I come to Monster Hunter Rise innocent of the series. Sure, I’d heard of Monster Hunter in its previous incarnations, but had never sat down and booted it up. Usually, I’d consequently consider myself at a disadvantage. Still, with this new Monster Hunter title coming to the Switch, I realised that I was in the same position as many of the target audience and that perhaps this innocence served to help, rather than hinder, my review.
I must also add the caveat that this review is based on the game’s demo version, available for a limited time on the Nintendo eShop. With the full game hitting consoles across the world in March, this production-level demo is a perfect place to get a taste of what’s to come.
Let me start, then, with some fresh thoughts, untainted by the experience of what’s come before.
Monster Hunter Rise – Is it an RPG?
Capcom present Monster Hunter Rise as an RPG, but after a couple of hours in, I have to disagree. It’s an arcade game.
Anyone who knows the history of Capcom knows that this is where the company has its roots. After all, this is the company that brought us Street Fighter, and you don’t get more ‘arcade’ than that. Action games, such as Devil May Cry, Resident Evil and Onimusha are all part of the publisher’s stable, but RPGs? Not so much.
Monster Hunter Rise presents you with a very RPG-esque setting, and some very RPG-esque elements to upgrade and improve your character, but drill down, and it’s quick to see that this is an arcade game. Short(ish) fifty-minute bursts of gameplay that revolve around you battling it out with a monster.
Now that’s not a bad thing, not at all, but there’s no role-playing really evident here, so let’s scrap that misnomer and see it for what it is: an arcade game. A pretty great arcade game, if I’m honest.
Boss Fights Galore
The point of Monster Hunter Rise is (as the title does communicate quite clearly) for you to hunt monsters. It’s not subtle.
This means that you jump into each quest like a bounty hunter, with a monster to kill, and a time limit. Run through the delightful scenery to get to the beast, and battle it out.
Which leads me to my next observation: it’s just a boss fight.
I say ‘just’ as if that’s a bad thing; it’s not. I love boss fights, and Monster Hunter Rise delivers beautifully.
Each quest sees you go against something impressive and large, with lots of environment to interact with, some impressive special attacks (on both sides), and an array of weapons and abilities at your disposal. There’s no messing about though, and no little beasties to make a ‘level’ on your way to this centrepiece combat – nope, you are right there, toe-to-toe with a magnificent beast and everything it can throw at you.
It’s fantastic if you like that sort of thing. Thankfully, I do.
The demo isn’t particularly vast, so I couldn’t experience quite the range of bad guys that I might have liked, but what I saw was impressive. The Mizutsune fight (basically, the centrepiece of the demo) is a wonderful example of what this game has to offer – elegantly designed creatures, with a range of abilities and techniques, found in stunning locations.
Oh, and if you don’t know what you’re doing, this thing’ll mash you without breaking a sweat!
Teaching a Hunter
The first place where MHR lets us down though is in its tutorial. I don’t know if the full game will come with a more comprehensive set of learning tools, but the ones that are here so far are thin. There’s a huge learning curve if you are coming from nothing, and the game isn’t particularly kind in the way it teaches, with a few boxes of uninteresting notes detailing what buttons to press, and then a throw-you-in-at-the-deep-end type of training method.
As the game is exclusive to the Switch, a console which can typically be considered the most casual of all the console offerings, this inadequate training portion is a little annoying. I’m all for games being a little complex, and for the quests and adversaries to be hard to beat, but the developers owe it to their player-base to teach them how to play properly.
MHR falls very short here.
Moving on from the training, you should be in complete control of your character, able to adapt easily to the combat that forms the core of the game, right? Wrong.
The control system for this game is not intuitive. Walking into my first fight, I had no idea how to target a monster, how the weapon I had chosen worked, or what any special moves were, and I flailed around like a drunken barbarian for a few minutes before getting any sort of grip on what I was doing. Eventually, things fell into place, but that was more due to my own experience in gaming than anything the game was helping with.
Good control systems mean there’s a flow in the way your character moves in combat; you should dance between strikes, placing your own blows in a perfectly tuned harmony, and be able to time each button press to do exactly what you want, and exactly when you want to do it. That wasn’t happening here. It felt clunky, disconnected from my desires and my first few deaths were definitely due more to the difficulty presented by the interface than my own inadequacies. Yeah, I know everyone says that, but this time it was true.
Various graphics appeared on screen to show me that there was more here than I knew—most obviously, was the frustratingly-empty shortcut bars. No doubt, I can set certain actions (like drinking a potion or eating some steak) into those shortcuts, and everything will be easier. Alas, with the game training stubbornly refusing to show me how to do any of that, I was left becoming annoyed instead, while monsters clawed at me.
