I am going to start this review off by stating I have never, at any point, enjoyed Monster Hunter as a franchise. Whether that be the Freedom games on PSP, Tri on Wii or World on the (then) next generation. The series has failed to maintain any hold on my attention despite numerous attempts to ‘get’ the game. Now that that has been established, this next statement should now hold a bit more weight: Monster Hunter Rise is one of the best games I have ever played – seriously.
Rise to the Occasion
As the name suggests you are a hunter of monsters. You reside in the relatively peaceful, and beautifully picturesque Japanese-inspired village of Kamura. From time to time Kamura gets attacked by neighbouring monsters and it is up to you to Rise through the ranks of the local guild by hunting, capturing and carving these gribblies. There is something nefarious afoot, however, and as the well-told, yet somewhat inconsequential story of Monster Hunter Rise unfolds, its presence becomes known and you need to take your big ol’ beatstick and knock it down a few pegs.
Whilst simple, the characters, the world and the excellent cutscenes manage to deliver a tale that is tantalisingly effective at getting you to go through the numerous missions on offer. There is a real sense of escalation as the stakes skyrocket in line with your hunter reputation, and by the time I got around to the ‘final’ encounter, I felt more than a little invested in the happenings of Rise. It is worth mentioning that the game ends on a cliffhanger, however, Capcom has announced more story content will be coming over the coming months, with its first free update coming in April.
Now being told you’re a badass hunter is one thing, actually being a badass is another thing entirely. To be a hunter you will need to slowly master whatever weapon you choose to brandish at any given time. Each weapon is radically different from the others, and you have 14 to choose from. Even the Light and Heavy Bowguns have shockingly different playstyles, and learning the intricacies of your chosen death-dealer is all part of the fun. Booping the snoot of a living mountain is nothing like performing a quintuple-backflip-helicopter-spin with a glaive after all.
But the fun comes at a price – clunkiness. Or, at the very least, the initial impression that the game is clunky. You see, Monster Hunter requires a lot from you and doesn’t hand you any keys to an easy victory. Things like, locking on, or being able to change your attack direction, or use curatives whilst holding a 50ft sword are missing. Imagine a typical Action RPG as being a car with an automatic gearbox – Monster Hunter Rise goes full manual.
The game is aware of this clunky gameplay, and thankfully, starts you off with a series of very easy missions and hunts. These monsters will likely be a challenge for newcomers, but defeat is also quite unlikely. Attack patterns are simple, the damage is fairly low, and it doesn’t take long to strip them of their health points. As the game ramps up, it expects more from you, and therefore requires more mastery of the mechanics. After a few hours, what was once a battle against the controls, became an intricate dance where those restrictions suddenly melt away to reveal freedom that is unmatched in contemporary action games. Being able to zip onto a wall, wall run to avoid an incoming attack, backflipping off before readjusting your camera manually to land a knockout blow to the dome of a raging, 20ft honey badger is something that is not only possible but feels uncomparably satisfying because I had to do it – not the game.
It also helps that Monster Hunter Rise has some of the tightest hitboxes I have ever seen. Lesser games have hitboxes that can travel the dark space between dimensions and smack you for game-ending damage despite the attack landing five seconds ago on a different continent. Not Rise. When a Nargacuga goes to slam you with its tail, it can quite literally land 1mm away from you and the game will class it as a miss. At most, the shockwave generated from the impact might stagger you slightly. It’s a stunning amount of attention to detail that keeps every fight feeling fair.
Spice of life
Of course, monster variety is key to keeping a game about killing monsters fresh, and thankfully Rise has a whopping 34 big monsters to tackle, with more on the way. These range from Sabre-toothed ice-dragon-tigers to pottery-carrying bird thingies to electrified flying squirrels. Each and every monster has a unique series of attacks – all of which are telegraphed – and these will often change in speed and ferocity as a fight goes on. Learning how to deal with an enemy that is almost impervious to bladed weapons when you’re holding a ginormous katana is almost as satisfying as figuring out how to knock a dragon out of the sky mid-flight.
A big addition to Rise is the Wire Bug. These seemingly simple insects allow you to expend an ever-refreshing resource to unleash powerful Silkbind attacks as well as perform various aerial manoeuvres. These little buggers are essentially a short-ranged grappling hook that can take even the heaviest of weapons to the skies, and make traditionally slow/static weapons mobile. With a simple button combination, you could latch a wire bug to a beastie, use it to powerslide around the battlefield whilst unleashing an unrelenting salvo of rocket-propelled explosives.
Alternatively, you could just use it to explore. Rise has several large maps to navigate, and all of them have a satisfying sense of verticality. Whilst finding a more traditional path up a mountain is fine, using your bug-friend to literally sprint up a sheer surface as if it was flat ground, is way better. Chaining wire bugs together to cross titanic ravines, or simply have a bit of fun, makes looking for things almost as satisfying as fighting things. It also helps that there are oodles of reasons to interact with the world in this manner. Endemic life is everywhere, and these can provide stat boosts as well as powerful temporary effects such as an increase in the number of wire bugs you can hold, or explosive toad grenades. There are also plenty of resources to be found which can later be turned into new armour, and hunting down things like mining outcrops is always worth the effort.
It also helps that the levels themselves are wonderfully memorable. Whilst the game has a map, after a few laps of the Shrine Ruins, I suspect most people will know it like the back of their hand. I could tell you where every latchberry bush is on every map, and where the best place to find Dragonite Ore is without breaking a sweat. For a game about killing things, there are plenty of things to do that don’t involve krumping a behemoth’s skull.
