Available On: Mobile
Niantic struck gaming gold with Pokémon GO in 2016, a mobile game that used real-world location tracking, augmented reality, and one of the most popular IPs in all of gaming-dom.
Pokémon GO has since withstood the test of time like few others, though the mobile developer has struggled to rekindle that success in any other AR-game. Even a major IP like Harry Potter failed when Wizards Unite officially shut down in 2022, while other popular IPs such as Marvel and Transformers have been cancelled mid-development.
Monster Hunter Now is the latest effort by the developer to recreate the success of Pokémon GO. All the right ingredients are there: popular gaming IP, roaming critters in the real-world, and Niantic’s forged-in-fire experience with the genre.
Gotta Hunt ‘Em All
Ironically the best way to enjoy Monster Hunter Now is to already be familiar with the franchise and its gameplay structure.
My slightly customizable avatar goes out to hunt giant monsters, defeats them using various weapons, and harvests their, um, monster bits to craft better weapons and armor to defeat more powerful monsters (and get their juicy bits). Rinse, and repeat!
As with the main series, I start with a sword and shield, facing off against the perennial newbie monster and oversized iguana, the Great Jagras.
Controls are simple: tap the monster to attack. Hold to put up the shield, and swipe to dodge out of the way.
Attacking monsters is all about timing and getting a feel for the weapon. The fast-paced, real time combat feels far more engaging than throwing pokéballs at a mostly static ‘mon. The sword and shield is capable of quick hits and dodges, while the bulkier great sword requires careful use of its charge up strike.
The ranged weapons offer the greatest shake-up in gameplay. The bow may be my favorite weapon; the tension between holding down a powerful bow strike right before the monster charges is the closest I’ve felt to recreating the awesome combat of the main series.
Sadly, Monster Hunter Now only includes six of the 14 or so weapons in the main series: sword and shield, great sword, long sword, hammer, bow, and light bowgun. While it’s a decent assortment to try different playstyles, they’re all a little too straightforward for my tastes.
On the other hand, my two favorite Monster Hunter weapons, the charge blade and insect glaive, would be admittedly challenging to reduce to touch controls on a phone.
My Size Monsters
Monsters have been downsized for the tiniest of screens, and the entire zone-exploration gameplay has been completely eliminated in favor of instant 1v1 faceoffs (or more, if you find a party of hunters nearby), similar to how Pokémon GO limits the mainline experience to just capturing and battling.
But unlike Pokémon GO, I’m not getting excited about finding new creatures, completing tons of quests for rare creatures, and powering up those creatures. I’m simply battling the distressingly few giant monsters over and over again, and only occasionally bothering to upgrade my gear.
Monster Hunter Now takes forever in unlocking new monsters, forcing me to complete each little story chapter and grind through several small creatures (which are laughably easy to fight that it’s a wonder why they’re included at all), and find painfully limited resource spawns. Only by completing a story chapter do I unlock the next monster to hunt (thereby adding it as a spawn on my map), or add more difficult versions of the same monsters (which mostly just have increased health and damage).
After a few weeks of playing, I only have about half a dozen different monsters to hunt, which also means far fewer weapon and armor combinations. Since the entire point is to hunt monsters and craft gear, this ponderous limitation is immediately off-putting.
It’s not necessarily fair to compare Monster Hunter Now’s launch to the 7-year old Pokémon GO, but even at launch there were dozens of Pokémon to catch, and you didn’t have to make any formal progress just to see them on your map.
On the flip side, MHN has a welcome quality of life improvement: paintballs. By turning on adventure sync, my palico can mark monsters for me using limited paintballs, giving me options to hunt the next time I open the game. I also have the option of manually throwing paintballs around as a way of “saving” a monster to hunt later. It’s a nice feature for a game that requires more intense focus than Pokémon GO.
Monster Hunter Now is rated for Teen. The primary interaction is battling large monsters, but there’s no blood or gore.
The combat and graphics of Monster Hunter Now are top-tier. Playing Monster Hunter on my phone isn’t exactly a faithful adaptation, but the basics are there.
The AR game has good bones, but it suffers when it comes to content: limited weapons, few monsters, and anything to do that isn’t yet another basic fight. The good news is that these issues are entirely fixable with some quality updates. If Niantic can support Monster Hunter Now as well as they’ve treated Pokémon GO, we could have a legit contender for the AR throne.