Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate - Nintendo 3DS

Even though the most adamant players have moved onto Monster Hunter Generations, I've been playing Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate (MH4U) for the Nintendo 3DS for the better part of 2016.

If you're new to the Monster Hunter formula, the name really says it all. You are a "hunter" in a world inhabited by very large, mostly dinosaur-like creatures known as "monsters." You are given missions (or "quests") that generally entail going after one or more of these creatures. If you fall in battle three times, you lose. If you exceed the quest time limit, you lose. But if you manage to eke out a victory, you're on top of the world. This is because fighting each of the monsters in the world of Monster Hunter feels like a unique boss fight. Each monster has its own look, set of attacks, and way it interacts with you and the environment. Get cocky and you'll fail in an instant. Learn monster patterns and you'll persevere. You're free to choose from multiple weapons, each with different mechanics and benefits, both melee and ranged. When you complete a hunt, you are rewarded with monster parts. You use these parts to make new weapons and armor sets. These in turn allow you to fight stronger monsters. Rinse and repeat.

MH4U implemented a few new mechanics that set it apart from the third generation of the series (and dropped underwater combat, for which we're all thankful) . The most significant addition is its vertical gameplay. This means your hunter is no longer restricted to fighting on the ground. You are able to leap off any ledge and climb walls and other environments with added speed and maneuverability. You're also able to attack during these instances, meaning you can land powerful hits from higher vantage points. A successful aerial move may give you the opportunity to mount a monster, which allows you to wrestle a monster into getting toppled, which allows for significant attack openings. The game also features two new weapons to the series: the Charge Blade and the Insect Glaive.

What I like about this game is that how far you progress feels directly proportional to how skilled you've become. Every monster has different behaviours and attack patterns and getting the best of them strictly depends on how well you can react to these "tells." The tools to finish the game are at your fingertips from the very beginning, if you're sufficiently skilled (and chances are you aren't). You earn every one of your victories, and you are solely responsible for every one of your loses. That's not something that many games offer today. Heck, that's not something every gamer wants today ...