Then we have Rampage – an all-new addition unique to Rise. Rampage combines the above with a tower defence game. You and some friends/randos will hold the fort against 50 or so monsters using various ballista, cannons, gatling guns, drills, gongs and even nuclear warheads (or the Monster Hunter equivalent). I found this mode to be incredibly fun and a great way to break up core combat a bit. It was like a well-made side dish that complements the main course but doesn’t distract from it too much. It’s here you will fight hyper-powerful Apex monsters as well, who will kick the snot out of you if you don’t pay attention.
This nicely leads into the third layer of Monster Hunter’s decadent cake – the village stuff. Not only a pretty place to wander around, but it also serves as your main hub for, well, just about everything. This is where you can grab quests, enter multiplayer, customise your appearance and munch on Dango. Additionally, Hammon the Smith takes up residence here, and this guy will take the monster bits you’ve collected and turn them into new weapons and armour.
Each and every piece of armour, or weapon, is unique – and not just visually. Everything has an in-depth list of stats that vary wildly between adornments. This means that wearing the hide of a Great Izuchi might not be the best idea against monsters that use specific elements when attacking. Additionally, each piece also houses at least one skill. Skills are the bread and butter of Monster Hunters out-of-combat depth and are used to create and optimise builds. Skills can have dramatic effects, and not only in regards to damage. Putting on a specific set of boots might make the act of sharpening your weapon faster, whilst a certain cuirass could allow you to evade further etc. Mixing and matching armour sets to create the perfect combination of skills is almost a game in-and-of-itself, and is where the game’s loop really shines. You go out on hunts to gather the parts to create your build, to do more hunts and unlock new builds and playstyles. There is something uniquely satisfying about forgoing a typical levelling up system and replacing it with physical rewards that resemble the monster you just took down.
As you progress through the game’s lengthy story, you will eventually unlock decorations that allow you to take rare materials and synthesise powerful skill gems. This allows you to slot additional skills into your armour, blowing open the door when it comes to customisation. Let’s just say, you could spend hours pouring over menus planning out your perfect build.
You also have buddies who can help you with hunts that come in the form of Palamutes and Palicos. You can ride Palamutes like horses, allowing you to cover great distances with ease. Palicos on the other hand have classes and come with a diverse selection of skills and abilities. You could tailor your buddy to gather additional resources, deal increased damage, or even lay traps. Armour and weapons can be crafted at Hammon’s shop, and in doing so, you can have a very dapper pair of buddies.
Hordes of Doggos
But that’s not all, you can have a gaggle of buddies who will operate behind the scenes using the wonderful Buddy Plaza. This area of Kamura can be used to send buddies on missions to fight monsters and gather materials, go out on trading expeditions or train at the dojo. The more a buddy does, the higher their level and the more effective they get. This is a great way to gather extra materials when you’re out and about, and you will receive notifications whenever you need to go back to the plaza to collect your stockpile of loot.
The best part? You don’t NEED to invest this heavily. Monster Hunter Rise is, for the most, quite easy. Especially the single-player content. It is designed to prepare you for the challenge of High Rank Multiplayer – not kill you relentlessly. That’s not to say that there aren’t difficult walls. Returning favourites Nargacuga and Tigrex are uncompromising in their aggression and will force newbies to master their mechanics to overcome.
Multiplayer is where the game truly shines. Containing its own set of story quests and cutscenes, multiplayer can be tackled in a variety of ways. You can create a lobby for randoms to join and take turns going on various hunts. Alternatively, you could lobby up with some friends. Finally, you can pick a quest and search for an active party to join that disbands upon completion. Whatever you pick, it’s incredibly intuitive and more importantly, fast. It takes seconds to join a lobby, and there are no loading screens. Whatever your poison, Rise is ready to wheel and deal it.
I could go on for hours about every little system Rise has to offer, but honestly, you should experience the rest yourself. So let’s move onto the graphics and performance. Monster Hunter Rise is easily one of – if not the best looking game on the Switch. It is gorgeous from head to toe. Whilst a technical downgrade from Monster Hunter World, Capcom have managed to nail an artistic style that, in my opinion, makes Rise a different kind of visual treat. Animations are intricate, armour designs are gorgeous and the world is large, open and more importantly, free from clutter. Sure you might see the odd ugly texture, but as a whole, this is impressive stuff. Performance-wise, the game manages to hit a fairly solid 30FPS with very few dips in most areas. There are a few expectations here and there, but nothing serious enough that It hampered my enjoyment.
All of this pales in comparison to the outstanding soundtrack, however. Every tune is a corker with jingles that enrich the world. Alternatively, it can get you pumped out of your mind when fighting a fire-breathing poison dragon on an erupting god-damn volcano…who is also going toe-to-toe with a wandering fricken Tyrannosaurus Rex…thing. Special mention goes to the legendary Khezu track, which is destined to become one of the most iconic tunes in gaming. You can even customise the soundtrack so you can listen to whatever tune you want, and really start bopping along.
The way this game hooked me before dragging me into the vast depths of obsession is like nothing I have experienced in my adult life. It reminds me of when I was a bairn discovering something truly amazing and investing my entire being into experiencing every facet of its pristine form. Regardless of what your experience has been with the series prior, Rise is a game that you should absolutely sink your teeth into. I’ve put over 100 hours into this game, and I’m not putting it down any time soon.