Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Capcom threw its dedicated American fans a great present in the form of the fourth entry in the Monster Hunter series. The franchise has been making steady improvements with each successive entry, MH3U’s underwater combat notwithstanding, without losing what originally drew in gamers. How many franchises can say that?

The first thing I noticed upon starting the game was that the mighty Tigrex makes a triumphant return, along with some other monsters that skipped the third entry, like the Gravios and the Basarios. Capcom was smart enough to let the newest monsters take center stage, though, as the game opens with you hunting monsters like the Seltas, an overgrown beetle with a giant horn, and the Nerscylla, a giant spider that swings on its webs like a frightening Spider-Man. Later on, you’ll meet the Zamtrios, a giant shark that can inflate his belly and bounce on top of you, and the Najarala, a snake-lizard hybrid that encircles you and can paralyze you with its bite.

The coolest thing about the early quest progression is that you face monsters with unique movements and attacks, a far cry from the normal -dromes and charging wyverns from the previous games. Unfortunately, Capcom couldn’t completely break from series tradition, as they saw fit to stick you with those crappy fishing and egg-gathering missions again. Argh.

Capcom seems to have put some thought behind the story this time, with more (nicely done) cutscenes, characters to interact with, and places to visit. Fortunately, it doesn’t get in the way of the hunting, although the characters can be a bit talky at times.

There are two new weapons, the Insect Glaive and the Charge Blade. Since I don’t use the Blade, I have nothing to say about it. But the Glaive is an extremely cool and fun weapon that relies on you using your Kinsect to steal essences from the monster to buff yourself. The Glaive also has a cool pole-vaulting attack that takes advantage of MH4U’s emphasis on verticality and aerial combat. You can now climb ledges and leap down on monsters to mount them, which can lead to an easy knockdown if you do it right.

Although the verticality is cool, it does occasionally lead to some troublesome moments where you’ll attempt to roll out of an attack but get hit because you went over a tiny ledge, which forced you into the “leaping down” animation instead of the “invincible rolling” animation. Mounting is useful in solo play but sometimes problematic in multiplayer, as the non-mounting players can’t attack the monster without potentially ruining it for the mounting player.

Another new feature is the addition of subquests, which are optional objectives that give extra rewards upon completion. You can leave the quest without completing the main objective if the subquest is completed, although there’s little need to ever do that if you’re prepared. Take the free rewards and run, I suppose.

Expeditions have replaced Moga Woods as the game’s free hunt mode, and while the Everwood is pretty dull compared to Moga Woods, Expeditions themselves are fun and a useful way to practice fighting. You can also find Rusted Weapons and Armor in the Everwood, and when polished, you might find that the equipment has different abilities and stats from the “normal” version of that particular piece of gear. Interesting and potentially useful, especially for weapons like the Bowguns and Hunting Horns.

The core gameplay remains as strong as ever, and despite some goofiness with the verticality, it’s still a net positive because it opens up some neat opportunities, both for you and the monsters. Veterans of the series can pick this one up and feel right at home, and they should, because Capcom has been able to keep the core gameplay intact despite all the goofiness. Who cares if you’re talking to a bunch of weirdos and pointlessly running around in the Everwood at times, when the fighting just feels so good?

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