This encounter felt fated. Written in the stars. Ever since the Nintendo Switch was revealed in late 2016, one pervasive thought has been: “How great is Monster Hunter going to be?” While we saw the release of Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate in 2018, it was just a port of the 3DS title that was previously Japan-exclusive; it hadn’t been built from the ground-up with the Nintendo Switch in mind. But Monster Hunter Rise is different; as a flagship title in the series, it’s the first one to land on Nintendo Systems in over six years, since the release of Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate. But unlike the aforementioned spin-off title, it comes with heaps of quality-of-life changes that were previously seen in Monster Hunter: World, and much more.
Boasting over 30 monsters in its roster, rivalling the original release of Monster Hunter: World, Rise looks to shake up the usual 'hunt, carve, craft and repeat' cycle with a few new significant tricks up its sleeve that completely change how you play the game.
In Monster Hunter: Rise, you pick from one of the 14 different weapon types and use it to bash a monster while out in its open-ended, living, breathing habitats. Each monster is structured to be its own standalone boss fight, meaning that they’re equipped with wildly different attacks, strengths, and weaknesses. Monster Hunter: Rise introduces the new Wyvern Riding mechanic, where you’re able to take the reins and ride a monster, using their attacks to hit another monster or topple them after slamming them into walls. We never once felt bored while hammering down each of the monsters. One welcome change in comparison to its direct predecessor, Monster Hunter: World, is that Rise has accommodated varied types of monster skeleton, and by proxy, different types of Monster.
You’re not going to be facing 17 different types of dragons; instead, we have fire-breathing spiders, ethereal water lizards, a big bear who just loves to eat your honey, and much, much more. That’s just a selection of the different types of beasts that you’ll be tasked with taking down, as we don’t want to spoil the really cool stuff in this review. But, needless to say, every monster fight feels unique, different, and much more varied than its most direct predecessor, which is no small task. This is in part assisted by some of the newcomers to the roster of beasts, which were partially inspired by the "Yokai" of Japanese folklore.
The Bishaten, for example, is inspired by a Tengu, liberally adapting the forms that the Yokai have taken through Japanese mythology and truly representing them through their own Monster Hunter lens. There are other examples of this, with numerous other monsters in the game, and through the review process it’s been a joy to delve into the real-life lore and history behind what has inspired our fifth-generation Monster Hunter newcomers – this level of detail is something that’s often not seen in terms of creature design. There’s no throwaway “big ugly creature” here; they’re all incredibly carefully considered and designed. It doesn’t stop there; even the weapons you can craft from these gargantuan beasts are as varied as the monsters themselves.
Each weapon you take into the field with you is, in itself, a microcosm of the game. While we used our tried-and-true Switch Axe for most of the review process, each weapon feels like you’re almost playing a completely different game. The best analogue would be to compare it to different characters in a fighting game. Each one has different strengths, weaknesses, combos and even unique mechanics. But that’s all explained away in your handy hunter’s notes. Some weapons, such as the Hunting Horn, in particular, have received significant changes that players will be happy about, thanks to some streamlining and a total changeup of move set. Others, like the Switch Axe, don’t play completely differently, but have enough small tweaks to put even veteran hunters on notice.
Whatever your preferred playstyle in third-person action games – big, slow hits, a flurry of attacks or even something unique and even more complex – Monster Hunter will always have you covered. The series has previously been known for having somewhat slow, clunky combat, but the truth is that every weapon is near-perfectly balanced. The changes to ranged weapons that came in Monster Hunter: World are reflected and refined in Monster Hunter Rise, meaning that they’re much easier to use and aim, and you can even use the Switch’s gyro aiming, which feels fantastic. Those of you who know the "MonHun Hold" or "Monster Hunter Claw" will no longer have to fret – there’s no awkward nub or circle pad pro, just good, satisfying, and intuitive controls.
One extra detail that the team has clearly taken on board since the release of Monster Hunter: World is the sheer amount of variety in weapon design. In World, it would be too often that you’d see a big metal sword with a couple of feathers stuck onto it. However, Monster Hunter Rise has taken a look back to its roots to fully realise the weapon designs and the items you craft them from to properly inform their design, meaning that you can get everything from bombastic hammers to incredibly intricate weapons that actually look like the monster parts that you’ve crafted them from.
While you can easily get by on knowing how to use your weapon in a basic sense in Monster Hunter Rise, it might take external resources to learn optimal combos. Gone are the button prompts showing the moves you can follow up with in the top right corner, meaning that you’ll have to put a little bit of extra effort in to gain true mastery of your weapon(s) of choice. On top of this, there are new levels of depth to almost every weapon in Monster Hunter Rise thanks to the addition of the Wirebug.
The Wirebug is a versatile tool in your arsenal that allows you to have an additional attack that costs either one or two "stocks" from your Wirebug meter at the bottom of the screen. These moves can be changed thanks to the addition of “Switch Skills”. These are new moves for each weapon, and you can unlock three slots to change over, based on where you’re at in the game and what rarity of weapon you’ve forged.
