Monster Hunter is one of those series that has taken a long time to gain any real presence in the West; in Japan the game is as popular as Pokémon, but for some reason it just hasn’t hit the big time elsewhere like other franchises. With the upcoming Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate on the 3DS, Capcom hopes to change that, and we've recently enjoyed a preview of the game — in its localised guise — before its release in early 2015.

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Anyone who’s played Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate on the 3DS or Wii U will immediately know what to do – the controls are the same, the graphics are very similar, and several of the monsters are taken directly from the previous instalment. After that immediacy has faded, even the most dedicated Monster Hunter fans will find themselves in difficult territories, as the environments are wildly different to the previous title. More focus has been added to the vertical aspect of the landscapes, and every area you find will require you to hop up and down ledges, and – particularly for ranged weapons – drastically alter your tactics in order to fell the beast before you. A monster will also have a harder time chasing you if you travel down multiple drops, meaning that a hasty escape can be a little easier to perform in a tight situation. Don’t worry though, the ledges are now much simpler and less clunky to scale — simply walk or run towards one and you’ll climb it in the blink of an eye; it’s not quite as fast as simply running on flat ground, but it’s a lot smoother than in previous titles.

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The most important and noticeable part of this addition of a vertical axis is that it makes the entire game and the combat feel much more realistic and engaging. The ledges can be used to gain a height advantage on your opponent, or more importantly, jump on the monster’s back and wrestle it into submission. This new mechanic is something that is crucial when dealing with certain trickier monsters as it can stun them for a good amount of time, giving you plenty of opportunity to sharpen your weapon, heal yourself, or deal some serious damage to weaker areas of the beast. The only downside to this new move is that it can cause the monster to thrash about and cause collateral damage to your teammates, but with sensible friends and good communication you’ll have little issue.

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Many of the weapons have had minor tweaks to their style in order to balance them out; the two new weapons – the Insect Glaive and the Charge Blade – are incredibly unique compared to their re-appearing counterparts. The Insect Glaive has a number of interesting gameplay functions, but feels between the Longsword and the Dual Baldes in terms of speed, agility and flow. You can also leap about with this weapon so as to attack higher parts of the monster with ease, or dodge out of the way of incoming attacks. The most unique part of this weapon, though, is the Kinsect you control with it. The Kinsect flies out and attacks the monster, draining a part of its stats and returning it to you, giving you a temporary boost in whatever stat it stole. You can also fire a shot of pheromone that causes the Kinsect to attack for the part you tagged specifically.

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The Charge Blade is an altogether different beast, combining the functionality of the Sword and Shield as well as the power and reach of a larger weapon such as the Hammer. The weapon feels very much like the Switch Axe with its dual functionality, but switching between modes feels considerably easier than that hybrid from Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate. Using the axe mode will drain a proprietary metre until it is depleted and you will automatically switch back to sword mode.

The biggest draw of any Monster Hunter game is the monster themselves, of course, and this version is not one to disappoint. The designers have gone for a much more insect/crustacean-orientated theme for some of the new creatures this time around, but that's not to say we won't see some appropriately enormous lizards as well. The Daimyo Hermitaur is one such creature, which returns from Monster Hunter 2 with a complete facelift and barrage of terrifying appendages. You can see just how grotesque this monster is in the image below.

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The multiplayer side of things is another area where minor tweaks have thoroughly improved the game. Little things are scattered throughout the experience, such as when you’re dizzied by a foe your character will voice their dazed grunts through the chat box. This gives your teammates the cue that you’re vulnerable and in need of a helping hand. There is now also a purpose to launching your comrades into the air as well – the one being flung upwards is no longer rendered helpless, but can turn the tide of the battle by striking at your foe mid-air and even – if you’re both accurate enough – landing on the monster’s back and potentially throwing the monster over. This can also be done solo with the Insect Glaive, reducing the dependency on higher ground.

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All of these individual elements boil down to a game that feels very familiar but at the same time very fresh and new. It's safe to say that if you enjoyed Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, you’re definitely going to enjoy this one.

To whet the appetite of you Monster Hunter fans further, watch the trailer we have below, and be sure to let us know what you're most looking forward to about the game in the comments section!