At the moment some Switch aficionados are a little baffled and frustrated with Capcom. There are multiple reason for this, but Monster Hunter: World (coming to PS4, Xbox One and PC) is arguably top of the list. Capcom has only shown limited support for the Switch so far, with a Street Fighter game that was arguably a low-effort cash-in, and now we know that Resident Evil Revelations 1 and 2 are coming to the console. The latter were confirmed recently and have eased things a little, but the ongoing silence over localisation of Monster Hunter XX is undoubtedly another sore point. Some wonder why Capcom isn't really committed to the Switch.
In some ways it's surprising, but it's not unprecedented. Let's explore why, shall we?
A Brief(ish) Monster Hunter History Lesson
Capcom, at one point, was most closely tied to Sony hardware when it came to exclusives (it has a lot of games that are practically always multiplatform, too), and in the Japanese market began to grow one of its most lucrative IPs on the PlayStation 2 and the PSP - that was Monster Hunter, of course. Then the 'main' series suddenly jumped to the Wii with Monster Hunter 3 (Tri), a big move at the time in Japan considering the fact the rapidly growing IP had made its home on Sony hardware.
Capcom was quoted, at the time, as stating that development for the PS3 had proven too expensive. Nintendo was also, at that point, red hot - when the deal was announced back in 2007 the DS was huge and the Wii was already a viral hit, while conversely Sony was having some issues with the original PS3 model. It was expensive and getting outsold by Xbox 360 and then Wii, and its unique architecture was troublesome for some third-party developers early on. It was a situation that Sony would salvage and improve as the generation wore on, but at that early point there was logic to Capcom's move - the Wii would be cheap to develop for due to it being rooted in GameCube / standard definition technology, and it was hugely popular in the marketplace. It was a big win, especially as Capcom could simply evolve its existing graphics engine for the series (which it's been doing for a decade since, before the upcoming 'World' was revealed at E3).
What happened next, however, was interesting. The prevalent gameplay habits in Japan, and a love for local multiplayer gaming, saw the 3DS emerge as a powerful force for the series. In late 2011 Nintendo had to go into a rescue mission for the portable after a dramatic post-launch slump in sales - the Autumn / Fall brought a drastic price cut after less than half a year on sale, while Mario Kart 7 and Super Mario 3D Land were lined up as major Holiday hits. The strategy revived the portable's momentum, but what's often forgotten is that late 2011 also brought another title that drove huge 3DS interest in Japan alone - Monster Hunter Tri G, which we eventually got in the West - alongside a HD version on Wii U - as Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate.
Context is needed here, as those that weren't following the Japanese charts at the time may not have clocked how vital the game was for the 3DS in late 2011, especially as 3 Ultimate didn't come to the West until early 2013. The key part is what was inevitably a close partnership between Nintendo and Capcom in the build-up to that 2011 release in Japan. Monster Hunter as a series may have started life on the PlayStation 2, but it took off on PSP in Japan; look at Capcom's best-selling games and it's a PSP entry, followed by various 3DS arrivals, leading for the franchise. On PSP the series was famed for its 'claw' controls due to the D-Pad and analogue nub both being on the left, yet alongside Tri G's Japanese arrival in late 2011 we had the Circle Pad Pro, the famously peculiar add-on that was rumoured to have been requested by Capcom.
It's easy to see why the peripheral was attributed to pressure from Capcom, perhaps in exchange for certain support. Nintendo, early on, hardly ever used the thing, but it launched in Japan alongside Monster Hunter Tri G. When it launched in the West in early 2012 it came out alongside Capcom's Resident Evil Revelations, which was another 3DS 'exclusive' for a while before it then got HD ports on Wii U, PS3 and Xbox 360; soon to come to Switch et al, too. It not only made dual stick controls possible on the 3DS, but added a couple of extra shoulder buttons.
While Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate arrived on Wii U in addition to 3DS, including cross-platform multiplayer, the portable version sold better, especially in Japan. What we then saw was a dramatic ramping up of the franchise as a 3DS exclusive - note we're talking about the 'main' series, as some other variations and online-only entries have arrived at different points on PC, other consoles and even Wii U in Japan.
Capcom committed the core series to 3DS, and was rewarded with terrific sales - performance improved in the West and Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate helped with a breakthrough in that respect, with the IP delivering outstanding sales in consecutive years. The following figures are correct as of 30th July.
- Monster Hunter 4 (2013, Japan-only) - 4.1 million sales
- Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate (2014 Japan, 2015 rest of world) - 4.1 million sales
- Monster Hunter X (Cross) (2015 Japan, 2016 rest of world) - 4.2 million sales
- Monster Hunter XX (Double Cross) - (2017 Japan-only) - 1.7 million units
Two trends stick out - the 'first' in each set of releases naturally performs stronger in Japan, with the case that global sales of 4 Ultimate helped that one match up to the original; what we had as 'Ultimate' was really an expansion / iteration in the Japanese market. Likewise Monster Hunter X (Cross) came to the West as Monster Hunter Generations, while XX (currently Japan-only on 3DS and due on Switch next month) has shown less momentum as it's an expansion. Capcom, in this writer's view, may be suffering a slowing of momentum due to aggressive over-saturation; sales have stayed high, but haven't grown with the near annual iterations.
