In many ways I believe a majority of games for the Nintendo 3DS are designed to be too simple, built for an audience on the go or with little patience. Generally, this makes demoing them in places like the E3 show-floor a great opportunity. People walk up, they consume a delightful bit of the game, and they walk away very pleased. This isn't a bad thing overall, but it does set the page for me to say that Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is the complete and utter opposite of this idea.
With only around six live demos on the E3 show-floor, each time I walked by the booth set-up there were at least 2-3 seats completely empty. Considering Monster Hunter is a hugely popular franchise both in Japan and North America I was curious how this could be. Why wasn't this demo station crawling with nerds wanting to know Monster Hunter felt like on the Nintendo 3DS?
Now, I consider myself a fan of the Monster Hunter franchise, but only from a distance. It's often taken too long to be localized or has been released on platforms I've generally set aside. With Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate coming to the 3DS, releasing in North America only a few months after Japan, I feel like this might be the opportune time to finally take part. There I am on the show-floor and I decide this is the best way to dip my toes into the pool, so to speak. Little did I know it was less a pool and more of an ocean.
I very quickly realized why very few E3 attendees were playing the demo.
I spent my first five minutes with Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate acclimating myself to the controls on the 3DS. I've put countless hours into my Nintendo 3DS with dozens of different games, but I don't think I've ever truly seen that joystick and those buttons until that day. Everything was wrong and nothing made sense. I had to hold this button and now press these buttons to go through this menu? I had to equip this weapon with this button and then reload with this button, but then with this other button while aiming with this one? Oh dear, my fingers are in knots.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not in any way saying that the controls for Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate are bad. Rather, I'm saying that it's complex. Complex in a way that I've certainly never experienced on a Nintendo 3DS. Experts may have the luxury of muscle memory providing them quick, precise movement, but for filthy casuals like myself every movement, every attack, has to be a measured choice.
Keep in mind, by this point I've yet to even encounter my target monster. The demo gave the option of Beginner, Amateur and Expert missions, of which I of course decided on the Beginner option. It was not beginner enough.
Finding the monster took a couple of loading screens, which separate a dozen different zones on the map. When I reached the area where my monster was located it was obvious what the target was. They stood openly with little fear of a hunter like myself, surrounded by a half-dozen smaller dinosaur-like creatures standing like raptors. They certainly recognized me for what I was as soon as I approached, however.
My character sported a bow-gun, which isn't one of the new weapons to Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, but it was very new to me. I decided afterwards I should have gone with a melee weapon. Despite my choice of a ranged gun, the game kicked me into one of new features after a brief cinematic. I was riding the beast, stabbing it repeatedly and struggling not to be thrown. The game prompted me to try jumping on its back again, but such complex things as jumping were beyond my grasp and not listed on my controls cheat sheet.
What followed was 15-minutes of chugging potions, pondering how ammo worked, and wondering whether I was ever truly doing damage to my monster target. It was both exhilarating, exhausting and educating. I honestly can't say if whether my time with Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate's demo was fun, or even productive, but I will say I'm more intrigued than ever. I'm feeling challenged.
Franchise faithful almost certainly have a billion different questions which I'm in no way capable of answering. Sorry, fellows, but I'm not a Monster Hunter veteran.
All I can really say, all I feel obligated to say with this impressions piece, is that Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate will provide an experience on the Nintendo 3DS that has otherwise been absent from the platform. It's just a ridiculously huge game, complex and of disgusting depth. I didn't even kill a monster, let alone start to think about crafting or multiplayer gameplay. Let's not even go there. The headaches are already kicking in.
For a 20-minute demo, not accomplishing anything in Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate did more to sell me on the game than if I'd killed a 100 monsters by spamming a simple, basic attack.