Copy provided by publisher.
I check my mini-map for the location of the monster, confident that it wouldn’t go on the cliff I was perched on. It was right on top of me. Suddenly, I was face to face with a giant purple tiger. I nearly leapt out of my gamer chair.
Monster Hunter Rise is the latest in the Monster Hunter franchise. Many will look at Rise and see a much smaller game, especially compared to Monster Hunter World which released in 2018 and has had over two years of support. But make no mistake, Rise is just as content rich and fun as any Monster Hunter game. It’s additions to traversal and combat are so good I want to see them in more Monster Hunter games. More impressive is the fact that the game takes several concepts introduced in World and expands on them in creative and intuitive ways. However, the experience is held back by an inconsistent difficulty curve and other small annoyances that add up over time.
The use of Wirebugs is a revelation. Hunters can use an insect and its silky string to perform a Wiredash, launching themselves forward, vertically, or wherever their cursor is aimed depending on what button you press. If done against a wall, players can run up the wall so long as their stamina is depleted. In previous games, you were under the mercy of the level design. If you accidentally fell off a cliff or narrow vine, you had to scurry back up. You always had to go around cliffs or slowly climb up vines. Now you can overcome these obstacles with ease.
You’re gonna what to scale as much of the environment as possible. Not only are there hidden relics to collect, but there are Spiritbirds that fly to you and boost your stats permanently for that quest. Spiritbirds aren’t necessary for hunting monsters, but the boosts they provide is much appreciated. They really encourage you to explore the environment.
Wirebugs are not only useful for traversal but for combat as well. Weapons have at least two attacks that use Wirebugs – known as Silkbind attacks. Since Wirebugs take time to recover, you essentially get two strong attacks or defensive maneuvers that operate on a cooldown. You can also unlock variations of these moves that operate quite differently from another. They can really enhance the effectiveness of weapons or even cover some of their weaknesses.
The lance, one of my personal favorites, can use Wirebugs to stick a peg in the monster attached to silk. With a press of a button, the player can reel into the monster while guarding. This helps cover the lance’s weaknesses of its slow movement speed. It’s a great option when you want to approach monsters in a safer and faster way than with charging with the lance. You also get a second counterattack move that boosts your attack.
The hammer, another personal favorite, can essentially use the spinning attack anywhere thanks to Wirebugs – no slopes required. It also has a rising and falling attack that’s always satisfying to pull off.
The tools from World are replaced with Endemic Life. Throughout the environment you find critters that you can hold onto and use like items. Some can make monsters follow you while others inflict status effects. I find them an interesting take on tools, if not a full on replacement. With tools, you have a bonus you can use before having to wait a while before you can use it again, and you always get that bonus. With endemic life, you’re not always guaranteed to have the bonus you need unless you know exactly where to find the endemic life you want but you can have a wider variety of bonuses at your disposal and you can use them one after another.
Both the Wirebug and endemic life emphasize not only working around the environment, but making the environment work for you. Players have always needed to memorize where the traps and items are for efficient hunting, and the Spiritbirds and Endemic Life really play and expand on that. And the Wirebug is just a joy to use. They really helps make the gameplay of Rise stand out from the other entries in the series.
Palicoes return and this time they come with passive skills that you can equip as well as active abilities like shooting healing bubbles and launching Endemic Life that can paralyze or put a monster to sleep. However, all these abilities are randomized. If you want a specific combination, you’re going to have to hope a Palico with that combo pops up in the hiring list.
Joining Palicoes are Palamutes, dog companions that the player can ride like a horse. It’s essentially the Raider Ride function in World where you can ride while using items. It’s particularly useful for chasing a monster while also sharpening your weapon. In Rise, however, you directly control your mount instead of it automatically following a path. It feels so much better to control your own mount. You can even drift to boost your speed temporarily.
Another thing they changed from World to Rise is the process of mounting monsters. In World and other previous games, if you do enough aerial attacks you can hold onto the monster while taking care not to be thrown off before you do a big attack and stun it for a bit. In Rise, doing aerial attacks – along with Silkbind attacks and attacks from other monsters – eventually lets you hop onto the monster and control it yourself. You can make it attack other monsters or ram it into walls to rack up damage and topple it. I’m a sucker for any game that has a mechanic where you can use the same exact attacks the enemies do. It’s way more interesting, intuitive, and versatile that mounting monsters in previous games, and I hope they carry on this feature in future Monster Hunter games.
Sieges from previous games have been given a massive overhaul. Sieges involve firing cannons at gargantuan monsters until you win. It looks epic but what you’re doing isn’t epic. In Rise, the sieges have been replaced with Rampage Quests. Here you defend a gate at the end of the map from a line of monsters by setting up defense posts that either automatically shoot the monsters or can be piloted directly by players. It’s a Monster Hunter take on tower defense games. It’s simple as far as tower defense goes, but it opens up so many more strategies than sieges could ever do. More importantly, the Rampage quests are actually tense and exciting as your defenses are worn down one after another and you’re constantly juggling between different stations and monsters.
There’s also a number of small and subtle quality of life changes that go a long way to streamlining the experience. They’re too numerous to count, but here are the ones I noticed and appreciated the most:
So that’s what’s new. What hasn’t changed is that the gameplay is super satisfying. It’s all about timing, positioning, and using the environment to your advantage. You can’t target monsters automatically like you can in games with similar combat styles, but that’s where the skill comes in. You really have to pay attention to the monsters to get the most out of fights. You need to know when it’s safe to get that really big attack in or when to heal. Getting that perfect hit, and more importantly learning how to get that perfect hit more often, is all part of the fun. If you love games like Dark Souls, Cuphead, and Gunstar Heroes which really emphasize their boss battles, then you’re going to feel spoiled by Monster Hunter.
