Monster Hunter Now might be the new Pokémon Go obsession you've been looking for
Pokémon GO was a cultural moment in 2016. Just as many of you did, I sprinted from Pokéstop to Pokéstop to snatch up as many of the 150 original 'mon as I could, and it’s a summer I’ll certainly never forget.
My interest has, however, waned in the years that followed; my Pokémon nostalgia runs out after Gen 2, I’ve become a parent, and I felt I was done with the carefree, creature-catching lifestyle of my mid-twenties. As it turns out, my tastes have evolved into something a little more bloodthirsty - no, wait, let me explain.
Monster Hunter Now is Niantic’s next project, and is slated for launch later this year following closed beta. While at first glance it may appear to be “Pokémon GO with bigger monsters”, it’s actually much more than that and pays refreshing reverence to a franchise I’ve naturally grown to love in the years since my 2016 Pokémon dalliance.
Hunting, not catching
During a recent hands-on preview, I was impressed by how much of Monster Hunter Now feels different from Pokémon GO’s core loop, while still sharing much of the same DNA.
Naturally, there are areas to visit, with resource collection replacing Pokéstops, complete with satisfying vibration feedback when mining crystals or harvesting insects.
Naturally, your interactions with the digital creatures around you still take place on a map overlaid on your own real-world location, but monsters come in two sizes.
Small monsters, like the Jagras (essentially fodder in the main line Monster Hunter franchise), can be felled within two or three sword swipes.
Larger monsters, on the other hand, take place in timed events that feel like a more active evolution of Raids from the game’s monster-catching counterpart.
Combat also takes part in the third-person, another way Monster Hunter Now sheds the skin of its Pokémon-themed sibling and leans into its influence.
Players can swipe in four directions to dodge, close in, or back away from monsters, while tapping it unleashes attacks in combo fashion.
There’s a hold command, which has different effects for different weapons, too - with Sword and Shield, it guards, while Greatsword prepares for a larger swing, and when levelled, each weapon has its own unique ability, too. There’s blunt damage, sever damage, and elemental affinities, too.
These are all things you’ll expect to see as a Monster Hunter fan, but I was impressed at how faithfully these attacks, weapons, and monsters are recreated here. While we weren’t able to experience the AR effect of seeing a monster in the room in front of us, we were able to tackle a few of the beasts, both solo and in multiplayer, and you can engage in combat in both portrait and landscape phone orientations.
While Monster Hunter’s weighty combat (a progenitor, in many ways, of the animation-locked Souls-style offering) has always been a draw, the franchise’s longevity has long come from looting materials from monsters and building it into new loot and weaponry to then tackle bigger monsters.
Within the core franchise, though, that’s not the easiest system to convey - something Monster Hunter has traditionally overwhelmed new players with.
“We spent a lot of attention on it,” Sakae Osumi, Senior Producer at Niantic Tokyo Studio reveals, showcasing his high-level armour.
“We didn’t put everything on the table for them [players] to pick what they want, because that’s really overwhelming for anyone new to the franchise”.
Quest targets in Monster Hunter Now are signposted, so players know which monsters to farm and what they need for their next big piece of gear.
I wondered how the move from catching Pokémon and feeding them candy to carving beasts into extravagant headwear would go, but Osumi reveals that the jump from catching pocket monsters to hunting monsters wasn’t that difficult.
“In our office, we have people who are familiar with Monster Hunter who play a lot, but we also have a lot of people who have never played.”
“So conducting the playtest or concept test with those who are new to the series comes more naturally to us, making the process smoother.”
Osumi even reveals that early testing of Monster Hunter Now has seen multiple Niantic internal guilds emerging to build out the social element among experienced and new players to the franchise.
Poke the Rathalos
With player sentiment around Pokémon GO lower than it has been in a while in the face of controversial remote changes Niantic has made, I asked Osumi if there’s a chance for a new game to absorb some of that player base.
“Monster Hunter fans are our primary audience, but there could be moments where players switch between a Pokémon Raid and a monster hunt [taking place in similar locations],” he explains, suggesting the game is targeting players fresh to Niantic experiences more than it is looking to accumulate players from existing ones.
So, what about VR? With virtual reality able to offer a much more colossal scale, and Meta Quest and PSVR hardware refreshes, is Monster Hunter Now expected to add any opportunities to get up close and personal with a Rathalos?
“We aren’t thinking about VR,” Osumi says.
“One of the wow moments in the Monster Hunter franchise is looking up at that huge monster,” he notes.
He does point to an internal demo of an AR prototype that shows a large monster appearing in the city, while another saw a Palico standing on a table in a room.
It’s a confident step forward from Pokémon GO’s beginnings, and truly does feel analogous to Monster Hunter Now as a whole - it’s an ambitious title that, if it finds an audience, could represent Niantic’s best chance of replicating Pokémon GO’s meteoric success yet.
Monster Hunter Now will launch in 2023.