Game of the Year Contender: Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate:

2015 has been a very good year for video games on all platforms, with huge releases such as Fallout 4 and Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain likely to steal all the headlines when it comes to scooping up best of the year awards I’d like to turn your attention to a game released at the beginning of the year for the Nintendo 3DS. This game is Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, and it’s spectacular.

Monster Hunter is one of those video game franchises that is ridiculously popular in Japan, but with the last couple of release it has picked up some steam in the west, moving beyond its initial “cult” status, almost becoming mainstream. At least this is true for fans of Nintendo and their consoles. I’m going to be honest here, I was very excited to play Monster Hunter Tri when it released for the Wii all those years ago, but when I finally got to play it, I found it too difficult, intimidating and not very user-friendly. I’m not alone in thinking Monster Hunter is a difficult game, but somehow, with Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate Capcom have made it more accessible without lowering the difficulty.

Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is a testament to good game design: it looks brilliant, runs smoothly (even in online and local co-op) and plays like a dream. There is also a butt-load of content, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate will last you ages, possibly more than any other game on the 3DS. What’s the most impressive however about the game’s design is how it holds your interest, as most of the time, a long game feels long, outstaying its welcome. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate introduces you to new environments, characters and monsters to fight at almost every turn, ensuring that the formula never gets boring despite its repetitive nature.

In fact, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is an exciting game. Some of the quests can appear daunting, but you really do feel the thrill of the hunt, practically every time. This is thanks to some particularly impressive AI, as the monsters seem smart, each with their own unique attacks and even some strategies. However, I feel that the most impressive feature of the monsters in the game comes with their incredible animation, Capcom really breathed life into each one, and it’s a joy to behold at times, despite the small screens on the 3DS. The amount of variety in monster design is great as well, some seeming very kind, while others are incredibly menacing, not only in the way they look, but also in the way they act.

The attention to detail in the game is mightily impressive also, as every aspect of the game is impeccably designed, not least the weapons. There are a lot of different classes of weapons to use in the game, each one offering their own strengths and weaknesses. Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference when it comes to choosing what weapon to use, as each one plays differently. Personally, I love the dual blades, but the switch-axe is another great choice. While none of the weapon choices are bad, I do think that some of them are a little too complicated. Luckily, the game offers training missions for each weapon class, giving you ample opportunity to try each style and figure out what suits you best.

Weapon choice doesn’t stop there however, as big aspect of Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is crafting. When you are out in the field, you should definitely gather all sorts of materials, as gathering is the key to success in Monster Hunter. The amount of materials you can gather is enormous, each one being as essential as the last based on what weapons you use. Upgrading weapons and armour in this game is great, and it’s brilliant to actually see your character wearing what you have crafted. There are a fair number of things to think about when it comes to weapons and armour also, which can be a little overwhelming at first, but trust me, you’ll come to understand it all. Just know that gathering materials is essential. Unfortunately, you cannot fit a mammoth amount of items in your bag, so you are forced into picking and choosing what you want/need to some extent, but all this means is more trips to the wonderful areas available to explore.

Indeed, the variety and amount of areas to explore is amazing, far more than I thought was in the game. It’s mind-boggling to think of how Capcom managed to squeeze this game onto a tiny 3DS cartridge, let alone how it runs as smooth as it does. For many people, Monster Hunter is a co-op game first and foremost, but with Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, I’d argue that the single-player offering is just as good, if not better than the co-op. Don’t get me wrong, I love playing this game co-operatively but I think the single-player is incredible. The amount to do by yourself is huge, and I haven’t even mentioned palicoes until now. Palicoes are an interesting side of the game, as they can assist you in each quest and outside of quests, plus, they’re cats, which is always fun. I haven’t played the game long enough to fully understand the intricacies of palicoes, but it doesn’t really matter. Having these palicoes fighting alongside you is great fun, the game allows up to three at once.

Look, I’ll level with you, there is so much to Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate that I haven’t tried it all as of writing, but with the amount I have played I can safely say that it is a game of the year contender. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is one of the most impressive games I have ever played, and even on a small screen, the majesty and power of each monster really comes across. Capcom did a stellar job with this game. If you have a 3DS (or even better, a New 3DS XL), you owe it to yourself to play this beast of a game.

Toby Saunders is sometimes opinionated, and you’ll find him posting garbage about games, films and his beloved Spurs and Bath City FC on Twitter.