Monster Hunter Now hands-on - "A fine fit for Niantic's Formula"

Monster Hunter Now hands-on - "A fine fit for Niantic's Formula"

Pokemon and Monster Hunter have more than a couple of things in common. For a start, they're both being trademark-trolled by Monster Energy for the word Monster, but more importantly, they're both long-running franchises with geolocation-based games created and operated by Niantic. Monster Hunter Now is the latest game to come from the Pokemon Go (and Ingress) developer, and we've spent some serious time with it.

When most people think of Monster Hunter, there are a few things that spring to mind: Fighting massive monsters (normally as a group), carving off pieces of the monster to create new weapons and armour, and scavenging components, resources and items in order to increase your odds of survival. It's incredibly clear, from talking to the Chief Product Officer and head of Tokyo Studio at Niantic, Kei Kawai, that these things are at the heart of the game design alongside Niantic's own priorities based around community, real-world exploration and fun play.

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The first phase of gameplay will be instantly familiar to anybody who has played Pokemon Go; your character appears on an overlay of the world map, tied to your own physical location. When you walk, your character walks, and when you stop, well, you got it, your character stops - they're linked to you. Monster Hunter's overlay, however, breaks the world into different biomes, each of which spawns different monsters for you to beat. These monsters each have star gradings above their head to show off their challenge rating, and they're visible to both yourself and other players in the same area as you.

Combat in Monster Hunter Now

Tap the monsters and that's where Monster Hunter Now steps into the unfamiliar and new. After a brief lobby where you can change up your equipment and be joined by other players (up to four can fight one monster), you're tossed into battle. Each monster battle takes place in a circular space, with players able to move sideways backwards and forwards in relation to the monster, which is also moving around in that space. You need to carefully time your dodges and your attacks to ensure you don't get hit by their attacks, which you'll want to familiarise yourself with quickly.

Many of the mainstay series weapons are available, including both ranged and melee choices, complete with their elemental attributes and a tap and tap-hold attack (as well as others, through buttons). This guarantees that even if they didn't feature the speed and range differences, they'd play more than enough to tell them apart. As a fan of the series, I was really happy to find how tactile and tense the combat was.

Crafting and beyond

To guide you through the world of Monster Hunter Now, there's a chain of missions that encourage you to fight new monsters and also introduce you to the gameplay mechanics. Things like creating and upgrading equipment, as well as equipping it, are things that you'll spend a lot of time deliberating over, and so it's great to see that these are things that the challenges quickly underline the importance of.

There are absolute stacks of different weapons and equipment - pages upon pages - which is fantastic to see. A lot of the community aspect is going to come from hunting monsters together. I think the moments where it will shine is when late-game players have specific equipment and weapon pre-sets that they bring out in order to fight a giant beast, with a view to carving off pieces of its armour so they can get that all-important weapon upgrade that they need.

Niantic might not have the best reputation for being able to create and maintain communities for their games. Pokemon Go and Ingress are still thriving, and Pikmin Bloom seems to be doing pretty well for itself, but a lot of other titles have been shuttered or not even reached fruition.

There's a high chance, with the depth that Monster Hunter has, that Monster Hunter Now will be able to pull it off, although part of me wonders how they are going to monetise it as at the moment Paintballs (a cool feature that allows you to save monsters for later) and potions (which shortcut healing after fighting a monster) seem to be the main way that it monetises. It's certainly more subtle than Niantic's Peridot, which gated the breeding of dots behind a paywall on launch, closing out the free-play route for a portion of players.

Monster Hunter Now feels like a great fit for Niantic, and with over two million pre-registrations already in place it's definitely one to watch when it launches later this month.

Dann Sullivan
Dann Sullivan
A job in retail resulted in a sidestep into games writing back in 2011. Since then Dann has run or operated several indie game focused websites. They're currently the Editor-in-Chief of Pocket Gamer Brands, and are determined to help the site celebrate the latest and greatest games coming to mobile.