Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is out on Nintendo 3DS, alongside a special edition New 3DS XL console which you can win here!
‘Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate’ has a simple premise. It’s contained in the first two words of the name of the game. Read it again. Do you get it now? You are a hunter. There are monsters. They require hunting.
The game without about as straightforward an introduction to that concept as it could possibly get away with. You choose your character’s look, spawn on some kind of sand-speeder, fight a giant monster and then commence taking jobs, choosing weapons and armour and… hunting monsters.
The problem with the game - and all the others in the series, to a greater or lesser extent - is that this outward simplicity is a lie.
This is a complicated, difficult to learn game which requires time and attention. Visually it’s as happily dumb as any video game about big dragons and swords the size of an SUV. Mechanically, it’s like trying to do your tax return in the dark.
There are 14 classes of weapons, each requiring different strategies and battle plans, but also a dexterity of navigating menus which drove me nuts for at least an hour before I figured it all out. There are hundreds of monsters and quests, and many of them are very detailed and almost impenetrable to execute without reference to the web or — ideally - someone who has already played all the other games.
And all this comes at you quickly. After starting with some very basic gathering or hunting missions, it escalates fast - and often in weird directions. For instance, this time around you have a cat companion who fights alongside you, though exactly why and what it doesn’t isn’t tremendously obvious.
If you’re an old hand, this won’t matter to you. And if you stick with it chances are it won’t matter either. The heart of Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is its finely tuned, exciting blend of action and grand-scope narrative, and that’s as solid as ever. Killing beasts 50 stories high never gets old, and it looks graphically stunning on the New 3DS XL, with its brilliant new 3D performance, and its hundreds of hours deep.
It also remains true that the 3DS’s second touch screen makes its complexity much easier to deal with than it would be on other systems. If you take time to learn how to set up your experience, you shouldn’t have too many frustrations mid-battle.
There are also some key new features, including the ability to climb and jump attack, and ride massive monsters while stabbing them with your chosen gun lance or mega sword. There are lots of new monsters (“Prepare for behemoths such as Gore Magala, a terrifying, jet-black wyvern, or Seltas and Seltas Queen, a pair of imposing insects that co-ordinate and combine airborne assaults for devastating effect!”) and though we didn’t get much time with multiplayer, that element of the game is excellent too, and helpful for new players.
If you’re looking for a handheld game to fall into and never return, Monster Hunter Ultimate 4 is it. If you’re looking for a simple, dumb action game, and have a low tolerance for ‘cheerful’ dialogue, animated cats and menu after menu, it won’t be for you. But fundamentally this is a generous, excellent game - divisive as ever, even torturous, but very well made and utterly intoxicating for the right player.