So having been back and forth to Japan a couple dozen times over the years, I have been aware of the popularity of Monster Hunter since it was released on PS2, but somehow I had never tried it until it until Monster Hunter 3 Ulitmate came out for 3DS and Wii U. I dumped about 50 hours of playtime into MH3U and enjoyed it quite a bit. At its core, it's an action RPG consisting of nonstop major boss fights. Every major boss has a suit of armor you can create from parts you harvest by hunting it, and those armor sets have their own features that make them great to use against other particular monsters.

And it's not easy, either—the monsters are all unique and typically gigantic, and the action combat is very meticulous, even fragile. In fact, one of the big complaints I've seen about MonHun (yes, MonHun is the short-hand) games is that the combat is "clunky". But the thing is, that "clunkiness" is completely intentional. You need to learn when to use particular moves so that you aren't leaving yourself open to a big attack—and therefore you also need to learn the moveset of the monster in question. Oh, and there are 14 different weapon types each with its own set of moves consisting of different damage types, different telegraphs, and so forth in Monster Hunter 4 Ulitmate.

For these reasons, I found my time with MH3U to be very rewarding. As I ranked up and started facing more difficult monsters, I felt a real sense of accomplishment from those hunts. That's how I ended up dumping about 50 hours into MH3U. Let's just be clear, though: 50 hours in a Monster Hunter game at this point feels like you have barely scratched the surface.

Last week I got an early access beta code for Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate and decided to give the new features a spin! I lightly follow the series online, so I knew there were going to be new monsters and new weapon types, but I didn't know everything that was added.

Impressions

First off, the game has had a graphical upgrade. MH3U was based on Monster Hunter Tri for the Nintendo Wii. You could tell on the 3DS in particular that it was basically a port over. Not to say it was an unattractive game, but the 3D was a little fuzzy and the game visually seemed a little grainy and muddy to me at least. (On the Wii U, on the other hand MH3U is quite a good looking game despite some questionably low-rez textures.) MH4U, on the other hand, is vibrant and seems to be made for the smaller screen. Where I remember having some issues getting the monsters in frame on the 3DS in its predecessor, the monsters seem to fit frame quite well in MH4U. Also, I found the areas in MH4U to be visually more interesting than the ones in 3U (though I only got to try a couple in the demo).

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One of the features of MH3U that I found a bit lacking particularly on 3DS was the underwater stuff. Without the Circle Pad Pro, I found moving the camera using the big d-pad on the second screen to be kind of painful. I ended up killing Lagiacrus (a major underwater monster) on Wii U because I just found doing it on 3DS frustrating.

MH4U adds a new vertical mode where you can climb up some larger walls in the areas. In the demo, this didn't seem overly compelling. The major thing it seems to add is a method to launch a new attack type—aerial attacks where you jump on the back of a big monster and can attack it repeatedly while trying to hold on. These were neat because they added a new opportunity to attack that isn't weapon-based (everything else is unique by weapon type as I said above). As a result of adding these, it seems like they've added little ledges to all the zones so that you have ample opportunity to launch those attack types.

I also went out of my way to try the new weapons—the insect glaive and the charge blade.

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The insect glaive is another play on the lance, which I'm guessing is one of the more popular weapon types in the game considering they've now based three weapons on it—the standard lance, the gunlance (a favorite of mine from 3U), and now the insect glaive. I enjoyed the insect glaive and think it's an upper-intermediate level weapon sort of the like the gunlance. When you're using it, you send a flying insect that is part of the weapon to draw blood from parts of the monster you're fighting. Depending on where on the monster's body you draw blood from, you get a different perk. One thing that was kind of cool is when I managed to charge the glaive up with all the different "colors" of blood, I ended up being supercharged and hitting really hard with it.

Meanwhile, the charge blade is kind of similar to the switch axe from 3U, but it has a mechanism where you charge it up in a sword-and-shield form, and then convert it to a gigantic electrified axe for a few major (and majorly telegraphed) attacks. The axe mode, when charged, hits exceptionally hard. This one seems more like an expert weapon to me because the two weapons it switches between are dramatically different in playstyle.

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Anyway, the demo consisted of three missions to go after one major monster each, ramping up in difficulty from the classic Great Jaggi (the weakest big monster in the game) to the Tetsucabra (a big toad with tusks) and the Gore Magala (a swift dragon-esque flying monster that drops poison clouds). I soundly beat the first two in one try and went down to the Gore Magala after weakening it substantially. I blame my lack of expertise with the charge blade for that (I'm sure I could have killed him with the dual slicers!).

The demo gives you all the combat but none of the crafting or RPG features, which is probably for the better because it would be hard to convey that gameplay with just three big monsters.

I would say that the demo has made me substantially more interested in this game, particularly with the New 3DS coming out alongside it. I say this because the one major thing I disliked about MH3U on the 3DS was the camera control without the Circle Pad Pro, and the new C-stick built into the New 3DS is going to pick up that slack. I'm very interested in how that's going to work out with this game.

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That said, the major thing that would keep me from playing MH4U is the fact that, again, I feel I've barely scratched the surface of MH3U. I got through Lagiacrus and a few monsters after that, but I petered out somewhere around Brachydios. Then again, putting 50 hours into a game really is getting a lot out of it, and MH4U does seem to be an improvement in many ways.

Anyway, it was a fun time and it left me wanting more. The demo gives you the tiniest taste, but it does scratch that itch.

Bonus!

I have three extra demo codes that I'm giving away right here:

  • A06WVQGV1CP6Y9QY
  • A070U3XS0DNH4YGS
  • A070C0MT10M0J23S

If you use one of these, it'd be really cool if you posted that you used it so other people don't waste their time.

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Eight-Bit Hero is an amateur monster hunter and elaborate armor aficionado.