There was also a need to sheath my weapon if I wanted to take a quick drink of a potion, requiring me to use up vital seconds, getting it out again to hit the beastie. Very realistic, no doubt (and I enjoy realism), but nine times out of ten, I took a hit while re-equipping that meant the benefit from the potion glugging was undone. Great!
And all the time, that shortcut menu taunted me!
Of course, I’m fully aware that experience and a couple of hours more with the game would mean I learn all that stuff and it becomes second nature, but how many gamers are going to give up at this first early hurdle, upset that the game just feels too hard?
The Majesty of Monsters
Stepping away from some of the negative aspects for a moment, there’s no doubt that Monster Hunter Rise is very impressive with its main feature—the monsters. Even in the cutback demo, it’s possible to see just how varied and exciting these creatures are. At one point on my way to the water-based Mizutsune, a dragon saw fit to land near me, causing a cheer from those on the sofa with me. Tentatively, I approached, only to have it notice me and decide I’d make a decent lunch. It was fantastic to watch it come for me, and though I was sad to see my body lying unconscious in the dirt a few seconds later, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
And it’s not just a passing dragon. All manner of beasts line the paths, and they are all there for you to interact with, whether that be to grab them as a mount through the new Wyvern riding system, or just to have a quick fight because… well, why not? Everything here is impressive to look at and forms a wonderful adversary in its own right if that’s what you’re after.
The AI behind the monsters is great, too. Sure, we’re not talking full-on intelligence, but there’s a lot more interactivity that happens in fights than in many previous-generation games. Wounded creatures will back off, passing monsters might join the fight (for either side), and you get a real sense that you are hunting something that’s a little more than just some pixels on the screen.
Hunting Horns and Packs of Dogs
Unfortunately, this intelligence factor, combined with some lovely graphics, does present a problem that may sound rather unusual: I found myself thinking of the game as distasteful.
Now, it’s true that Monster Hunter Rise doesn’t try to hide its intention—you hunt monsters, that’s what you do, but in 2021, I find that ‘hunting’ isn’t really something I want to do, especially when you are hunting beautiful, sentient creatures.
Yes, cart me off to the loony bin, but ultimately, I didn’t want to hunt the creatures. I wanted to see them, sure, and I was enjoying the game and the action, but when a gorgeous lizard creature cries and falls onto its back, belly-prone and legs wiggling, I didn’t want to slam it one more time with my giant hammer. Instead, I backed off and felt sorry for it.
There’s no getting around the fact I found the game morally dubious. Especially, as once you have killed the beast, you are encouraged to skin it and collect its parts.
At the beginning of this review, I pointed out that there was no role-playing really evident in the game, but there was a connection. Did I want to be that person? Killing an innocent creature and cutting it apart for spoils? Was that how I wanted to spend my spare time?
In many games, the boss fights are equally graphic, with equally negative results, but they tend to come for you—it’s self-defence, right? Here, you are actively hunting the creatures down and slaughtering them. It’s a line I found hard to stomach, even as I knew it was somewhat ridiculous. After all, they’re just graphics in a computer game.
Such is the power of modern technology.
I wasn’t alone. Sat next to me while I tested the game were two of my children. Early on, I’d turned off the blood effects because they were a bit brutal and I didn’t want my son to experience them, and when I asked them what they thought of the game, they both said the same thing. They didn’t like the idea of it. Mario, Zelda, Smash Bros, Pikmin, Animal Crossing—these kids play on the Switch daily and love it thoroughly, but faced with Monster Hunter Rise, they simply weren’t enjoying the spectacle.
“I like the dog,” my teenage daughter said, referring to the cute companion who you can ride into battle, “but I don’t think I want to play any more.”
Final Thoughts on Monster Hunter Rise
There is no doubt in my mind that Monster Hunter Rise is a great game. The graphics are in the top echelons of Switch-era visuals, the wide array of weaponry you can choose from is fantastic and allows for a great variety of replay value, there’re some innovative special attacks (one weapon allows you to play music as you fight to boost your stats!), the atmosphere is fantastic, and there seems to be a lot of depth with plenty to collect to enhance your character and equipment.
But ultimately, it just doesn’t sit right. I’m all for Nintendo widening the array of games available to their Switch users, and more adult games like this are needed in that library. But, I’m not sure that a modern, socially-conscious audience wants to participate in the brutal and unyielding slaughter of innocent creatures—especially ones that look so delightful out there in the wild. There’s no doubt in my mind that 2021 is a different generation of gaming than even that of a decade ago, and this, for all its modern brilliance, seems to hail from a bygone era.
Still, if you can stomach the killing without any stomach-turning, there’s a very fun boss-fight-based arcade game here.