Monster Hunter Now makes you fight a Diablos in just 75 seconds

Ahead of Monster Hunter Now’s imminent launch, we spoke to Niantic about the series’ potential on mobile, adapting the signature gameplay, and more.

Monster Hunter Now interview: A player taps their fingers on a phone

The Monster Hunter franchise has never been hotter, and it’s easy to see why. After a steady string of releases over the last two decades, developer Capcom slowly refined and expanded upon the winning formula, giving fans bigger and better games as the years progressed. Recent outings like Monster Hunter World and Monster Hunter Rise have been huge critical and sales successes, and now it’s time for something new.

Now, MH creator Capcom is teaming up with mobile developer Niantic (Pokémon Go, Pikmin Bloom, Ingress) in the hopes of expanding the appeal and audience of Monster Hunter, and who better than the creators of Pokémon Go to realize that goal? Monster Hunter might not quite have the prolific library of monsters that Pokémon does, but it has a sizable and dedicated audience already.

To learn more about the game, we spoke to Kei Kawai, who works as executive producer of Monster Hunter Now and as Niantic chief product officer. Bringing the world of Monster Hunter to mobile is a difficult task, so we wanted to hear more about the challenges of adapting a game with so many elements and so much nuance to a mobile device.

One interesting element is learning that Niantic is the one that approached Capcom in the first place. Speaking on the collaboration, Kawai says that “I pitched the idea for the game to the team at Capcom, and they agreed to the idea in that first meeting.” Given Niantic’s previous success with Pokémon Go, it’s little surprise Capcom saw potential in the idea, and according to Kawai, Capcom had “already been considering a location-based game” anyway.

If you’re an existing Pokémon Go fan, you might wonder why you should check out Monster Hunter Now. While Kawai does explain that “different IPs appeal to different audiences” they also maintain that Niantic and Capcom have “worked hard to give players a very different kind of experience.” What does that entail exactly? Well, according to Kawai, Monster Hunter Now is “a new game built from the ground up” while the main shift is with “real time battles and a lot of action.”

Monster Hunter Now interview: key art shows a hunter attack a monster

As a Monster Hunter fan for some years, I’m interested in how the notoriously complex battle system translates to mobile, and Niantic and Capcom have clearly made this a top priority. When asked about transferring the gameplay, Kawai explains that Monster Hunter Now has been in development for “over four years,” a lot of which was “trial and error.” According to Kawai, early prototypes had matches lasting anywhere between “five and ten minutes,” though playtesting eventually led to the current game’s maximum of 75 seconds. I’ve spent multiple hours tackling beasts on consoles, but I certainly don’t think I want to stand in the street for forty minutes in the hopes of slaying a Rathian.

Instead, the focus is on making “a game that remains true to Monster Hunter” but is still accessible to the mobile audience and experience, with controls that are “easy to start and hard to master.” One essential element of this is the one-finger gameplay that replaces the regular weapon attacks. However, Niantic and Capcom are adding nuance to this mode with “innovations from the team like the gyro for the projectile weapons.”

Monster Hunter Now interview: several players attack a monster within Monster Hunter Now

The community is one element of Monster Hunter that fans adore, and this seems to be another priority for the Monster Hunter Now team. As Kawai explains, the existing focus on multiplayer and the existing community are “what makes Monster Hunter such a great fit for a Niantic game.” In Now, up to four players can “match up quickly with people around you,” and you can also work alongside strangers. This collaborative gameplay is apparently “key to defeating the higher-level monsters.”

One recurring element of Monster Hunter that I personally adore is the pattern of flagship monsters representing a game and its cover art. Recently Monster Hunter Rise featured the fearsome Magnamalo, and I couldn’t help but ask if Monster Hunter Now might get its own monster down the line. Kawai gives a suitably careful answer, saying “This is really a question for our friends at Capcom,” though apparently the launch of Monster Hunter Now is just the start, and the developer would “love to include new unique monsters in the game in the future.”

Monster Hunter Now interview: several players explore a map with Monster Hunter Now

Monster Hunter Now has been in beta testing for a couple of months now, and while we have also been playing a pre-release build, we are waiting to give a full review near launch. According to Kawai, this testing has been crucial, and the Monster Hunter Now team is still making “final touches” to the game, including “fine-tuning the speed of progress and the strengths of the different monsters and weapons.” Much like other Monster Hunter games, we anticipate the community is going to be crucial in creating a fair and satisfying game.

While Pokémon Go is over seven years old, it’s certainly interesting that Monster Hunter is seeing now as the perfect time to launch this mobile title. However, after the success of Rise, World, and even the release of a Monster Hunter movie, Niantic would like to use this opportunity to help Monster Hunter “reach a broader and truly global audience of smartphone users and mobile game players.”

Now is sure to be many players’ first introduction to the series, and as Kawai mentions, Niantic hopes that the title will “help expand the franchise and bring new players into the world.” After all, Go is partly responsible for a huge resurgence in Pokémon’s popularity. If you’re at all worried about the team behind this, Kawai assures fans that both series producer Ryozo Tsujimoto and “all the top Monster Hunter producers at Capcom” are giving Niantic “valuable feedback throughout the process.”

Monster Hunter Now interview: a player uses a long sword to attack a monster

The Monster Hunter series is one with a clear vision, and it’s reassuring to know that so many of its most talented creators are overseeing this new venture. It’s evident that Capcom and the Monster Hunter team want to build on their existing audience and spread the gospel of Monster Hunter, and Kawai confirms it, saying the team hopes to build on the existing audience “by attracting a diverse audience to the game, including families. There is so much potential on mobile.”

One element of the game that is unclear so far is how Niantic and Capcom hope to keep players engaged over time. The Monster Hunter gameplay loop of creating armor and weapons is fantastic, but a mobile game needs certain elements to keep things fresh. When asked how Now is set to keep fans playing, Kawai explains that Niantic is “introducing a season system and will be adding new monsters, storylines, and weapons types to the game over time.”

Monster Hunter Now interview: a player taps a phone player Monster Hunter Now

Kawai further explains as they mention that “Niantic has a great track record of running live operations and in-game events for mobile games,” and it’s certainly true. After a somewhat slow start, Pokémon Go is now constantly supported with regular interesting events, with creative new features or tasks to keep players happy. According to Kawai, the Now team is “excited about running the game as a service” and seeing what the team can achieve with such a “passionate community.”

Finally, we couldn’t finish the interview without asking Kawai what the series means to them, and thankfully it’s clear this title is being developed with a lot of love and passion. Kawai told us that the Monster Hunter series “means a lot to me personally,” and there’s a fun (and novel) reason for that.

Kawai says “my cousin actually met and then married their partner by playing Monster Hunter together at college,” and according to Kawai that’s where they “got the idea for the game.” Two people meeting and bonding over the series is touching, and as Kawai further explains the “Monster Hunter world clearly had the power to bring people together in the real world.”

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We also couldn’t help but ask Kawai what their favorite monster is, and they happily explained that “It has to be Pukei-Pukei. I just love its offbeat quirkiness!” We’ll have to wait just a bit longer to learn more about Monster Hunter Now, but it’s clear that the developer is passionate about the series, and driven to help spread it even further. Perhaps just like Kawai’s cousin, it’ll help bring you closer to people in the real world, very soon.