Giant “Monster Hunter” entry is monstrously good

Sometimes, it’s the simple things that are most effective in games.

That lesson is hammered home in Capcom’s latest, “Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate.” The latest and arguably greatest entry in the long-standing handheld series, “MH4U” is an addictive, enjoyable game when it’s at its most simple.

“Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate” has a simple premise. Like the title implies, your job is to hunt monsters. You will do a lot of that in this game. You will hunt small monsters. You will hunt big monsters. Occasionally you will hunt several big monsters in fights that make you sweat and want to tear your hair out.

This is where the game shines. The huge monsters are inventive, challenging creations and toppling them can feel like an epic occasion. There’s little more satisfying than taking down a giant dragon, a gruesome gorilla-hippopotamus, a deadly shark-lizard wearing ice armor or a frighteningly large rattlesnake-cobra-lizard hybrid.

Yet like many Japanese role-playing games, there’s a lot of deceptively complex gameplay to decipher. There’s plenty of armor and weapon customization options to choose from as players control one of 14 weapon types, all of which are available from the get-go. Players then collect as many resources as possible from mining, gathering plants, catching bugs and skinning dead creatures to get even better equipment.

There’s a lot of flexibility to “MH4U,” which is great. What’s not so great is the seemingly endless expanse of things new players must discover to get the most out of a “Monster Hunter” game. The series has an unfortunate habit of including a confusing mess of menus, option screens and settings which are difficult to navigate at first. In addition, the controls on “MH4U” don’t seem all that conducive to a Nintendo 3DS.

Case in point: One of the biggest additions to “MH4U,” technically an expansion of “Monster Hunter 4,” is the ability to jump on monsters and try to topple them. The problem is, “MH4U” makes jumping hard. There is no jump button, so players must either run off a cliff high surface, or drop from the side of a climbable surface. Oh, and you have to run without your weapons equipped. It doesn’t work otherwise.

Past some of the wonky, technical stuff, this is a great, addictive game with strong multiplayer options. You can play with friends or online with strangers and hunt all sorts of creatures in various areas. What’s more, the game ramps up the difficulty halfway through, which means even more powerful items drop from similar foes.

“MH4U” is a solid RPG and a solid social experience. It’s fun to accomplish large hunts and to recruit feline sidekicks, among other possibilities. What’s more, it’s a good game to play with others. Especially when your friends help you beat up a giant monster.

“Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate”

Rated 4/5

Genre: Role-playing game

Rated T: Nintendo 3DS

—Hunting monsters feels fun, doing it with friends is better

—Lots of flexibility in how you play

—Too many menus, quirky controls can frustrate new players

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