I didn’t know what to expect going into Niantic’s Monster Hunter Now.
With so many games copying the Pokémon Go formula, including Jurassic World Alive and the now-defunct Ghostbusters World and Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, I confess that I’ve grown pretty tired of that type of game. Monster Hunter Now, however, takes a pretty interesting approach.
At its core is the same sort of augmented reality-powered location-based, well, monster hunting, but with some much-needed depth in various areas. Of course, Monster Hunter is an action-RPG series, so that’s two different genres that needed to be well-represented. Fortunately, Niantic has managed to translate both components over to mobile, based on a hands-on demo at Summer Game Fest in Los Angeles.
First, there’s the action. This is a series that’s all about weighty combat, so I wasn’t sure how that would work on mobile. To Niantic’s credit, though, it actually plays well. For basic attacks, you tap the screen, while swiping in any direction will have you dodge that way. You can also hold down the attack button for a charged move and unleashed a super move once a metre is full. Several classic types of Monster Hunter weapons also make an appearance, including greatswords, long swords and bow guns, and they all refreshingly handle differently.
While this is a mobile-friendly streamlined version of combat, the animations and overall weight of the combat look and feel like Monster Hunter. I particularly appreciated how intuitive it feels to use your device’s gyroscopes to aim bow guns. You can even target individual parts of the monsters’ bodies for greater precision, which is handy if you want to stagger it. The fact that Niantic has maintained that sense of speed of regular Monster Hunter battles is something of a miracle, especially since it actually feels solid on a smaller screen. I don’t generally find real-time combat on mobile to be fun, especially in Go-style games, but this is surprisingly engaging with its flashiness and focus on timed taps and swipes.
Taking cues from the mainline Monster Hunter titles, you can also join up with up to three other players in battles, and in my demo, I enjoyed coordinating with the Niantic rep about where to position ourselves. This is handy and even essential in some cases since you only have 75 seconds to beat a monster before time runs out and the hunt fails. I initially found this frustratingly restrictive, but I soon came around to it once I viewed this as a pick-up-and-play mobile game instead of a full-on console and PC title.
The RPG mechanics, meanwhile, feel appropriately deep. As with other mobile games, you’ll get resources from battles that can be put towards upgrading your gear. With the Monster Hunter twist, though, specific items will come from different creatures, encouraging you to track them down. Naturally, that core Pokémon Go gameplay loop of going out into the real world to find monsters feels right at home with Monster Hunter. In this way, being able to slowly build out your hunter with more impressive gear should remain satisfying over the course of many hours of play.
All the while, the developer has brought over quality-of-life improvements that were introduced to Pokémon Go over time, including the ability to bring the creatures to you. This includes three biomes (desert, swamp and forest) that contain different creatures and rotate regularly. If you don’t want to venture out, the game will simply bring a new biome to your area. One Monster Hunter-specific addition, though, is a genuinely brilliant one: Paintballs. With this, you can basically capture a monster to battle later on. It’s a clever way to let you avoid missing a special beast if you’re not ready to fight it yet. Both you and your classic Monster Hunter critter Palico have a few of them, so you’ll need to use them sparingly unless you want to buy more in the shop. Naturally, this is where the monetization comes in.
I’m by no means a Monster Hunter fan, as I’ve only played a few hours of World and Rise, but Niantic has thankfully made the game approachable for people who are less familiar with the series. Of course, fans will only get more out of all of the recognizable weapons and monsters here. (Niantic wouldn’t confirm how many there are of each, but promised there are “many.”)
Whether you’re part of Monster Hunter‘s expansive fan base or simply want a new spin on Pokémon Go, Monster Hunter Now is absolutely worth keeping on your radar. The game is set to launch on Android and iOS sometime in September. Those interested in potentially playing ahead of release can sign up for closed beta tests here.
Image credit: Capcom/Niantic