Monster Hunter Now review – now that’s what I call hunting

Niantic is teaming up with Capcom to take another swipe at the geo-location game, so read our Monster Hunter Now review to find out if you need to hunt it down.

Monster Hunter Now review: A monster appears in a busy city center, and roars in rage

Pokémon Go isn’t just a success, it’s a phenomenon. A cultural touchstone, mobile gaming reignited the series’ fanbase, united the world in a way not seen since maybe the days of Tetris, and it’s even spawned countless attempts to copy that lightning-in-a-bottle formula. Even Niantic has tried a couple of other franchises to see if they fit the mold.

However, most of these other attempts at a geo-location or AR game (Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, Ghostbusters World, etc.) along the same lines as PoGo are missing a couple of things. Firstly, a world that puts the monsters and/or the reason to explore first, and secondly, an existing fanbase that adores this franchise and type of gameplay.

Now, that’s where Monster Hunter Now (pun not intended) comes in. Born from Niantic itself approaching Capcom (over four years ago, according to Senior Producer Sakae Osumi in a pre-release briefing we attended recently), Monster Hunter Now feels like it could well be the next Pokémon Go, even if no game can ever quite match the furor that Niantic’s golden child achieved upon launch.

To be clear, we’re playing a version of Monster Hunter Now that’s pre-release. Niantic is updating the game on launch day with several new features, as well as some fixes that users have flagged during the testing period, so as such, we haven’t experienced all the new features and Niantic hasn’t fixes some issues yet.

But, we’ve still played dozens of hours of the title and have plenty to say. Plus, we’re going to pepper in some additional information from our briefing on the game to inform this review. It’s likely we may revisit this review in a couple of weeks with a more accurate representation of the launch product.

Monster Hunter Now review: two monsters battle it out in the sky

If you watch a trailer for Monster Hunter Now, then yup, it looks a bit like Pokémon Go but with the monsters from Capcom’s hit series. Key art proudly displays the roaring maws of Diablos and the Rathalos, and Now has a total of thirteen large monsters at launch. While Go has barren streets and Pokémon dotted around, MHN instead uses a biome system, as Niantic maps areas around players such as swamps, deserts, and a forest.

Those tricky Monster Hunter goliaths are roaming the real world, and it’s up to your fledgling hunter to sharpen their blade and take down the scaly menaces currently walking down your street. The biomes inform the selection of monsters, as well as items that appear in the overworld, and just like in regular old Monster Hunter, you can use those items you scavenge alongside monster parts to forge and upgrade armor and weapons.

It’s the familiar Monster Hunter formula, but spread out over your surrounding area, and honestly, that’s enough of a reason to play the game. There’s a reason that the bones of the Monster Hunter formula haven’t changed for years, and that’s because battling monsters, amassing materials, and slowly but surely turning yourself into a living weapon is the sort of slow dopamine drip that the best games excel at. I’ve put over 200 hours into Monster Hunter Rise, and if I had the time, I’d happily throw in dozens more.

Monster Hunter Now review: A monster hunter explores a city, with items scattered around

Now the other part of the Monster Hunter formula is long, arduous, but satisfying fights. This is where the main difference occurs. Normal Monster Hunter fights can take up to 30 minutes or more, even with pals, but Niantic is slimming things down here, as battles take no longer than 75 seconds. It’s luckily a great distillation of the formula, and nobody wants to stand in one spot in the street for thirty minutes. The neighbors might call the police.

Monster Hunter Now doesn’t dumb down the action, though, as those short battles still demand some strategy from you, and as always, you must choose your preferred Monster Hunter Now weapons, with classics like the hammer long sword and light bowgun among the launch arsenal, with more on the way. Meanwhile, Now distills the normal cacophony of button presses into swipes, allowing you to dodge around monsters before tapping and or holding to charge and use attacks. There’s also gyro for precise aiming with projectiles, and it feels fantastic.

There’s even a lock-on feature so you can attack certain monster parts, but this is actually a mechanic that only certain armor pieces give you. Still, using swipes to hurtle around these hunkering goliaths and using smart holds and taps to charge and time your attacks feels great. No, it’s not quite the complexity of the main game, but without multiple different touch-screen buttons, that’d be impossible. So instead, what we have here is a really smart, fun, and satisfying compromise.

Monster Hunter Now review: A mining outcrop is visible, with a prompt to tap it so users can mine ore

At the end of the day, Pokémon Go isn’t the full Pokémon experience, but is a really fun addition to those mainline games, and also a fantastic way for people unfamiliar with the series to pick it up. Monster Hunter Now is easily the most approachable the series has ever been, and coming off the recent success of Monster Hunter Rise, World, and even a live-action movie, this feels like the perfect time to further stoke the fires of this rapidly expanding fanbase.