There’s always something new to discover too. The monsters all play differently even if they share some animations and character rigs. I love analyzing monsters and figuring out how to avoid attacks and capitalize on certain behaviors as I’m fighting them. In Rise especially, there’s a lot of variation in the design. While I love fighting the monsters in World, it’s a little disappointing that most of them conformed to the same base reptilian design. In Rise we have eldritch monsters with long necks and no eyes, umbrella birds, and big scary purple kitties that are like every Elder Dragon rolled into one, and that’s just three of them.
One thing that did take getting used to was the length of fights. Each quest where you fight a single monster takes about 15 minutes. In World, you can spend upwards of 30 minutes if fighting a monster with gear at around the same power level. Obviously the shorter fights are designed with handheld play in mind. At first I felt like the grandiose nature of the fights was a little lost with them taking half as long, but I’ve come to appreciate the condensed experience. Maybe I wish they lasted a bit longer, but at least fights never feel like they overstay their welcome which was an occasional annoyance in World.
Another thing that annoyed me was that the difficulty level was inconsistent in the beginning. I’ve spent ages in World (though I’m far from a master hunter), so maybe my experience made the early stages more of a breeze. I barely fainted in fights until I got to high rank.
When you get into multiplayer, it can be even easier. You’re not only fighting with three other hunters, but their and your Palamutes as well. With everyone attacking a monster at the same time, it can feel like you’re just giving a monster a brutal beatdown in a dark alleyway. This can be a problem because your attacks can interrupt other hunters, especially if you’re one of those chumps who use the long sword (like me). I don’t like playing multiplayer for these reasons alone, and I should not be saying that about a Monster Hunter game.
The challenge does ramp up in high rank, but if you’re a seasoned hunter prepare to not feel as challenged in the early stages.
It was a weird decision to split the story quests between multiplayer and single player only quests. I get that they wanted players who can’t always connect online due to the nature of the handheld device to have something to do, but halfway through the story the game just gives up and gives you multiplayer quests only. And those multiplayer quests can be completed by yourself and two AI partners anyway.
Also, the three faints and you’re out system needs an overhaul. I get the idea of it. It can really raise the stakes of a quest when you only have one life left. And I get that the point of fights shouldn’t be to just throw yourself at a monster and die over and over again until it’s dead (though you can do that anyway in expeditions). But when you’re in multiplayer and you’re the one using up most of all of the lives, everyone hates you. The lives system promotes a “git gud” mentality. It runs counter to the spirit I see throughout the community of everyone trying to help each other get better.
It really does feel like one of the many “features” that Capcom put in seemingly just to annoy and inconvenience players, such as having to constantly keep the stamina cap up by eating meat. I also hate not being able to craft gear because I didn’t kill this specific Small Monster in this specific area of the map or I didn’t get enough of that one rare monster part exclusive to the Meowcenaries. Also, how the heck is delivering eggs still a thing? They’re mercifully optional (if you don’t want certain weapon designs or Bunny Dango, that is) but they’re always so boring and annoying but they keep bringing it back seemingly only out of obligation. Yeah, when I think of Monster Hunter, I think of slowly carrying an egg across a huge chunk of the map while under the constant stress of breaking it and having to do it all over again.
There’s clear moments where the game feels held back by the hardware. The graphics are as good as they need to be on a technical level but some of the visual flair needed to be more satisfying then they are. This is particularly noticeable for the activation of skills like Offensive Guard. In World, there was this really satisfying flourish when you activated it with a unique sound effect and visual flair to go with it. In Rise, I can barely tell it activated half the time. Also, it’s annoying to use the radial menu in Handheld Mode on the Switch because the control stick is too sensitive and small and I keep using the wrong items because of it.
The game is dripping with style. The whole game unapologetically embraces Japanese culture, which is refreshing from a developer infamous for trying to appeal to the west with entries like Resident Evil 6 and Umbrella Corps. While the hunting areas aren’t as detailed or technically impressive as in World, the addition of ruins and structures like abandoned shrines and ships really convey a sense of history to the virtual world. I always get excited to hunt a new monster and see the crazy designs they come up with for the armor and weapons. If you were disappointed by the weapon designs in World, where it looks like the base weapon with monster parts stapled onto it, you’re going to feel spoiled by all the cool weapon designs. The developers reused some assets from World for the weapons that use parts from monsters who debuted in World, and they really pale in comparison to the rest of the weapon designs. You might be pleased to know that fan favorites like the Gun Hammer and the pumpkin armor make a return.
The game does have microtransactions. They’re not as in-your-face as other, more predatory forms of monetization are (you can only access them via the main menu). It’s a selection of extra cosmetic items (extra gestures, layered armor, avatar options, etc.). While the paid DLC isn’t as offensive as loot boxes or battle passes, it’s still disappointing that content that could easily be in the base game is sold at a premium.
In designing the game with the Nintendo Switch in Mind, Capcom has crafted a condensed Monster Hunter experience. It also introduced exciting new additions and improvements to features in past Monster Hunter games that I hope are carried over into future installments because they’re just so good. However, the difficulty curve needs refining and there’s still a lot of work to do to iron out the game’s more archaic features. In conclusion, the game is as fresh and exciting as the dango you eat before battle. Even taking into account the occasions the game can get repetitive and annoying, it’s still an exciting and rewarding adventure overall and I look forward to every hunt.
Score: 8 out of 10