Three years after skipping the portable gaming scene altogether for Monster Hunter World, the long-running franchise makes its comeback with a veritable monster parade on the Nintendo Switch with Monster Hunter Rise.
It’s both a return to form and a marked departure for the franchise, which first started to truly gain steam in Japan after appearing on the Playstation Portable. The move would prove to be a perfect fit in a country that valued mobility. And while the series typically has its roots on home consoles, there’s something about a Monster Hunter game being on a portable gaming system that just feels right.
At the same time, Monster Hunter Rise represents a significant thematic and technical change for the franchise thanks to a story based heavily on Japanese lore, new mechanics and a horde mode that makes the game feel quite unique compared to past titles. The fact that Capcom managed to squeeze out this much performance from the Switch is also quite surprising and certainly bodes well for future iterations of the series on portables.
If you can say one thing about Monster Hunter Rise, it’s that the Switch exclusive is definitely a modern Monster Hunter game, complete with all the benefits and trappings that it entails.
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The black parade
You start out this time around in Kamura Village, a serene-looking settlement that has an unmistakably Japanese vibe to its design.
Beneath the peaceful exterior of Kamura lies a troubling and violent history known as “The Rampage.” This event is marked by the appearance of a horde of monsters that suddenly swarm the village, leaving a wake of death and destruction in its path. Eagle-eyed aficionados of Japanese culture will notice that the theme behind the Rampage bears similarities to the hyakki yakou or “Night Parade of a Hundred Demons.” This supernatural occurrence from Japanese folklore typically involves a large number of creatures such as oni or youkai taking part in a swarm of monsters under the direction of one powerful demon.
The Rampage adds a new twist to the gameplay that can be quite fun, especially in a group. The mode requires some strategic thinking in terms of what weapons to install, when to use heavy hitters such as Dragonators, Splitting Wyvernshots and powerful villagers, as well as which monsters to target first to prevent your defenses from being overrun. That being said, it’s not perfect. Folks who don’t like tower defense games and want to just focus on hunting, for example, might not appreciate its inclusion, especially during times when you’re required to clear a Rampage skirmish to progress the story and find yourself stuck against a powerful apex monster. Tickets from the Rampage are also important for some types of crafting, so it’s something you can’t just simply ignore.
The mode can be especially overwhelming when playing solo as you’re in charge of setting up your installations while also being responsible for shooting down flying monsters and knocking down the specialized gatecrashers that can destroy your defenses quickly. This is on top of worrying about regular monsters that constantly press their attack. Things improve immensely with the addition of even just one extra player, however.
Some of the new monsters especially add an extra Japanese flavor to the mix. While you have series staples like Rathian and Rathalos, you also have creatures that are inspired by Japanese ghost stories, like the hatchet-wielding Goss Harag and the almost Sadako-like Somnacanth, who looks like it just crawled out from a well. The game also sports some of the most creative monster designs, not just in terms of looks but movesets as well. You’ve got the playful Bishaten, who acts like a cross between Master Asia from G Gundam and an Olympic gymnast. The martial arts theme extends to new monsters such as Aknosom who sports some graceful kung fu moves.
The old-school Asian theme is also carried on to the game’s overall motif. From the use of old brush art for illustrations as well as the grainy movie-style intros for monsters that come with old-fashioned lute and song, Rise goes all-in with the traditional vibe. Even the background music in the village and gathering hub sang by shrine maiden twins Hinoa and Minoto have a sweet and at times haunting traditional quality to it, which further lends to the game’s Japanese flavor.
Monster Hunter Rise also has a more coherent feel to its story, something that the series is admittedly not known for. World and Iceborne tried to serve up a more fleshed out narrative but it still wasn’t a strong point in the grand scheme of things. For its part, Rise is a tad better storywise, especially when factoring in the roles of the Wyverian sisters, which can be eerily fascinating at times. However, it still suffers from the same narrative hiccups of past games, particularly their tendency to play up serious moments that ultimately don’t lead to much of anything as soon as you return to the village and find things to be pretty much the same as they were.
A bug’s life and more
Rise’s maps feel even bigger than World and Iceborne overall – so much so that getting from one end to the other on foot can take quite some time. Fortunately, you now get help in the form of new animal buddies known as Palamutes, which are dogs that you can mount and fight together with during the course of your hunts.
