With pure, fulfilling gameplay, who needs a story? Really?
For anybody that might have missed this long-running series (or simply kept their distance for whatever reason), Monster Hunter is not a story-driven RPG, but a mission-based adventure title where the sole goal is to take on quests, explore new environments, fight the various monsters, and collect the bounty to upgrade your weapons and armor for more difficult missions. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is here, ready and willing to suck away any minutes you may think you have left.
I haven’t played a Monster Hunter title in some time, so it was nice to come back into the fold (one of us… one of us…). For the many games I’ve played that revolve around interesting storylines, compelling characters, and concrete goals to "win," it’s nice to get back to gaming for the sake of enjoying the individual elements themselves. And MH4U is surely that: carrying out missions and fighting monsters, the whole time upgrading your equipment and exploring new regions for new materials to continue upgrading your equipment. For the hardcore “I need to collect/build/own all of the things” crowd, this becomes more of a drug than a game. (Not that it’s a bad thing.)
The beautiful thing about a game like MH4U is that, without an underlying story, it’s an easy game to pick up and just roll with. Quests are in certain areas of small towns, expeditions allow for additional playfields and monsters, and even if you’re away for however long, you can still pick up and play with friends right where you left off. That is, minus the time needed to get used to the hand-crampy controls; you may have potentially long stretches of gameplay where nearly every button is used.
For a handheld game, the possibilities of character creation aren’t too bad. There isn’t a way to import your own face (disappointing, what with multiple cameras and all), but there are plenty of skin, head, hair, and voice options to choose from. My lady Ashkicker does the trick nicely, though like many “create-a-characters” she’s not particularly remarkable, especially with the amount of hardware she’s wearing from expedition to expedition. Which is a shame, 'cuz she's got a cool haircut and everything.
Speaking of artificial beauty, in both flat and 3D-depth play the game is very, very pretty. The colors fill the screen with environments worth looking at, from the green plains to dark, yellowing, moss-covered caves, and back again to the crisp gray of a rock face for climbing the next location—everything looks fan-damn-tastic. And all of it goes without any noticeable slowdown, with but the most minor of loading time between different locations on the map. The visual of hitting an enemy in midair with a leaping attack, like a badass samurai, is super sweet to behold.
It’s too bad there isn’t much of a lock-on feature in place. One exists for the massive monsters that earn sweet rewards when they fall, but for all the other battles it’s too easy to attack past an enemy or slightly to one side and miss a monster entirely. And the biggest flaw with a game like this is, of course, that it has its moments of being tough as nails, with the possibility of playing for an hour and getting absolutely no progress out of it. It’s a good thing Nintendo makes durable hardware, since I can see a gamer, or fifty of them, throwing their console in frustration when that goddamn Kecha Wacha with his swinging around and always too fast for ANY of my equipment and I HATE HIM I HATE-
*cough* Sorry, it… it gets to me. Sometimes. Even after practicing with the equipment, I feel the need to forge my own sword and chop at my system. But if you can handle the constant exertion meter management, sharpen/recharge/reload your weapon while surrounded, and chase those damn beasts down on foot alone or with friends, you should be able to weather the storm of Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate. It’s an easy entry into the series, but be warned: It’s not easy in any other fashion.