I was skeptical of Monster Hunter Rise at first. I think most of my Monster Hunter obsessive friends were, too. It’s easy to overanalyze a game meant to “replace” one you’ve spent hundreds — if not thousands — of hours playing. And we overanalyzed the hell out of the new Switch exclusive monster battler, which blends the fighting game roots of developer Capcom’s past into a dense, cooperative action title.
I worried the mainstream success of Monster Hunter World (where I most recently spent those thousands of hours) might lead Rise to iron out all the little details I love from in this franchise: downtime in the Gathering Hub, eating cat-made meals before a hunt, collecting items from the natural world to help topple gods and dinosaurs. I was very wrong. Monster Hunter Rise does streamline a few fuzzy edges, but mostly just enhances the series’ broad, technical style in ways I can no longer imagine playing without.
While the game retains its predecessor’s depth, it also reduces the scope. Mostly for the better. The whole affair is set in and around a new locale called Kamura Village. The quiet little burgh, soaked in traditional Japanese architecture, weathers an attack every 50 years by a “Rampage” of wild monsters: fantastical bears, dragons, insects, and more that normally stick to their own environments. As a new hunter, you need to work your way up this food chain, preparing defenses and crafting increasingly powerful gear from their hides to stem the source of the stampede.
World attempted a higher-minded, more expansionist tone. You played an explorer rather than a defender — gone to some “New World” to tear it apart and see what made the continent tick. The setup rightly came under fire for its colonial overtones. Monster Hunter Rise sidesteps that with a simpler story of survival that, while nothing groundbreaking, also lends its supporting character more personality. They know each other. They live together. Unlike in past games, they get real names and relationships to learn about.
Protecting their home makes me feel just a bit better about bashing so many creatures oozing with personality. Bishaten, a brand-new beast like a monkey crossed with a fruit bat whose tail ends in a humanoid hand, lobs different kinds of fruit at the player with mischievous glee. Some are poisoned, some are flash bombs. and Bishaten will shield its eyes with wings to keep itself from getting dazed. When the flash goes off, the creature peeks out from behind its folds to check if the coast is clear. But if you hit it hard enough beforehand, the monkey-bat drops its spoils for you to collect and chuck at it instead.
Those are just a couple interactions from one hunt with one monster, to say nothing of the various Turf Wars that trigger when any two creatures clash. You can even force those interactions on hunts, or temporarily puppet a pet monster for a few seconds of completely different gameplay using the new Wirebug.
The Wirebug is really the silk that holds the revised combat together. Monster Hunter Rise includes 14 different weapon archetypes — just like the past few games. But each of those is supplemented by the aforementioned insect. The typical process of tracking a large beast, learning its deadly patterns, and harvesting it for crafting materials is still there. Only now the Wirebug fires webs to let you zip and swing towards your target like Spider-Man. Every weapon — from the reliable, immovable Lance to the lightning fast Dual Blades — still feels like its own, entirely unique action game (or perhaps a playable character from Street Fighter). But now each can launch you over and into foes at will. You can attack from above without… Well, not without a care in the world. Half the fun of Monster Hunter is worrying a stray T-Rex tail might end your mission, and reacting accordingly. Now there are just more options to do so.
A new technique called “Wirefall,” for instance, lets you recover from hits in midair. Monster Hunter monsters hit hard. Just one attack can send players flying while shaving off half your health bar. A quick zip with the Wirefall corrects that issue.
However, it also opens you up to follow-up attacks. A classic Monster Hunter tactic is waiting and “reading” your animal opponent after getting knocked away. The knockback makes you temporarily invincible, so standing back up just to eat another blast of fire breath isn’t always the best move. Wirefalling lets you maintain an offensive tempo — letting you slam right back into the fight after a mistimed dodge — but also requires better knowledge of monster behavior. An enraged Nargacuga will quickly whip its tail twice before resting. Taking two of these in a row is almost guaranteed death. Knowing when to back off is still important, even if Wirebug mobility makes hunts feel faster.
Speaking of mobility, you can also even the odds by exploring. New dog sidekicks called Palamutes speed up the process considerably by letting you ride them like mounts. Though you can only bring one “buddy” into battle during multiplayer. If you want to ride around you might need to forgo your more versatile cat companions: the classic Palico.
Even just using the Wirebug as a grappling hook, you can wall run over hill and dale rather quickly. And that’s the best way to find Spiribirds. These glowing orbs grant semi-permanent bonuses to health, stamina, defense, and attack for the remainder of a mission. They were also a big source of my initial skepticism. Would the game force me to hunt down these little squeakers at the start of every hunt?
Yes and no. Spiribird buffs are a huge help. But they’re not mandatory. Not to mention they condense prefight downtime from past games into an active, positive experience rather than a nuisance.
Tracking monsters with paintballs and Scoutflies is totally gone from Monster Hunter Rise. Now each enemy shows up on your map from the start. Taking your time getting from Points A to B is an extra reward, rather than a mandatory first step. It’s a smart, subtle change that continues to make Monster Hunter feel more “active” without actually reducing complexity. If anything, it adds more layers. Along the way you can also collect “Hunter Helpers.” These one-time use items (technically little critters littering the world) offer new tactical options — like wells of healing mist, a free monster mount, status ailments that slow down or weaken foes in particular ways, etc.
Because each Hunter Helper is also a natural, living creature (the healing mist fires from a snail’s shell, monster bait comes from a sweet-smelling skunk) they even support the diegetic, ecological themes that World faltered around. It’s another subtle detail, but Monster Hunter is built on hundreds of subtle details congealing into one of the most technical gameplay systems ever made. And that layer cake of combat and charming interludes is bigger than ever. Even if the game itself doesn’t have the graphical density of a PS4 release.
I haven’t even talked about Switch Skills, which let you customize individual techniques for each weapon, drastically changing how they operate. The complex Charge Blade starts with a powerful parry, for example, that you might want to replace with a pole vault attack that lets you slam back down on opponents as a finishing move.
I was skeptical of Monster Hunter Rise at first. But my fears were quickly put to bed like they’d been sprayed with Somnacanth sleep powder (I seriously hate sleep attacks…). Though I do have one new concern.
Namely, as I write this review, Monster Hunter Rise doesn’t feel finished. At least not by Monster Hunter standards. What’s here is polished, yes — almost to a mirror sheen. But at launch it simply ends. The game lacks any kind of narrative closure or repeatable “endgame” I’ve come to expect from this franchise. So much so that I assumed I was just missing something at first.
We’re still talking about 40-50 hours of game even if you don’t complete all the optional quests. Most players won’t chew through that before the first Title Update, which is scheduled to release one month after the main game. A second free expansion, TBD, will then add “the conclusion to the story.”
I trust that roadmap. Such as it is. Monster Hunter World had an incredible, consistent cadence of new monsters, gear, locations, and features. But it makes writing about this game, right now, a little tricky. I can’t currently use Monster Hunter Rise as the nearly never-ending comfort game I’ve come to expect from the series. It’s not entirely the game I wanted. Yet.
It is, however, a nearly pitch perfect experience while it lasts. My muscle memory has so completely molded itself around the Wirebug now that I can’t picture future games without it. The new monsters are some of the best in the series’ history. More content in the future feels exciting, rather than a cop out solution to what was likely a very difficult development cycle accounting for a global pandemic. Despite my initial misgivings, and the strangely hollow “ending,” I can’t bring myself to not love Monster Hunter Rise.