If Monster Hunter World was Capcom learning just how much accessibility translated to financial success, Monster Hunter Rise is effectively that same formula replicated in a handheld, binge-friendly form factor.
Out officially on March 26, Monster Hunter Rise is the sixth major instalment of the Monster Hunter series and the first to be developed ground-up with the Switch in mind. It’s not exactly a Switch exclusive — Rise will hit the PC sometime next year. But just as Monster Hunter really started to find huge success on portable systems, it’s hard not to see how Rise will follow suit.
Like previous Monster Hunter games, the story is fundamentally superfluous to the meat and potatoes of the proper business of chasing down monsters that increasingly struggle to fit on the Switch screen. You’re tasked with helping protect Kamura Village, a town best described as Naruto‘s Hidden Leaf Village overrun with dango, palamutes and palicos.
The town is facing a calamity called the Rampage, a 50-year event where countless monsters threaten to wipe out the town. You start out as a new hunter, learning the ropes on smaller, less threatening beasts with fairly simplified attack patterns. Outside of the mandatory tutorials that pop up throughout gameplay, Rise‘s structure functionally works as a “soft” learning ground for the first 20 hours. It’s a space to become accustomed to what weapons you like, the 5 environments you’ll fight monsters in, the fundamentals of the horde-style Rampage mode, and also the basic Monster Hunter loop: chasing monsters, hunting or capturing monsters, upgrading your weapons and armour, upgrading your palico and palamutes, hiring more buddies to find more resources, and then repeating the whole process over and over.
Where Rise improves the process is a series of changes, some enormous and others more subtle, that reduce some of the series’ friction. The wirebug is the simplest illustration of this, enabling quick dodges in combat and some neat verticality when exploring. But it’s also little things like riding your Palamute and being able to sharpen your weapon along the way. It’s the ability to easily track enemies from the start of a fight, instead of having to go searching for footsteps. It’s gyro controls that make ranged weapons more viable, and more enjoyable. (Just note that gyro controls are disabled by default.)
It’s the simplification to some weapons like the Hunting Horn. It’s the way the game gives you time to get accustomed to your weapon, only to introduce a new switch skill that’s practically like discovering a new weapon within your weapon.
The wirebug alone would be enough to recommend Rise to Monster Hunter diehards, but the real gem within all of this is just how much more neatly the whole experience scales. Most of your initial fights can be clocked off within 10 or 15 minutes, even though you have the generosity of almost an hour to do whatever you want within Rise‘s 5 maps. Everything about Rise seems like Capcom wanted the game to be easier to get into, although it’s not immediately clear how much focus was sacrificed from the endgame to achieve that.
Similarly, it’s hard to evaluate the state of the game’s multiplayer. The review process meant that multiplayer servers were only unlocked within the first few days of Rise being made available, which made things difficult to judge considering most people were still at exceedingly early levels, well before most of the major fights were unlocked. So consider this an exclusive take on the single-player experience, and we’ll keep checking in with Rise and evaluating its shared state over the next week once the servers are back online.
Rise maintains the open-world structure of Monster Hunter World, but there’s a bit more levity to run around, a necessity given the introduction of Palamutes. But there’s also a self-contained experience in the Rampage quests, which I unlocked after about 15 hours of play.
Rampage quests are basically Rise‘s take on a tower defence mode. Waves of monsters come to batter the Kamura Village gate, and you’re responsible for constructing a series of ballistae, artillery, bamboo bombs, cannons and whatever combination you like to bat them away. You can also manually attack the monsters like you would in a normal hunt, but the fun here is really wirebugging from one side of the map to the other, switching from one mounted gun to another.
As you take out monsters your fortress levels up, unlocking new turrets, supporting hero characters and other options. And as with everything else in a Monster Hunter game, these feed into quests of their own: taking out a certain number of monsters with a certain turret, inflicting a certain amount of status blights, gathering dropped parts from the monsters that fall, and so on.
