Monster Hunter. I say those words with a strange mixture of fear and pride. Pride, thanks to the small, tiny fragments of success I've collected along the way as I’ve progressed further and further, braving bigger hunts and capturing quarry that otherwise I would have never guessed I could tackle on my own. Fear, because I can't bear to look at the many hours I’ve played and recount the endless amounts of failure, and I truly mean a vast amount of my time was spent in failure, but then I am a rather reckless player.
I’m going to say it. For me, this is Dark Souls on a Nintendo handheld.
That name always gets trundled out when a game toes the line between infuriating difficulty and drug like addiction but that's not a detriment to Monster Hunter 4. It’s a badge of honour that throws it into a select group of cult devoted games that are more ‘game’ than many can handle.
So why is Monster Hunter 4 so damn addictive?
Well, it knows itself and insists upon its core ideals, unwavering. Refusing to add endless tutorials or become softer, easier for others to join in. Years ago, someone decided that sending a naked man to fight a dragon like beast armed with nothing but a massive bagpipe and his two best mates that just so happen to be cats was going to be the best thing since sliced bread. No, not Walt Disney but some of the minds at Capcom and how right they were!
Starting out as one of a handful of games hoping to bring online play to the foreground, one of those being the flawed brilliance of Resident Evil Outbreak, Monster Hunter has flourished and gone from strength to strength but yet stayed pretty much the same.
It’s still hard as nails and as clear as mud, but no matter how slow that potion drinking animation is or how dangerous it is to dance that victory dance after a small win, you’ll toe that line and risk it all just for a laugh and the chance to pick fights with dragons!
As you can imagine, it doesn't take itself too seriously, how could it? You’ve got a tag team of cats that are willing to dress however you like (perhaps a bit kinky I suppose) and go it alone on hunts while you sleep, so that you your supplies will become flush with much-needed materials to build armour and upgrade weapons. This is perhaps why you can tolerate such defeat and difficulty, every time you’re pinned down and ready to meet your mii-maker you’ll see your badly dressed feline friend come running in to save you as best they can. They’ll probably fail, but its the thought that counts!
While Monster Hunter 4 is proof that the series hasn't gone soft in its old age, it's perhaps the most story driven of any entry to date, with the largest cast of characters to interact with that I’ve ever seen in a Monster Hunter title. As you begin crafting your Hunter, you’ll join a travelling Caravan and explore a vast array of different lands, in search of materials and the excuse to kill wild animals I would imagine. You are playing a crazed ‘hunter’ who loves to wear the skin of his latest quarry after all.
This is also the first time that a Monster Hunter game has had such a focus on a fully 3D array of movements, with climbing vastly improved and air attacks thrown in, you’ve got a few more moves in your arsenal so you can finally afford to be that bit more tactical. The greatest new addition however, is the chance to mount your current target. If you see a beast, jump on its back and begin the tussle of a life time as you hack away at its neck while it screams bloody murder and bucks to throw you over its head.
If you've never played a Monster Hunter game before, you should know that these epic battles tend to last quite some time, moving from area to area until your quarry is defeated. Before each hunt, you’ll need to stock up on a multitude of supplies from your usual array of potions, food, whetstones to keep your weapons in good shape and all the rest.
Each time you successfully kill a creature you’ll get a chance to carve it up for bits of flesh, or let someone else do the dirty work if you capture it alive although this is a lot harder, all to be crafted into better equipment. Then rinse and repeat.
It’s simple sounding concept is part of the addiction but it goes so much deeper because you’ll truly struggle to keep track of the thousands upon thousands of different materials and items that can be crafted. You can't be content with one set of armour or weaponry either as each offers its own stats and finer details meaning that, once again, before every hunt you’ll have to dress accordingly!
This almost endless list of weapon classes and armour sets, each with an almost obtuse skill system and stat buffing effects don't reveal themselves freely or in any obvious manner but as off-putting as this can sound for many, is yet again one of the reasons it's so addictive. In a terminator esq stance for freedom, I just can't and wont be beaten by a game until I understand every inch of it and Monster Hunter 4 will make you feel the same.
As hard as it may be to believe, Monster Hunter 4 manages to be the easiest of the series to get into with clearer explanations of how basic concepts work but still making use of a learning curve that s sharper than the bends of Rainbow Road.
Monster Hunter 4 brings in some more new tricks, with the introduction of expeditions. These are short quests which generate a slew of areas at random and tasks you to run from point A to point B, slaying whatever gets in your way. You’ll bump into all shapes and sizes of beast from Rathians to Gore Magala so you’d best be prepared for anything. Any monsters that you do happen to tackle on your trip will be added as Guild Quests at the gathering hall, available to be repeated in ever-increasing difficulty levels, just for kicks!
Something that may well cause veterans to let out a sigh of frustration is the short cut of sorts that is the latest additions to mining. On occasion, you’ll turn up old pieces of armour and weaponry that, if cleaned at a magical furnace of sorts, will reveal randomly generated stats that are a hell of a lot easier to upgrade than the usual stuff you build yourself. This is something that, if not controlled properly, could lead to hugely overpowered equipment being dropped and almost defeating the games core values. Although I could be being melodramatic on this instance, it sort of depends on your view I suppose!
Mechanics aside, this is one seriously stunning game with beautiful bright skies and such creatively diverse armour and weaponry, Monster Hunter 4 looks as unique as the series ever could! The world around you is more alive than ever and as I mentioned previously, the new focus on fully 3D movement means you’ll need to keep your eyes peeled for what might fall from the sky or leap from the trees! They're in the trees man! they're in the trees!
It’d clearly be hugely remiss of me not to mention the games camera controls, which despite coming on leaps and bounds, are still somewhat of a pain. With a small screen view and slow rolling camera, you can sometimes find yourself running headfirst into a rock and failing to notice that monster behind you but If you've played the series enough then you’ll barely notice the issue due to it being so ingrained into the experience. Plus, if you've got a Circle Pad Pro or lucky enough to have a New 3DS then the issue is even less of a problem.
Online multiplayer is available on the 3DS for the first time and is more than worthy of a mention, while this feature is something I haven't road tested as much as I’d have liked to, what I did experience was as smooth as you like. No more painfully broken lobbies and fussy connection issues, just link up and go!
This is where Monster hunter 4 shines in a whole new light, as group hunts are its life and soul. Get some mates, gear up accordingly and tackle your worst nightmares in your own personal gang of dragon skin wearing loonies!
Monster Hunter 4 is easily the best in the series so far, newcomers will find this the best first slice imaginable while veterans have enough new content to make them drool like cooked meat has just been thrown on the fire. Cap com have toed the line perfectly and delivered a dense game to a western market without even thinking of dumbing it down!
Get it, call your mates, force them to buy a New 3DS and play this till your thumbs bleed!
Then play some more! (But if your eyes bleed, please stop and consult a doctor)