Monster Hunter Rise feels like a proper homecoming.
After finally capturing the attention of the West with Monster Hunter World, which made the long-running monster slaying series more attractive to Western players with big bold graphics, seamless online play and more accessible systems, its latest entry proves that it hasn’t forgotten its native Japanese audience, to whom the series has been a hit for over a decade.
That’s evident in the distinctive Japanese theme that lavishly drapes over Rise’s artistic direction. It’s also in Capcom’s decision to bring the series back to a handheld platform, where hunters gathering to play together made its multiplayer so special.
But if after bringing the series to current-gen and PC standards, the thought of an exclusive entry on the underpowered Switch feels like a step back or a lesser spin-off, then think again.
Even though Rise’s graphics run below the Switch’s standard 1080p or 720p resolutions when docked or in handheld mode respectively, it’s a testament to Capcom’s in-house RE Engine (previously used in photorealistic games like Resident Evil 7 and Devil May Cry 5) that this is easily one of the best looking games on Nintendo’s console.
But there’s more to graphics than raw pixel count. Where Rise really shines is its distinctively Japanese flavour, from new hub Kamura Village, with its evergreen cherry blossoms and your diet of dango (Japanese rice balls on skewers, complete with its own adorable jingle) for helpful buffs before a hunt, to the designs of new monsters directly inspired by yokai from Japanese mythology - fans of the hard-as-nails Nioh might even recognise some similarities.
This aspect adds to the wildly varied roster in Rise compared to how Monster Hunter World played it safe with dragons and dinosaurs. Sure, old staples like Rathalos and Diablos are still roaming as the kings you don’t want to mess with (new flagship monster Magnamalo is no slouch either), but then you’ve also got the bear-like Arzuros, fire-spewing spider-like Rakna-Kadaki, or Khezu, who’s just frankly disgusting on all counts.
That fortunately also translates to a dizzying array of weapon and armour designs that’s necessary to improve your hunt’s stats. That intoxicating loop of hunting powerful monsters in order to craft better gear so that you can take on even tougher monsters remains as strong as it always has, and Rise is only too happy to keep you locked in its grasp.
The Fast and the Furry
Following on from the quality of life changes introduced in Monster Hunter World, Rise doubles down for an even faster paced experience. Each of the biomes might feel smaller in comparison, but that’s only because traversing them is a lot zippier. First, there are Wirebugs, insects that produce thick silk that you can use to grapple across and up environments, which also lets you do aerial attacks previously limited to just a couple weapon types.
They can also unleash special attacks for each of the 14 weapon types - more of which unlock over time, that you can switch between to suit your playstyle, while short cooldowns mean you can use them regularly in hunts. Perhaps the best thing is when a monster knocks you down, you can even grapple away out of danger either for a quick recovery or to instantly get back into the fight.
You can even use wirebugs to ride weakened monsters, a ludicrous but inspired amalgamation of mounting and turf wars from previous instalments. While controlling a monster can be cumbersome, having them smash into other monsters for extra damage is chaotically brilliant. A more reliable ride, however, comes from the all-new Palamutes. A new buddy alongside the series’ regular talking cat warriors, you can call on and ride these delightful doggoes anytime, making pursuing monsters even snappier. That you can also ride them while sharpening your weapon or gathering other resources is another sign of how much more streamlined the action has become.
Hell, monsters now just appear on the mini-map, saving you the whole song-and-dance of tracking them. This and other improvements just cut down on the busywork so you can concentrate on the main event of monster hunting.
Hunting party over here
One side effect of the improved speed and accessibility is that veteran hunters may find a lot of the early hunts a cakewalk. That said, anyone who thinks they have finished Monster Hunter Rise after the credits have rolled are sorely mistaken.
At first, it appears as if Rise has adopted an archaic approach of splitting its single-player and multiplayer modes with village quests and hub quests respectively. However, the village section is really more for onboarding newcomers while seasoned hunters and friends can dive straight into hub quests, the only route to progressing to the game’s ‘high rank’ quests.
As with its predecessor, Hub quests dynamically scales its difficulty based on the number of players, who can join mid-quest either by joining the lobby or via the aid system that works similarly to SOS requests in World. So yes, soloing hunts is more than viable, especially when you’ve also got buddy cats and dogs to help.
Nonetheless, hunting together remains core to Monster Hunter, and it truly comes alive in the new Rampage quests. These are essentially Monster Hunter as Tower Defence, and it’s a wonderfully chaotic time as hunters along with NPCs and a barrage of artillery weapons repel hordes of monsters trying to storm the village gates. If anything, they’re just as fun and rewarding as the hunts themselves, while pushing the Switch hardware to its limits.
That the screen can overload with multiple hunters and monsters causing a ruckus without the frame rate crashing down is a real testament to the sorcery Capcom has done to create one of the most visually spectacular games on Switch that still runs super smooth when online. It may well be destined to be the Animal Crossing that action game fans have been waiting for.
Monster Hunter Rise Verdict
Far from scaling down, Monster Hunter Rise builds on the accessible streamlining from Monster Hunter World for a wilder action-packed hunting fest with even cooler abilities, inspired new features and modes, all while boasting one of the best looking games on Switch that makes the hardware truly sing.
Newcomers will feel at ease, while veterans will find plenty of ways to experiment with the new mechanics and tackle its toughest monsters (with more to come in post-launch updates), with the two ideally coming together to help one another in local or online multiplayer. Whichever you might be, sharpen your weapon of choice, as you won’t want to miss out on one of the best games of 2021.