Since its 2004 launch on PlayStation 2, the Monster Hunter series has stomped in bold-yet-unsteady fashion—like one of its titular beasts—toward legitimacy in the West. I’ve always found that peculiar, because as a bullet-point list, MH sounds like the ultimate in hardcore Western gamer catnip: deliberate slow-and-powerful combat (Dark Souls), teaming up with friends for epic PvE battles to amass loot (Diablo), and deliriously tough and crazy-looking monsters and insane weapon variety to match (Borderlands).
But the series mostly thrived in Japan on PSP—in a nation much better poised to support “local wireless co-op adventuring,” one of the PSP’s flagship features. (I’m not sure I ever saw four people in the States playing a PSP in public, let alone doing so in a closely huddled group.) It wasn’t until the series landed on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Windows in 2018 with Monster Hunter World that Capcom corrected some key series stumbles, mainly mid-mission loading times and online multiplayer. As a result, uptake in the West exploded, and MHW became Capcom’s biggest-selling video game of all time.
These days, Western gamers are finally embracing a powerful, portable console in droves, and Capcom has responded in unbelievable fashion. Behold: Monster Hunter Rise, the series’ best game yet and likely the tipping point for anyone who has yet to sharpen their blade on its whetstones.
Roll over, new sequel! Good sequel
Monster Hunter Rise [Switch]
This week’s Monster Hunter Rise is somehow bigger and better as a sequel on weaker Switch hardware. There’s more to do. More monsters with cooler variety. Weapon variety has grown, as well—and that’s further augmented by new ways to attack, move, and leap around the battlefield.
Perhaps most importantly, Capcom has scaled all of this updated and expanded hunting to actually freaking work on Nintendo Switch. When we talk about “miraculous ports” to this console, that’s often a backhanded compliment. Games like Doom 2016 and The Witcher 3 are technically playable on Switch, but they’re certainly not recommended. Monster Hunter Rise, conversely, has been built to balance the Switch’s strengths and weaknesses. In my opinion, it ultimately outclasses Zelda: Breath of the Wild on a technical level as an epic, performant 30 fps quest on the console.
Also, now there’s a dog. Lots of dogs, actually, but you get to choose one; give it weapons; give it superpowers; ride it as a high-speed, high-jumping mount; and dress it up in adventuring outfits. Who’s a good sequel? You are!
Cute thing crossed with scary concept
MHR keeps its plot simple. You live in a picturesque village from a vaguely post-medieval era on the border of a ton of monster activity. (Your town is full of grim-dark humans in badass armor standing alongside talking cats. You know, JRPG stuff.) As one of the only residents strong enough to lug a sword twice your size, you’re regularly hired to kill monsters in nearby dangerous environs, not only to protect the village but also to collect the beasts’ body parts (tails, scales, horns, and spikes) and turn them into useful upgrades. Use that improved gear to fight crazier monsters to craft improved gear to fight even crazier… you get it.
That setup is nothing new in the Monster Hunter-verse, nor is the general scope of an average battle. Tap a “launch mission” button and you’ll warp to one of the game’s discrete biomes, each full of hills, mountains, lakes, prairies, forests, and underground caverns. (Each sets itself apart with different amounts of, say, icy or chilly regions, and each has different potential monsters at day or night, as well.) You’ll usually be asked to find a specific super-sized monster somewhere on a pretty large map, beat it up via real-time combat (more on that in a sec), and bring it back to your home village either dead or alive.
Though a few missions revolve around hunting weaker grunt creatures, which can be killed in a few hits, most of your hunts revolve around boss battles that start out lasting roughly 12-15 minutes. Capcom doesn’t make you wait for these battles to get good. The first reason for MHR‘s success comes from its best monster variety yet, which can be easily described as “variety beyond dinosaurs and dragons.” Many of its best monsters boil down to “cute thing crossed with scary concept”: an arctic rabbit with giant tusks that hurls massive balls of ice; a turtle made of fresh, hot magma and recently cooled lava stones; a monkey that can prop itself up on its tail, then either propel itself in a sporadic diagonal rush or procure and throw balls of poison. (Let’s be clear: this is the MH equivalent of throwing poo, and props to Capcom for going there.)
Screenshots of these nasties hardly do them justice, though they do look diverse and terrifying enough that way. What I really love is the increased emphasis on monsters animating much like household pets, meaning playful flourishes as they either stupidly hop like a puppy or slink lazily like a cat before focusing their eyes on you and making very clear that you will soon regret the last time you took your pet to the vet. Granted, you can expect the usual cast of terror-lizards and dragon-osaur whatevers as well, and some of the “cute-yet-scary” species have appeared in prior games, so this isn’t a total overhaul of the monster cast, by any stretch. At this point, MH games can pick from as many monsters as Mario Kart games can pick classic tracks, and the foes you’ll face here add up to something equivalent to Mario Kart 8 (high praise, indeed).