When combined with sub-camps that can be unlocked, these canine companions make navigating Rise’s large maps a cinch while adding yet another support option to cats. Palamutes also provide a great quality-of-life addition during battles. A good example is the ability to sharpen while mounted. This allows players to safely restore weapon sharpness even in the presence of a monster, which is great given how Rise continues the new standard set in World where you’re not able to catch your breath or safely disengage from a monster by mapping out.
There are times, however, when it feels like players are forced to explore its sprawling maps. Unlike past games, maxing out your health and stamina bar for each hunt can’t be achieved by simply eating food at the canteen. In addition to having a pre-hunt meal, you will also need to track down endemic life known as Spiribugs in the course of a hunt in order to optimize your stats. It’s not a dealbreaker as you can at least max out your life bar in just a few minutes once you familiarize yourself with their locations for each map. But it can still feel like busywork if you simply want to focus on hunting. The increased emphasis on interacting with the ecosystem, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, is also contradicted by the fact that the hunt timer has not increased, leading to more of a rushed feeling as opposed to being able to fully enjoy the environment.
One nice change is the addition of a new feature called the Wirebug, which provides an extra dose of mobility that makes Monster Hunter Rise play fast compared to previous games. In addition to letting you reach high places, Wirebugs also allow you to do quick evasions in a pinch, which is especially a godsend when using slower weapons.
Wirebugs are also tied to Rise’s new “Switch Skills,” which pays homage to the old Hunter Arts from Generations Ultimate. Once you reach a certain point in the game, you earn access to new skills, which you can swap in order to match your playstyle. For certain weapons, Switch Skills are a bonafide game-changer. One skill, for example, changes the Great Sword’s regular shoulder tackle to a Guard Tackle, which gives you a much bigger window to counter enemy moves. The other turns the True Charge Slash into the Rage Slash, which does less damage but gives you super armor during the final charge of your Great Sword as well as the ability to freely change the direction you’re aiming at.
One skill turns the Lance into an actual tank by drawing a monster’s aggro, allowing teammates to attack more safely. Even the Insect Glaive’s “Recall Kinsect” skill, which was much maligned when it was first shown, can be incredibly useful for folks who like to spam bug attacks, which can be a hilariously safe way to deal with some of the game’s toughest monsters.
The game’s mounting mechanic also gets a major overhaul with the introduction of Wyvern Riding. This allows you to fulfill your Monster Hunter Stories dream of riding an actual monster in a mainline game and can be used to topple the monster you’re riding or inflict damage on another monster that you are fighting. In what appears to be a response to mounting abuse in World and Iceborne, mounts are a lot more challenging to trigger through regular aerial attacks while monster takedowns seem to last for a shorter amount of time.
All in all, though, the new additions also make Rise the most beginner-friendly game in the series to date. Old Monster Hunter games can be notoriously hard to get into and the control and quality-of-life changes introduced by World made a huge difference in making it less cumbersome to play while still providing a challenge. Rise adds even more improvements that make it feel great and more intuitive to play.
Gyro functionality also adds an additional option for gunners and bow users. For folks who are used to motion control in games such as Splatoon, this allows for quick and more accurate aiming. One potential gripe with the controls, however, is the inability to fully customize button mapping. Rise, for example, made the left trigger button primarily a Wirebug button. This makes it tough when you’ve used weapons such as Insect Glaive a lot and find yourself instinctively pressing the left trigger to send out your bug but end up doing a Wirebug move instead.
Overall, the quality-of-life changes are much appreciated. These include the ability to now craft decorations for adding skills to your build as opposed to randomly acquiring them from hunts. You still need to grind materials for them but it at least removes a chance-based element from farming and putting together optimal sets. Chance is still a factor when melding skill talismans, however, which only give you a certain percentage to successfully create the one that you want. On that note, make sure to take part in multiplayer hunts in order to get Friendship Vouchers, which can serve as material for your melding needs.
Capcom could have easily just mailed it in when it came to creating a new Monster Hunter game for the Switch. Monster Hunter Rise, however, goes above and beyond expectations by serving up a visual and technical masterpiece on Nintendo’s hybrid portable console. Rise builds on the new gameplay foundation introduced by Monster Hunter World while adding even more features and quality-of-life improvements. My only wish was that it had more content as the game felt a bit short.
Jason Hidalgo covers business and technology for the Reno Gazette Journal, and also reviews the latest video games. Follow him on Twitter @jasonhidalgo. Like this content? Support local journalism with an RGJ digital subscription.
This article originally appeared on Reno Gazette Journal: Monster Hunter Rise review: A strong impression on Nintendo Switch