The action isn’t all about the giant monsters like your Rathians either, as smaller creatures often flit around you and will certainly help you build up those first armor sets. Pre-release, after a few levels, those bigger monsters became much easier, so it’ll be interesting to see if Now gets any raid-like monsters down the line, as Monster Hunter fans love a challenge and a massive monster.

Monster Hunter Now review: A large scaly monster roams a city map

Speaking of Monster Hunter fans, another intrinsic part of the series is multiplayer, and it’s not omitted here. We haven’t had a chance to test it, as naturally none of our local friends had access to the game, but we’re informed that up to four-player matches are possible, with players having to connect locally, with a possible distance of around 200m. It’s unclear if players will be able to connect with strangers over the internet in the future, but it’s certainly something we’d like to see.

Similarly, another few features we’re yet to test includes the AR photography mode, where you can interact with roaming monsters like some sort of prehistoric David Attenborough. Using Niantic’s AR expertise, this mode certainly looks promising, and if the technology in Pokémon Go is anything to do by, we’re certainly excited to get some candid Khezu picks in the wild. Who doesn’t want to see a Nargacuga next to Nelson’s column?

Monster Hunter Now review: A monster hunter takes a swipe at a large monster

At launch, you can also equip different loadouts, so it should be a breeze to swap between different armor sets and weapons as different monsters appear. The existing armor sets are already great, though Now is missing a cosmetic option at the moment, so you might end up with a slightly mismatched look, and the weapon variety is already pretty impressive. Fans have a lot to do at launch, and Niantic is assuring us that content updates are set to be steady and significant.

One feature I absolutely love, and one I really hope Pokémon Go introduces, is the paintball. In Monster Hunter games, the paintball allows you to track creatures across the map, and here it serves a similar function. As you walk around the real world, your Palico may tag some large monsters with a paintball, or if you’re in a rush, you can choose to do it yourself. Then later on, when you have time, you can pull up every monster you flagged and battle them at your leisure.

This is an incredible feature that also bleeds into accessibility, as allowing users to play at their own pace is fantastic. It’s been amazing to just wander around my day, and get a little ping on my Apple Watch telling me my Palico saw something, and then when I finally have time at home I can face a raging Rathalos when I actually have the time to face it. Genuinely, Pokémon Go, please pay attention.

Monster Hunter Now review: A monster hunter swipes sideways at a Pukei Pukei monster

Obviously, in the jump to mobile, there’s a bit of a graphical compromise. Things certainly don’t look as clear as Monster Hunter World, but we probably are just about on par with Monster Hunter Rise, though without the lush foliage of those levels. The monsters are the stars of the show, and fittingly, each looks fantastic even after making the jump to your smart device. You can even fight in landscape mode, and no matter which monster we face, gameplay is steady, smooth, and consistent in all of our tests.

Now strangely, for a geo-location game, there isn’t actually anything tracking your steps, and instead, the motivation to explore is all about scavenging and hunting. Which is a shame, as I’d love it if steps helped level up your Palico or Palamute, and it’s always good to reward players for walking.

Monster Hunter Now review: A landscape view shows a monster hunter aiming a bowgun at a Rathian

Instead, if you need more materials, a walk into a different biome will help, and they normally occupy the space of a street or two so you won’t need to jump into cities just to see a desert. Meanwhile, Niantic is still considering fans, as you also get rewarded with materials at home, so rural or entirely remote players will still get the items they need to advance.

Finally, there are microtransactions here, much they are very unobtrusive so far. Items can be used to accelerate experience gain, and other helpful boosts, but no content is walled off or locked behind payment. Again, time will tell how essential microtransactions become as we level up, but so far they seem to be there in the background for this inclined, and not particularly aggressive or necessary.

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Naturally, it’s tough to judge a live service game before it’s actually spent some time being a service. But, so far I really love Monster Hunter Now. As a Monster Hunter fan, Now is a smart, swift, and charming addition to the creature-combat series, and I’m excited to see it grow. Fights are still dynamic, and interesting, plus there’s already a wealth of things for fans to do, while Capcom sits on a goldmine of monsters and features from its legendary series that are sure to arrive in the future.

Alright hunters, we hope you’re downloading Monster Hunter Now…well, now. If so, be sure to check out our guides covering the Monster Hunter Now monsters, and the Monster Hunter Now release date, beta, and trailers.

Monster Hunter Now review

If you want the full-fat Monster Hunter experience, this isn’t quite it, but it shouldn’t be either. Instead, like a Diet Coke, Monster Hunter Now is a fantastic companion to the series fans know and love, and it’s got plenty of ways to pull in newcomers as well. We hope to see more monsters and features down the line, and this live-service game is surely set to provide them, but this is a thrilling and satisfying twist on the geo-location format that every mobile gamer should try out for themselves.

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