Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate introduces players to the franchise's core concepts but in a way that dovetails with a decent story that follows the player-created hero -- the Kindred Hunter. She becomes part of a caravan that travels the world, and the player acts as its bodyguard protecting the blacksmith, chefs and merchants from the dangerous creatures.

For the first time in the series, players travel to several villages, solving problems that their denizens may have. There are also expedition levels where they explore randomly generated maps and hunt mysterious creatures lurking around corners.

Longtime fans will appreciate the new roster of monsters and the two new weapons -- the Charge Blade and Insect Glaive. The game's map design is also better, and each level has more verticality. Several zones have traversable canopies and climbable pillars, which creates opportunities for other weapon wielders to attack from above.

The other area of improvement is in how Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate streamlines many of its complex systems. The farms, which were always a chore to deal with, give way to the Wycoon, who serves that function without requiring the extra work of harvesting resources. That gives players time to focus on more important areas, such as upgrading their invaluable feline sidekicks, the Palicoes.

The developers seemed to have thought of everything to polish the experience and make the game more accessible. The result is compelling gameplay that makes Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate so hard to put down.

 

RATING: T for Teen

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PLOT: The hunt is on to track down and kill some enormous monsters.

DETAILS: Nintendo 3DS, $39.99

BOTTOM LINE: With great design and gameplay, it's sure to be a monster smash.