How Monster Hunter Now helped me navigate a personal health crisis
Exercise is a big part of my life. It has been for over a decade, between running middle-distance routes, and weightlifting. It's a dopamine hit, it's a release of endorphins, and it's something I genuinely enjoy doing.
In recent weeks, though, I've found I'm not quite as invincible as I felt in my 20s. I don't bounce back from a session like I used to, and my lower back and I are in an ongoing dispute about which way it should bend. Most concerning of all, though, is an issue with my heart - one that appears to be getting worse.
But, despite being 100 words deep on my relationship with exercise, I'm not here to talk about me - I'm here to explain just how much of a godsend Monster Hunter Now, Niantic's latest AR/location-based mobile game, has been for me in my time of need.
I should mention that, while I (like everyone else with a phone and who was around in 2016) have enjoyed Pokemon Go in the past, it began to feel a little like a chore to keep logging in, mercilessly grinding small creatures into candy (what else did you think the Professor was doing with them?) and tapping frantically to reclaim the in-game Gym next to my house only for what I can only assume is one of my neighbours to wrest control of it again (I will find you).
Pokemon Go is a unique experience, and one that has had so many new facets and mechanics bolted on top that it feels difficult to keep up with.
Monster Hunter Now, though, offers a fresh experience because it's still in its nascent stages. It could never capture the lightning in a bottle of me sprinting to catch a Pikachu in 2016 (a Pikachu, can you believe it?) because the licence it's based on, at least here in the UK, is drastically less popular than Pokemon, but my god, it's just so much more fun to play.
By swapping the pretty basic combat mechanics of Pokemon Go for something with multi-directional movement that still feels responsive, Monster Hunter Now stands on its own two, scaly feet as a much more familiar game, which makes it feel less tied to the Niantic's location-based map view and more like a great mobile facsimile of the core Monster Hunter experience.
Of course, that map-based adventuring is what enraptured so many of us with Pokemon Go - and it's still a delightful way to add to the mundanity of walking to the supermarket.
Advised to avoid running and the gym for weeks, I found myself desperate for a reason to walk the roads around my small town that I've walked hundreds of times before.
Thanks to Monster Hunter Now, I was roaming the area again, moving from gathering spot (the game's version of Pokestops) to gathering spot to stock up on items and slay some small beasts.
While Pokemon Go puts an onus on catching critters as you find them, Monster Hunter Now marks its bigger monsters with a limited number of in-game paintballs - it's universe-appropriate, but also alleviates the need to have my phone out while I'm constantly walking, or hunched over it when I spot something I want to slay.
While unable to lift heavy weights, I found my solace in taking lengthy walks, tagging huge beasts to bring down once I was back in the comfort of my own home. In many ways, it feels like Monster Hunter's structure inverted - rather than venturing into the wilderness and hunting creatures to bring home and use to make hats and swords, I'm doing my hunting at home.
It doesn't hurt that there's an impressively robust set of upgrade paths for each weapon, complete with unlockable skills. It's not quite mainline Monster Hunter levels of complexity, but that's probably a good thing.
After a brush with my own mortality, there's something almost reassuring about battering winged beasts with a hammer or dancing around monsters with a pair of swords carved from the last fearsome foe I tangled with.
It's video games as a power fantasy on a new level for me, and I am so, so thankful for it.