A little game called Monster Hunter Rise launched last week, shipping an impressive four million copies through its opening weekend. Its release was so significant in Japan, particularly, that many players tried to book days off, with one CEO getting attention for giving in to the craziness.
It’s a strange series, because on the one hand it’s very dense and complex, yet is increasingly breaking into the Western mainstream. A big factor in the latter was Monster Hunter: World, the rather lush entry on PS4, Xbox One and eventually PC that made some notable design shifts to reach a broader group of players. Yet, weirdly, that was my least favourite game in the series, which is certainly down to personal preference rather than any reflection on its quality.
A brief history: my first MH game was Monster Hunter: Tri on Wii, even buying the Classic Controller just for that game. It was baffling, but at that point I had time on my hands and doggedly stuck it out. Yet it was the arrival of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate on 3DS that helped turn it around; my familiarity with the source game helped, but hunting on a portable felt right to me. Even though I had that same entry on Wii U too – the game had *gasp* voice chat via the GamePad – I was often drawn back to my little 3DS. It turns out the millions of fans that loved the PSP origins had a point about where Monster Hunter truly belongs.
My infatuation only grew with Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate and Monster Hunter Generations on 3DS, both outstanding games that introduced new weapons (including my treasured Insect Glaive), and features such as mounting. The style and tone of the games truly went hand-in-hand with the 3DS, with the colourful designs and quirky humour adding to their charm. The combination of goofiness and oh-so-serious hunting was intoxicating, and I’m frankly afraid to look up my total playtime for those titles.
When World came out, I was naturally excited, and it was even the game that prompted me to update my poor old PS4 for the Pro model. And… it was ok. It looked great, the monsters were fancy, but I struggled to get from quite liking the game to really loving it. Why? All personal preferences, and maybe a reflection of the fact that I was clinging to what I want from the series. MH: World lacked quirkiness, the visuals – while gorgeous – weren’t particularly unique, and it was a game that wanted to lock me into a few hours in front of the TV at a time.
It’s one of the best ‘hybrid’ experiences I’ve had on the Switch in quite some time, and there’s smart game design behind it.
So we come to Rise. If Monster Hunter had ‘gaming universes’, like the cinematic malarkey from Marvel, Rise is a return to the Ultimate/Generations-verse. Remarkably (considering it’s the series debut for the RE Engine), it has the same visual make-up as those previous Nintendo entries, though anyone that says they’re ‘3DS graphics’ should probably get an eye test. Visually its not as accomplished or luscious as World, but it’s a good looking game on the TV or in portable mode.
It’s also one of the best ‘hybrid’ experiences I’ve had on the Switch in quite some time, and there’s smart game design behind it. To me, the Switch has increasingly become a portable system, with the dock only used occasionally to show someone a game or level; yet I have relatives for whom it’s still primarily a TV console. That’s the whole point of the hardware, naturally, and the differing habits between Switch owners also help to partially explain its incredible sales. What Rise does well, and better than its previous Nintendo siblings, is embrace that and cater to any gaming moment.
Since launch I’ve mainly played in portable mode, and have had a few 2-3 hours sessions exploring, hunting and attempting to figure out the Insect Glaive upgrade tree (it’s a low tier weapon now, but I’m stubborn). It’s remarkable, though, how many subtle quality of life changes have shaken up the speed of play. Gone are small irritants like hot and cold drinks (we all went on a hunt and forgot them at some point). You don’t need to manually tag monsters with a Paintball, as the map gives you plenty of information during each quest. Your palamute allows you to chase a monster while sharpening your weapon and preserving stamina. Quests are snappier and less fiddly, and those are just a few of many design changes.
It’s remarkable how many subtle quality of life changes have shaken up the speed of play.
Some will bemoan the loss of complexity in these cases and various others, which is fair. However, there’s still plenty to dig into with gear, weapons, meowcenaries, and let’s not forget that the way we traverse areas is transformed. Gone are the dreaded loading screens between zones, the open biomes a reflection of the generational gap between Switch and its (portable) Nintendo predecessors. Then there’s the Wire Bug, which isn’t just a tool for riding monsters around, but reshapes how you approach a map. I spend plenty of time looking for scalable cliffs, seeking out scrolls and rare items, as well as those pesky sub-camps. That’s added complexity, technically, but actually feels like accessibility and freedom.
The key for me, though, as I’m now older, busier and far more boring, is that Monster Hunter Rise can be a game to dip into briefly. It’s possible to load up, head out on a simple quest or expedition and be back out again in 15-20 minutes. Low stress tasks can be done as a background activity; while watching a rather dull game of football / soccer I hopped into a few expeditions, and 30 minutes later I’d cleared a couple of side-quests. With so many of the time-consuming micro-tasks streamlined or outright removed, Rise is rapidly becoming my go-to game for pretty much any mood.
It’s brilliant design which, despite the planned PC version, can only work that way on the Switch; a true hybrid game for the world’s beloved hybrid console. Just don’t look at the total playtime a year from now, it might be monstrous.