If I had to choose one console at the moment to say I've used above all else since the turn of the new year, it would have to be hands down my 3DS. Not only have I upgraded to the New 3DS, which in it's own right is a fab little upgrade, but I've also picked up Zelda Majoras Mask and Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate. Add in the fact that I was (note the past tense there) knee deep in the latest Pokemon, opting for Omega Ruby and it isn't hard to see why. While for a long time I longed to finally play Majora again while continuing to enjoy the delights of Pokemon it is neither of these games that I've been plunging hours into. In fact, the Zelda remake hasn't even made it into my 3DS yet.
Why? Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, that's why.
My co-presenters on Lads Night In (Callum and Kiefer) had talked up Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate (MH3) for quite some time until the fateful day when I tried the series for the first time. I had the chance to pick up a new 3DS game via an eShop promotion and I either had a copy of the other games or had no interest. So I went for MH3. It wasn't long until both Callum and Kiefer had me facing up against some massive beasties, giving me hints and tips on how to play the game. The problem was, I just wasn't feeling it. In hindsight I don't think I played the start of MH3 at my own pace and allow myself to get into the basics of the game by following all the early quests. Anyway, I played it twice...maybe three times, then that was that. I didn't 'get' the combat, the menu system was too intense, the weight of different items/collectables was just overbearing.
Skip forward a couple of years and both Callum and Kiefer were eagerly anticipating the next Monster Hunter to hit the UK, again for the 3DS, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate (MH4). Thanks to some clever Nintendo marketing in the shape of cool looking DLC (such as a Link costume for use in game, and Mario costumes for your in-game felynes) I could feel myself getting on the hype train, even with me not enjoying the previous title at all. One free demo later and boom, I was sold. Day one purchase.
It's been out for a few weeks now, and while I haven't been playing it as much lately as I have been, I'm still really liking it. In gameplay terms, the mechanics, the combat, the structure are almost identical to MH3, so what makes this one so playable this time round? Easy question to answer really, I started the game at my own pace. All of the tutorial stuff? Done. All of the text? Read. I played the start of the game at my own pace. No multiplayer for me straight away, not this time, and it paid off big time. Most of my time played on MH4 recently has been via local multiplayer, however this is a game that rewards those new to the series to kill a couple of the starter beasts on your own (well, alongside your felyne). It also features a comprehensive set of individual tutorial quests for each different weapon variant. Fancy trying dual blades? The game hands you a starter pair, some tips on how to use them and a beast to try them out on. The C-Stick on the 'new' 3DS makes playing MH a whole lot easier if you ever tried playing the previous game on the normal 3DS without the aid of the additional Circle Pad Pro. This allows faster panning of the camera, as you'll face monsters that are constantly sprinting around you.
More recently I've been delving into the multiplayer a bit more, to the point where I've geared up far past the point I should be in the single player. But multiplayer is where this game really shines, especially with local play (although they have now included online play for the first time on handheld, but sadly without any voice chat functionality). Teaming up not only helps with completing quests, but also allows up to four players to dodge and team up against some of the biggest, baddest monsters the game has to offer.
It still is a niche title which requires a lot of killing the same critters over and over again in the hope that a certain item/piece drops of which you may need to create or upgrade your armour and/or weapon. Hitting the blasted things has always felt a little hit and miss on occasions, while I also feel scrolling through items to be a little awkward (although changing the touch screen to allow more quick to select items has made life a fair bit easier). A feature this game is crying out for is some sort of screenshot function, as for a game which revolves around continuously upgrading your item sets based on stats and looks it seems bizarre to have no way of taking a screen grab to show off to your friends (or put into articles such as this). You can create and customize Guild Cards which are distributed via StreetPass sort of makes up for it, but only other Monster Hunters are going to see these.
The best way for me to sum up Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is to quite simply say pick up the demo. Its free, and does a fantastic job of introducing you to the series. You'll know hands down if the game is for you after playing through the demo, which is something a few demos I've played recently have failed to do. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is available now for the Nintendo 3DS/2DS. If you are using a original style 3DS I'd highly recommend picking up a Circle Pad Pro. New 3DS owners need not worry thanks to the new C-Stick.