Ask a particular sect of handheld gamers what game they’ve put the most time into on their 3DS or even PSP and you’ll hear the same answer over and over again – Monster Hunter. The original release on PlayStation 2 has been followed by numerous home console releases, but the series’ true calling seems to be on handheld devices. Hunting a gigantic beast on console is all well and good. Hunting a gigantic beast on the train, then on the bus, then on the toilet is just something that seems to fit the franchise beautifully. Can Capcom’s latest entry, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, find success on the 3DS too? Well according to the demo, the answer is a definite yes.
The demo for Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate itself is a fairly barebones affair at first glance. You’re invited to engage in one of three hunts (two if played on beginner mode) with any weapon of your choice. As far as monster hunts go, the available three are a fairly even spread over what one might expect to find in any romp through a Monster Hunter entry. First in line is the frill-sporting Great Jaggi. This overgrown Velociraptor/T-Rex/Dilophosaurus type beast is a simple yet engaging nemesis whom Monster Hunter fans will already be accustomed with.
Backing up the Great Jaggi we initially have the Tetsucabra. This hulking great monstrosity looks like a cross between a hippopotamus and a monitor lizard on steroids. A thick neck combined with two enormous tusks allows what looks like a sluggish lumberer to pull rocks from the ground itself, before hurling them with great force at any would be attackers. As the first new creature Monster Hunter fans are likely to be seeing in Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate so far, the Testucabra sets the bar pretty high. Watching a monster literally use the earth you’re standing on to kick your ass makes the fight feel very much like a battle for survival rather than simply dodging abilities.
It’s at the top end of this demo that many western players (because Monster Hunter 4‘s been available in Japan since 2013) will meet the menacing Gore Magala. This winged shadow follows in the gigantic footsteps of the Lagiacrus and Tigrex before it as the flagship monster of Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate. With good reason too. Battling against the Gore Magala is one of the most exciting experiences of the franchise to date.
Right off the bat, it has to be said this thing looks like it’d kill your cat then flay the very skin from your bones as you weep over poor Snowball. A nearly jetblack skin protects the soft flesh of this embodiment of evil while feathery wings adorn its back, spreading a crippling virus with each breath of wind. The damn thing even manages to evoke H.R. Giger’s classic Xenomorph portraits by having no clearly visible eyes and hidden appendages (horns in the case of this creature, no snappy mouth-in-a-mouth situation).
In battling against the Gore Magala it becomes clear that combat in Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate sticks pretty close to the precedent set by most of the series so far. You have to slip into attack range whenever the wyvern isn’t about to eat you alive, made easier with noticeable movements that telegraph upcoming attacks, then make merry with the damage until it turns around again. So that all sounds like pretty standard Monster Hunter fare right? It is.
And yet very close to the action something becomes obvious, there’s a difference to the norm here. Verticality.