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Monster Hunter had a big presence at the Capcom booth this year, and I'm not just talking about the life-sized dragon sculpture available for photo opportunities. Both Monster Hunter 4 for the 3DS and Monster Hunter Freedom Unite for iOS were on hand for a trial run in the PR booth, giving curious gamers a brief look at the future of the series.
I'm not exactly new to the Monster Hunter series. I played a couple of the PlayStation Portable iterations, including the original version of Freedom Unite, as well as Monster Hunter 3 for the 3DS. It's always been a series that intrigues me, but not one I'm necessarily great at. I usually try to chalk that up to the lack of a lock-on ability and the fact that I live miles away from anyone else who plays the game and, with only local multiplayer available on portable consoles, that meant I was left to battle all manner of snarling monstrosities all by my lonesome.
For those unfamiliar with the series, Monster Hunter didn't invent the “hunter” genre, but it quickly became the gold standard for this type of gameplay, tasking adventurers with studying up on various beasties, picking the best gear for their hunt, and then heading out into the wild in order to capture their prize.
There are very few frills in the Monster Hunter series, yet the games can last you hundreds and hundreds of hours as you (and preferably a few friends) loot the landscape and scavenge materials from fallen creatures in order to craft the best gear available. You'll buy some helpful materials, possibly do a little cooking, farming and mining, but the bulk of your time will be spent in the field, moving from region to region as you try to overpower larger-than-life monsters.
It looks like this core gameplay is alive and well in the two newest versions of the game, along with a couple of welcome additions, too.
Monster Hunter 4Each new Monster Hunter game typically drops the player into a new set of locations. An iterative series, you can usually expect a very familiar crop of weapons, monsters and side activities to enjoy, as well as a few tweaks to the gameplay and a collection of new creatures to master.
In Monster Hunter 4, the primary landscape is a desert but, unlike in previous games where you are typically settled in a single hub village, you will play as part of a traveling caravan, moving from location to location on a quest to track down the most legendary monster in the land.
My hands-on time with the game was limited to a single trip to the field on a hunt for one of the series' many raptor-like creatures. I'm never been good with all of the different monster names in these games, so we'll just call it a Chompy for the time being. While all of the media for the game so far has features pillowy dunes of golden sand, the area I found myself in actually featured some vegetation and a large cave system down low.
For my arsenal, I selected Monster Hunter 4's newest pieces of weaponry: a bug and glaive. The bug was attached to my forearm like a shield while the glaive was strapped to my back. The bug is an interesting new tool that can be sent out into the field to collect pheromones from the monsters you're hunting. Do damage to a monster and the flying critter may collect one of three different pheromones. Call him back, and the pheromones collected will give you various temporary buffs.
The glaive, on the other hand, should be familiar to anyone who has used this type of bladed staff in other action games. Its slower, but it offers decent damage and range in a sweeping arc of an attack. It also happens to have a move that launches the player into the air that, if aimed correctly, can be used to actually mount a monster.
That's right, you can now ride around on these beasties. Well, perhaps ride isn't the correct term. You can now cling to them for dear life while they buck around and, when they get winded, you can use that opportunity to hack at them wildly with your weapon.
Two other big changes were plugged into this latest Monster Hunter title, and they are both likely to be very welcome additions for longtime fans. You can now activate a sort of lock-on camera, but don't think it's going to make the hacking and slashing all that much easier. Instead, it allows you to peg the main monster as the new center point for your camera so, if you get spun around and lose sight of your pray, the button that typically centers the camera behind you will now instead swing the camera around to focus on the monster. Finally, and perhaps the best bit of news of all, is the inclusion of online multiplayer for the 3DS version of the game. Playing with a room full of pals is obviously still the best way to go, but now you'll be able to join other flesh-and-blood adventurers anytime you want, so long as you have an internet connection.
Monster Hunter Freedom UniteThe first Monster Hunter game to arrive on iOS, Freedom Unite returns to the frigid mountains in order to allow gamers plugging away on a tablet to bring down massive monsters with the tap of a finger.
Optimized for Retina displays, Freedom Unite looks better than ever on iOS and the new control scheme is simple and intuitive. An on-screen joystick controls movement while the camera is controlled by simply touching the screen and sliding it in the direction you want to look. A new lock-on feature similar to the one seen in Monster Hunter 4 has also been added to make keeping track of your target a snap. Everything else is as you would expect for a tablet game, with attacks, item use and the like being mapped to buttons on the lower right of the screen. And if you ever need to re-center your camera, a quick double-tap in the middle of the screen will do the trick.
It's worth noting that I myself am not a tablet gamer, and yet I found controlling Monster Hunter on an iDevice to be intuitive and smooth. If you're wondering how well this niche genre is being translated to the new platform, it looks like Monster Hunter on a tablet isn't as far-fetched as I would have guessed. The transition has been smooth, and every bit of the action-packed gameplay is present and accounted for.