks, such as recruiting fellow travellers, cooking steaks and, strangely, petting pigs. As soon as you have your bearings and a suit of appropriately stylish armour, the guildmaster will issue introductory quests that will introduce you gently to the wilds beyond the caravan with tasks such as gathering herbs or slaughtering docile dinosaurs.

It’s pleasing to see a more vertical aspect to the exploration than in previous games, but the increased climbing abilities come with a caveat – just as you are free to attack from on high, so are enemies and if you don’t see them coming, it can get any battle off on the wrong foot.

 

Players will find countless inventive weapons available to them, encouraging a variety of play styles, from sneaky long distance hunters to macho melee fighters. These weapons can be improved dramatically using different skill trees allowing a vast amount of choice and customisation. The Insect Glaive is a particularly strong new addition, enabling pole vault-style movement during combat.

A few hours in, you learn of a mysterious virus that holds a strong influence on the narrative of the story, introduced during the pivotal battles with the Gore Magala. Happily, as well as potentially leaving you open to massive damage, the effects see-saw so that if players can inflict sufficient damage upon their opponent, the fever virus also then empowers the player to dish out more effective punishment.

Visually, the game does a good job of communicating the scale of adventure on such a small screen. For recent 3DS converts, the C stick is put to good use controlling the camera perspective but for owners of older models, the touch screen itself provides surprisingly good control options, only descending into frustration several hours in when faced with multiple bloodthirsty enemies.

As well as increasing the number of monsters to hunt, with this edition Capcom has introduced significant changes in gameplay. In addition to the vertical aspects mentioned previously, players' new found ability to ride larger monsters at certain points in the battle echoes the epic confrontations of Team Ico’s classic Shadow of the Colossus, looking for weak points while hanging on for dear life.

Other improvements from previous incarnations include online play via wireless as well as locally, massively expanding the scope for trading Guild Cards and, more importantly, allowing players to team up to battle huge beasts in tandem. This introduces a further tactical element over the single player mode, as groups of hunters exploring together can combine disparate skills in order to effectively tackle the highest level monsters – for instance, using long distance weaponry to weaken adversaries until a party’s close combat specialists can move in for the kill.

These additions make Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate easily the series’ most engrossing instalment yet, and for newcomers, it’s the best possible point to enter the series as the systems feel at their most refined. The extra content also means the game is well worth the investment even if for owners of previous editions.

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