Nevertheless, the top-selling of those four games are the 6th, 7th and 8th best-selling Capcom games of all time; that's right through the company's long history. The marriage of 3DS and Monster Hunter (with occasional assistance from Wii and then Wii U) has been hugely lucrative. A narrative has formed from that hard data - Monster Hunter + 3DS = huge sales, especially in Japan. Only one Monster Hunter game has done better, and that's Monster Hunter Freedom 3 on PSP and later PS3, with 4.9 million sales. It was Japan-only and came after Tri on the Wii (in 2010), and is often considered separate to the main series.
Is Capcom's Relationship with Nintendo Cooling?
When you look at how lucrative Monster Hunter has been on the 3DS over the course of nearly four years, with Wii and Wii U pitching in on two occasions, it's understandable to see frustration over the Switch missing out on Monster Hunter: World. There's that perception, too, that Capcom and Nintendo had a particularly close relationship, a hangover from the belief that the Circle Pad Pro was conceived as a bargaining chip to wrestle the core Monster Hunter series away from PSP and onto 3DS. Be in no doubt, when Monster Hunter 3 G was announced for 3DS ahead of its 2011 release, it gave Nintendo's portable a big boost at a time when the PS Vita was looming on the horizon. It's not surprising that a narrative formed of Nintendo and Capcom forming a tight partnership, with Nintendo delivering an accessory to push it along.
When viewed through the Monster Hunter prism, especially with 3DS and its extraordinary sales and cultural impact in Japan, the picture seems clear. Yet Capcom has shown before that its loyalties are solely to its own business and bottom line, which is how business works on a basic level. Nintendo hardware has missed out on a lot of Capcom games; some that were too demanding on a technical level, and others with little good reason. Look at the Resident Evil series, as one example - Revelations arrived on 3DS and Wii U, but not its sequel, and multiple HD remakes for the series (the originals of which had been on Nintendo systems) didn't make it to Wii U.
Then with the Switch, the E3 bombshell of Monster Hunter: World coming to PS4 and Xbox One had followed news of titles like Mega Man Legacy Collection 2 skipping the system. In public Capcom has stated it's looking at multiple projects for the console (Revelations ports were announced shortly after that was made clear), but even so remarks in the recent financial Q & A session make clear it's a steely-eyed business approach.
The Nintendo Switch seems to be doing very well, and we look forward to further growth in its install base. Beginning with Monster Hunter XX (Double Cross) Nintendo Switch V er. for Japan, we are evaluating how we will support this platform in the future.
That shouldn't be surprising, but many of us do get drawn into the romantic idea of strong relationships between Nintendo and companies like Capcom. Cues are taken from the likes of a joint talk given by Capcom and Nintendo in February during Game Creators Conference in Japan, painting a picture of Capcom being involved in early development and even providing feedback on the system's specifications. At that point it was easy to picture a burgeoning relationship, and the prospect of the speculated-upon Monster Hunter 5 giving the Switch a lift into the stratosphere in 2018 - dreams punctured by World's reveal and the Japan-only (so far) Monster Hunter XX port.
Capcom, in reality, is continuing its policy of assessing projects for Nintendo hardware on a case by case basis. The Wii U got decent support, particularly with nostalgia-tinged releases like DuckTales: Remastered, but support melted along with the system's sales prospects. Capcom went big on 3DS despite its modest technology because the system was big in Japan, and in the case of Monster Hunter it was a perfect match.
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With World, it's surely a technical decision. The visuals and general engine for the series has arguably evolved little over the last decade, with the gameplay seeing some changes (notably with Generations and the XX iteration) but within the familiar framework. The new title is a very clear and undeniable leap; unlike the HD releases on Wii U and soon Switch, this is a demonstration of the series making a fresh start with new technology. The whole look of the world has changed, it's a large seamless environment rather than rigid zones, and the gameplay adjustments that not only feel a bit more 'Western' but make use of the visuals and physics-based possibilities of the environments.
Assuming for now that it's not coming to Switch at any point (never rule anything out fully, but let's work with the assumption), it's not unreasonable to wonder whether it's simply because delivering the game on the system, particularly in its portable mode, could be particularly tough. Perhaps a portable iteration, if it did eventually come, would need to make significant sacrifices in order to even be possible.
It's understandable that the Monster Hunter team was ready to move forward, to revolutionise its series after slow evolution for many, many years. It feels like a gamble, though - it may take off in the West, or it may not, but Capcom will no doubt be hoping that the big audiences that flock to the portable entries will want to engage with the new twist on the series, and do so on their home console (predominantly PS4s in Japan). There's a rich handheld culture around Monster Hunter in Japan that will need to be bypassed, though the PS4 does have a large userbase in Capcom's homeland in any case.
Friends When the Numbers Add Up
World could be an enormous hit, potentially, but it's not easy to predict. Regardless, for Switch fans there's the cold, hard truth that it's a numbers game. Many of us get swept away by notions of loyalty, companies that back Nintendo systems out of some kind of familial commitment, but the reality isn't that simple. Sales projections matter, as do system user bases. Technology matters - if Capcom wants an open world game with seamless online multiplayer and flashy visuals, the Switch isn't necessarily a fit.
Sometimes Nintendo and Capcom seem to be inexorably linked, with the latter's exclusive games gracing systems like the 3DS. But sometimes the numbers don't add up and those games go elsewhere. It was once Nintendo nabbing exclusivity on the 'main' games of a franchise, and Sony / PSP gamers planning to buy a Vita were unhappy. The shoe is on the other foot now, once again, and the Nintendo / Capcom relationship will bloom or fade on what development teams, focus groups and accountants say makes the most sense.
For now, we just have to download and play Monster Hunter XX in Japanese, or wait to play the next big series entry on another console.