Along with the Rampage quests, there’s Village guests and more general Hub quests. Village quests can only be done solo, whereas your Hub and Rampage quests can go either way. That’s perhaps what is most enticing about Rise: the fact that so much of the game is so simply scalable. It remains to be seen precisely how playable some of the late game quests will be, though. Rise‘s performance is pretty solid when you’re playing alone, whether you’re fighting hordes of smaller enemies or you’re stuck in a massive fight with beasts that have larger AOE attacks, like Magnamalo’s giant purple orbs of doom or the bubble-generating Mizutsune. Zinogre’s especially eye-catching the first time you fight it, especially in later phases where it becomes massively supercharged and its electric blue scales light up the night.
It’s worth calling out just how good Monster Hunter Rise looks in docked or portable mode. The REEngine, of which Rise is Capcom’s first major use of the engine on the Switch outside of the Ghosts ‘n Goblins remaster, has proved remarkably scalable. You’ll be able to see the effects obviously enough when playing, with characters models, foliage and textures sometimes displaying a cross-hatching effect. It’s basically Capcom’s admission of how hard cuts have to be made to maintain a solid framerate on the Switch. But all the right cuts were absolutely made — Capcom’s completely nailed it for my liking.
The only caveat is that some of the maps themselves might not be especially exciting. The Shine Ruins can be a bit drab, and even though it has much greater verticality in places, you’ll generally find all of your fights take place on the same level and within largely the same spots. Lava Caverns, with its caves and tunnels, is vastly more interesting once you get the hang of it — although it’s natural to get lost a couple of times when you first start exploring. (Flooded Forest and Sandy Plains, two of the other five levels, are returning locations from Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate.)
But it’s really the constant discovery and the ease of entry that make Rise so exceedingly playable. This isn’t like earlier handheld Monster Hunter titles where the learning curve could be brutally steep. If anything, you’ll have to curb your natural aggression and greed because the opening quests and levels are too easy to facetank. That’s ultimately a good thing though: it means you get an appreciable change in the experience later on when harder bosses do appear, and it also gives you something manageable to fall back on when you ultimately want to swap from, say, a long sword to a light bowgun or a glaive. Or if you just want to practice a whole new approach unlocked by the change of a new silkbind attack.
The wirebug alone is good enough to open up Monster Hunter as a series for some people. World wasn’t a slow game, certainly not compared to the original titles, but the wirebug and palamute riding single-handedly makes traversal more fun. That’s helpful if you’re trying to scale a mountain if you’re searching for more endemic life, so you can get crucial stamina/health/attack/defense boosts before taking on a big fight. But there’s also supremely smart quality of life inclusions: if you run out of stamina, you can use a wirebug dash to try and climb that last little way up the mountain. Or you could just hang in the air for as long as you like and Rise is good enough to let you recharge stamina while you do. (The cooldowns on wirebugs are very quick when you’re out of combat, too.)
Rise’s entire design almost feels like Capcom took a long look at the Monster Hunter franchise and wrote down every point of frustration or friction people had with the series. A lot of this work started with World, and many of World’s quality of life changes, like the shortcuts panel and radial shortcuts menu, have been ported straight over. But Rise takes that philosophy further, creating a Monster Hunter experience that’s supremely accessible, whether you’ve played Monster Hunter World, the series before, or not at all.
There will be grumbling and discussion in the weeks to come about just how well Rise‘s end-game content is built out, and how much the Rampage missions support that, but as an opening Monster Hunter experience, Rise is absolutely worth the money. If you were on the fence about Monster Hunter at any point, Rise is the time to hop off. I can see myself binging this game comfortably for months, and when it hits the PC next year, I’ll likely buy it again for round two. Rise is, genuinely, that good.
And yes, you can pat your palamute.
Monster Hunter Rise is out on the Nintendo Switch on March 26, with a PC release due some time next year.