Over 3 million of you have pre-registered for Monster Hunter Now. It’s launch, whatever way you come at it, is going to be huge. Niantic and Capcom have put their heads together to whittle the now-famous MonHun formula down to delicious 75-second chunks, and let me tell you: this more compelling a mobile game than Pokemon Go ever was. Injecting an augmented reality gimmick into the core gameplay has done wonders, and boiling down the reward loop and condensing the whole experience only serves to show how refined the core hook of Monster Hunter has become.
This is a mobile game I’ve already put 10s of hours into, and I can guarantee it’ll take 100s before I’m even close to being tired of it. It’s already making me take my dog out walking more, and it’s forcing me back into the streets of London, like PoGo did all those years ago. This is mobile gaming perfection – a game that utilises its platform with aplomb, and understands how both gamers and Monster Hunter fans work. It’s the best mobile game I’ve played all year.
And it’s not just because I’ve got a penchant for stalking and skinning the Pukei-Pukeis, Tobi-Kadachis, and Rathalos of the world. There is a very elegant, well-tuned game beneath the Monster Hunter skin – one that’s far more engaging and demanding of your attention than Pokeemon Go ever was. Like its console/PC brethren, Monster Hunter Now mostly revolves around combat: you and up to three other hunters can team up to bring down the eponymous monsters with a selection of the weapons (though not all of them) from the parent series.
But instead of a complicated moveset bound to a full game pad, you do all the usual Monster Hunter antics – slide and roll and hop and cut and carve – with your index finger. It boils down to taps and holds and swipes better than it has any right to. Dodging a Paolumu’s dive bomb and countering with a charged greatsword feels great; watching it stagger and fall as its big puffy mane breaks… it’s a thrill that never goes away – even after the better part of 30 encounters.
Of course, none of this feels as good as it does on console, but the animations, the graphics, the haptics, the sound (if you’re an anti-social weirdo that plays mobile games with sound) – it’s all there. It all helps draw you into this baffling world of Palicos and monsters in the palm of your hand, makes you surrender to the fantasy of it.
The main difference for longtime Hunter fans is the timing. You have 75 seconds to take down even the most dangerous of beasts – like a Rathalos, for instance. Given that the graphics and the animations are taken from Monster Hunter World (will we ever get a World 2?), Niantic has had room to work on honing the combat to make it work. You’re never going to be stood on the sidewalk looking awkward for more than about a minute, and that’s for the best.
The experience is condensed into a rock-paper-scissors game of dodge-block-attack. It’s intuitive and understandable, parseable even for the most greenhorn hunters. Put a monster to bed and you’re itching for another – and just as well, since there’s usually about 20 in a five-minute radius at any given time. You can ‘paintball’ monsters for later (you get a few free, but then they cost you, and that is my biggest issue with Niantic in this game), and you’re AI companion Palico can also ‘paintball’ up to three monsters per day – though you don’t get a choice of which it chooses, really.
My only gripe with the whole experience is the monetisation. We’re seeing companies like HoYoverse rejuvinate mobile premium games, but Niantic (currently entrenched in a long-running battle with the Pokemon Go community over its premium offerings) is now, somehow, part of the ‘old guard’. This is evident in Monster Hunter Now. Health will regenerate between battles, and you get five free mini-potions per day. Not bad if you want to just play where you land, but it targets FOMO: see a monster you need to progress a quest, but out of healing items? You have no option but to drop some cash.
Paintballs – items which were explained to me at preview as essential to the experience, and are vital to your being able to play on the go – are only obtainable throguh pricey premium currency. The cynic in me thinks the Palico’s limited auto-paintballing is so hit-and-miss intentionally to pressure you into buying your own. Storage expansions (which cost £20 to max out) are locked entirely behind IRL money, too.
I know freemium games are designed to siphon cash out of your pockets, and I do not mind grinding for my weapons and armour (at about 20 hours of playtime, I can tell you that you can unlock all of these without dropping a penny, so far). It’s Monster Hunter, for Christ’s sake: grinding is part of the fun! But the monetisation leaves an undeniably ugly blemish on what is otherwise a pretty flawless experience.
To go back to that starting number: there are 3 million pre-registrations for the game already. That’s 2 million shy of Niantic’s goal for the pre-launch, but it’s not bad news: this is still a fairly niche IP, and the genre-defining mobile trailblazing that Niantic is so good at does a lot of the legwork. Even for non-MonHun fans, this is a game that can live on your home screen, booted up whenever you’re waiting for a mate in a bar or on either side of your commute, waiting for you to grind a little bit more. Make a little bit more progress. Immense yourself in the endless, dwarfing world of Monster Hunter, wherever you are.
I am going to be playing this game for weeks – months! Years! – to come. I just hope it ends up being popular enough for Niantic to address my concerns about its ties to your real-world coffers.
Monster Hunter Now is free to play, and sees its worldwide release date on September 14, for iOS and Android. You can pre-register for Monster Hunter Now on the App Store for iOS and Play Store for Android now.
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