The Monster Hunter franchise has taken a circuitous route to becoming one of the biggest jewels in Capcom’s gaming crown.
Sure, if you had asked any number of Japanese – and to a smaller degree, American and European – PlayStation Portable owners 10 years ago what their must-have PSP game was, chances were good that Monster Hunter Freedom Unite would be on that list. A tough, tanky game where you hunted large monsters in various climates and locales, Monster Hunter Freedom Unite was the last iteration in a series of games stemming from the original Monster Hunter that debuted on the PlayStation 2. When the original had not found success on Sony’s flagship console, it found renewed life on the late great PlayStation Portable, evolving through Capcom’s formula of taking a core game (think Street Fighter 2) and releasing updated versions that improved the gameplay and added features and content (think Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo).
The recent behemoth that was Monster Hunter World was not so much an evolution as a revolutionary leap forward for the series. Specifically designed with then-current consoles in mind, the series made a triumphant return from the handhelds it occupied (notably on the Nintendo 3DS in recent years). No longer limited by extremely modest system specs, the very idea of what Monster Hunter could be was given free reign, and with various – and to be frank, much needed – quality of life improvements, Monster Hunter World redefined the experience for the future.
But given the glow-up the series received on PS4/Xbox One, how could it continue on a console such as the Nintendo Switch? The Switch received Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate, and while a content-packed game, it was essentially an upscaled 3DS title, taking very little advantage of the platform’s power compared to the humble older handheld. Generations Ultimate always felt like a stopgap, and even if some of us (cough) spent hundreds of hours in the game, it still felt lacking compared to what World brought to the table.
Enter Monster Hunter Rise, the upcoming entry for the Switch that is a deft mix of classic Monster Hunter and the improvements from World. Built from the ground-up with the Switch as the target system, Rise is not the World analog some were hoping for. Yes, the maps are now seamless – no more loading into various zones. But if the map from the demo is any indication, they won’t be on the scale of what we saw in World.
Rise eschews the high-fidelity, more realistic graphics from World, giving us instead an evolution of the stylized graphics we’ve seen in games from Generations Ultimate and prior. This is not a backhanded compliment. The monsters – from returning classics such as Rathian to the new Great Izuchi – look great, and are just as you would expect them to be. That landscape looks good, if a bit bland compared to World, but again we’re talking about a game built within the boundaries of the Switch. Monster AI, a hallmark of the series, remains top-notch, with monsters exhibiting patterns and behaviors that form the lynchpin to the monster hunting experience.
What will ultimately matter to Monster Hunter fans on the Switch are two things – performance and gameplay.
Let’s get this out of the way: Rise aims for 30FPS. I was very pleasantly surprised at how well Rise performs considering the expansive changes. For the demo, I played exclusively in handheld mode (using the red Hori Split Pad Pro controllers), and was pleased with the results. In handheld mode, Rise runs at 960×540. This might sound low or alarm graphics enthusiasts, but make no mistake: Rise looks pretty damn good and crisp. In the absence of the pure horsepower of more traditional consoles, Capcom has focused on the art direction and design to make up for the difference and it really works. They have leaned into the medieval Japan aesthetic and it does wonders for the game. From the buildings / environment to the faux-painted style of the “quest completed” screens, the little touches add up to a feel reminiscent of Monster Hunter Portable 3rd (only officially released in Japan), but taken to the next level.
In terms of gameplay, Rise‘s combat falls between the Hunter Arts of Generations Ultimate and the flashier moves from World. Tying it all together is the wirebug, your new best friend in Rise. The wirebug grants unprecedented mobility for a Monster Hunter game, while being central to the various new moves you can pull off. It is a bug (duh) that you, by default, you can use twice between cooldowns (you can find increase your wirebug usage by picking up items throughout the map). The wirebug allows you to leap into the air, reach higher replaces, initial “silkbind attacks” (the replacement for Hunter Arts in this game), and Wyvern Riding. The latter replaces the mounting mechanic – at least in the demo – and allows you to bronco ride a monster and either control it like a puppet to attack another monster or launch it into walls for damage.
Combat was fast and mostly smooth. I noticed some input lag while trying to execute certain moves with the longsword and greatsword, but I suspect this will be ironed out in the final release. While I personally had not run into it, others experienced bugs with monsters becoming comically stuck / frozen onto items or in mid-air. The biggest learning curve will be managing the wirebug movement and chaining them into attacks. Leaping in the air towards a monster and executing an attack with cinematic grace will take practice. When it fails, it feels clunky and off, but when you nail it you feel like a master Hunter. The curve feels good as you ascend it and considering this is the demo, it will most likely be fine-tuned further before launch.
In the demo’s multiplayer, the system is reminiscent of old school Monster Hunter – you go into lobbies to hunt but it feels more streamlined than in previous titles (but does not have the SOS feature of World). You can take either 1 palamute or palico with you, so teams now feature 8 total characters on the hunt and multiplayer was smooth. No noticeable issues and performance was great. Pretty impressive stuff for the Switch.
The various quality of life changes from World are very welcome. Whetstones are now infinite use, and you can even sharpen your weapon while riding on your Palamute (your new canine companion who doubles as your ride). Gathering is quick and combining items – say, honey and potions into Mega Potions – occurs automatically. You can now drink a potion to heal up while moving, the most welcome change in my opinion (sorry not sorry old school hunters, that potion drinking and flexing was always dumb as hell). The gestures / item use loadouts make a return from World as well.
Rise boasts the promise of a fun future for Monster Hunter on the Switch. Rise smartly plays within the boundaries of the hybrid console, catering to its strengths of mobility and “party” play. It’s no graphical beast, but that’s not what the Nintendo Switch is for anyway. There are few nagging input lag issues, but the overall presentation is impressive. For a demo, the game does a better job than previous ones in easing the player in and introducing them to the basics. If you were jealously looking at Xbox and PS4 players as they indulged in World, then Rise is the Monster Hunter game you’ve been waiting for. I absolutely can’t wait to get my hands on the full version.