Friday 26th March 2021. The date that Monster Hunter Rise, a brand-new and bespoke entry in Capcom's beast-battling series, will be arriving on Nintendo Switch. It's not the only game to land that day — Balan Wonderworld is scheduled to drop on the last Friday in March, too — but Capcom's game is the release which has really piqued our interest.
Not solely because it's a fresh monster hunting adventure coming to our favourite console, and not because the verticality and environment traversal (as communicated through that 'Rise' subtitle) seems to have taken a leaf out of Breath of the Wild's book. No, there's something else; something in the air that smells a bit fishy (in a good way) about that date, and we're not the only ones to notice. Could it be that Nintendo has some bigger plans for that Friday?
If you somehow missed the article title, we're talking about the oft-rumoured Nintendo Switch 'Pro', or 'New Nintendo Switch', or whatever you want to call the hypothetical upgraded version of Nintendo's all-conquering 'homeheld'. While almost entirely speculative at this point, we're beginning to see the stars align and indicate some exciting news in the not-to-distant future.
It's certainly been a very long time coming. Rumours of a hardware refresh have been rife since the launch of the original console back in 2017, and analysts have been predicting an upgraded Switch with improved specs for ages now. The standard model received a minor 'silent' refresh which improved battery life (and some of us 'upgraded' our launch models when that arrived around the same time as handheld-only Switch Lite), but the 'Pro' model remains elusive.
So what gives us this feeling in our bones? Well, for one thing, the Monster Hunter series has form when it comes to launching alongside new Nintendo SKUs. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate released at the same time as the New Nintendo 3DS, and it would be a very strong candidate to perform a similar role with Switch. MH4U was perfectly playable on original 3DS hardware, but the 'New' variant offered "a slicker and therefore slightly more enjoyable experience", as erstwhile editor Thomas Whitehead stated in Nintendo Life's review.
Capcom's series would arguably be an even better candidate than it was back then to launch alongside new hardware. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate performed very respectably back in 2015, but following the incredible success of Monster Hunter: World, which brought the long-running franchise to the attention of an even bigger audience in the West, the series has never been more popular worldwide. Rise could serve as a strong springboard for a 'New' Nintendo console; the perfect accompaniment to a new SKU if, say, you didn't have a first-party title in the pipeline that lined up precisely with the hardware's release. Or — hypothetically — if the game you had planned to launch your hardware refresh with were delayed for some reason. You know, global pandemic, that sort of thing.
following the incredible success of Monster Hunter: World, the series has never been more popular worldwide. Rise could serve as a strong springboard for a 'New' Nintendo console
This is all conjecture, of course; something which will no doubt ruffle the feathers of anyone stung by cavalier analyst predictions over the past couple of years. News that Monster Hunter Rise uses Capcom's RE (Resident Evil) Engine on Switch might raises hopes that it's taking advantage of juicier hardware, although there's nothing to back that up beyond hopes and dreams. Capcom is reportedly targeting 30fps, but hasn't hinted at any 'enhancements'.
However, the recent Switch Pro rumours feel far more substantial than past whispers. Bloomberg reports that Nintendo is advising developers to make their games '4K-ready'. Nintendo president Shuntaro Furukawa has made reference to the company's 'next' console, and stated his belief that Switch is in the middle of its lifecycle. Switch Lite released in September 2019, so eighteen months later feels like the right time to give the Switch 'family' of systems another shot in the arm, especially with Sony and Microsoft launching their next gen consoles imminently.
It makes more sense in March than at any previous time: Nintendo gives its already-sparkling 2020/21 financial year a last second boost, the next year gets off to a flying start and Nintendo gamers have something new to play with. It also coincides with the end of the next-gen console honeymoon period, with PS5 and Xbox Series S/X gamers having burned through the launch period lineup and perhaps on the lookout for something new. Yes, everything would align perfectly.
There would be issues that might complicate matters. The economic situation, for one, is a massive problem for many people, individuals and companies alike. Even a company doing as well as Nintendo will encounter potential production hurdles. The global pandemic is a double-edged sword for the industry; it puts a massive strain on developers, manufacturers, distributors and — worst of all for platform holders — consumers' wallets.
The gaming audience might be stretched economically, but they've never been more captive.
On the other hand, demand for entertainment and diversion from the comfort of your own home has arguably never been higher. Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the kind of quality evergreen game that would have done well whenever it released, but it coincidentally provided the perfect escapism for millions of players stuck at home, dreaming of going outside. The gaming audience might be stretched economically, but they've never been more captive.
We asked Nintendo Life readers what they'd like from a potential Switch Pro, with 4K output and a more powerful CPU being the most popular upgrades in our poll. An informal chat around the Nintendo Life office indicates that better 1080p/60fps performance would be gratefully received, as would a larger screen (or, more specifically, a smaller bezel) to help with small text issues in handheld mode.
However, tellingly, nobody is absolutely desperate for an improved Switch right now. Improvements would be welcome — and we'd snap up any new SKU quicker than a PS5 pre-order — but Switch in its current form fills its niche very well. If the general consensus among us (people who make their living working for a site with 'Nintendo' in the name) is that the current Switch is fulfilling our needs admirably, you have to wonder how Nintendo hopes to get a non-core audience excited about a new SKU.
If there's one thing that's certain, it's Nintendo's ability to surprise. Perhaps the upgraded hardware will simply be a new dock that upscales to 4K on your TV. It's easy to see Nintendo saving the really big upgrades — better overall CPU/GPU performance, a higher resolution screen, smaller bezel, and all that gubbins — for the next console proper. The current Switch is selling as fast as they're produced, and an optional dock upgrade would avoid segregating the audience in any way at all.
Then again, the industry has been following the smartphone model of incremental updates for several years now. Now more than ever, success as a platform holder means keeping the ball rolling with new software, iterative hardware updates and careful planning, something made more complicated by far in 2020. Recently, surprise announcements have dropped on a monthly (sometimes weekly) basis — big ones, with little or no warning — and these frequent smaller Directs do nothing if not keep the ball rolling, or plates spinning, or whatever metaphor you care to employ for keeping Switch in the conversation. With new consoles from Microsoft and Sony about to drop, Nintendo needs to fulfil current demand for the console, but also anticipate when that demand may begin to tail off.
It may be just a feeling in our waters, but everything seems to be converging around the end of March 2021. What's that? Super Mario 3D All-Stars is disappearing from the Switch eShop on March 31st, you say? We foresee a frenzied weekend of spending...
What do you think? Does the arrival of a new Monster Hunter herald other monster announcements on the horizon, or are we letting our imaginations get the better of us? Let us know your thoughts by leaving a comment in the usual place.