These allow you to personalise your weapon on a scale never before seen in the Monster Hunter franchise, meaning that once you figure out your ideal loadout of Switch Skills, you’re no longer just picking up a weapon from the shelf; it’s yours, suited to your exact playstyle. Some might find success with a Switch Skill loadout that looks completely different from yours, and that’s fine. This level of depth is incredibly welcome and is a fantastic touch of extra customisation to what is already an incredibly complex game.
But, also thanks to the Wirebug, you’re also much more mobile when in the heat of battle. You gain a suite of evasive and mobility-focused moves when using the Wirebug, meaning you can run up walls, jump over hills and even avoid attacks while out in the field. This hugely changes what were previously “slow” weapons, and allows you to reposition, recover from a fall and hit back harder – and faster – than before.
Once you’ve reached high-rank and are fighting some of the more challenging monsters, you’ll see yourself using the Wirebug to its fullest potential, and incorporating it into your move sets fluidly. There is a learning process involved when first getting started with the game, but once you’ve fully adapted to using the Wirebug, it’s a significant tool in your arsenal.
Here's an example. There came a point in our playthrough where everything just clicked with the Wirebug while fighting an Almudron, one of the new Monsters for this release. It can erect massive mud structures, which you’re able to Wirebug and run on top of. We ran, and at the summit, activated the Switch Axe’s "Soaring Wyvern Blade" skill, which sent us diving towards the monster at full-force. With the axe in its fully amped-state, once the attack connected to the monster, it let off an explosion that toppled the beast, allowing us to get stuck in and dish out even more damage.
Other times, we jousted against the Tigrex using the "Invincible Gambit" Switch Skill, allowing us to move and attack during its highly-damaging roars, and stay mobile (and well-positioned) during its scrambling swipes. When fighting Magnamalo, we managed to use the Wirebug to successfully dodge out of its deadly blight-inducing hellfire attacks, and retaliate while airborne, managing to successfully trigger it to a rideable state, at which point we sent it crashing into a wall. The skill ceiling hasn't just been broken with this game – it's been utterly shattered into a million pieces, and players will be able to harness the Wirebug and Switch Skills in ways that we haven't even imagined yet. It’s at these moments where you feel like the stars have aligned, with your weapons, armour skills, Switch Skills, and Wirebug all coming together in perfect harmony. In these moments, Monster Hunter Rise really does feel like the apex of third-person action combat.
The Wirebug also gives you an extra degree of verticality in Monster Hunter Rise’s seamless open environments, something which we’ve not yet seen on a portable entry into the Monster Hunter series. It’s a breath of fresh air in comparison to Monster Hunter Generations and previous titles; you’re no longer having to sit and wait while traversing between zones, and this means that you get an extra sense of realism in the various locales of the game.
One blessing in disguise in this regard is how easy it is to parse the environments in this game. While Monster Hunter: World before it draped every nook and cranny with the highest quality environments and areas, it was fairly easy to lose your way, even if you were someone (like us) who had put hundreds of hours into the game. This has never been an issue in Monster Hunter Rise, thanks to the somewhat simpler geometry of the areas. But, make no mistake, they’re just as detailed and thriving with life, collectables and things to do. You could almost make an entirely different game out of Monster Hunter, just by going fishing, looking for all of the endemic life, or just trying to explore.
This is aided through the use of the brand-new Palamute – a rideable dog – which is able to zoom across the map, get equipped with armour, weapons, and is even somehow driftable, Initial D-Style. The addition of a Palamute is a refinement of the Raider Rides seen in Monster Hunter World: Iceborne, but this time you’re in full control and are able to perform almost every action you’d usually do, but mounted. This includes sharpening up your weapon, mining for materials, and gathering up endemic life during a hunt.
In single-player, you can bring in both a Palamute and Palico, which offers similar advantages, but the Palico is not rideable and can be equipped with a different suite of skills. In Multiplayer, you’re able to select between Palico and Palamute. However, due to the sheer convenience of what the Palamute offers, it would make no sense to not bring your new best-friend along as you explore the incredible areas of Monster Hunter Rise. You’re often bathed in a sense of wonder at the environments, and that’s in part due to the Edo-era aesthetic that’s draped onto the game.
Kamura Village, your main hub in the game, is filled with characters and people that make it feel like it is indeed an old Japanese village. From the gruff Elder Fugen to Yomogi the Chef, each character brings colour and history to Kamura in a way that’s never really been represented by Monster Hunter’s previous titles. It’s not just set-dressing; this game lives and breathes in its aesthetic, and makes you really believe in the history and world, too.
Even the mechanic of eating to boost your health and stamina before a hunt has been dazzled with a Japanese twist. The Meowscular chef has been replaced by little Yomogi, who tasks two tiny Felynes to pound mochi rice to create Dango. This is accompanied by a short cutscene and charming song, and it’s these little frills and details that make Kamura, and Monster Hunter Rise’s tone in general, feel like a step back from World’s self-serious attitude – it's closer to the often goofy Monster Hunter charm of old. The attention to these smaller details is what separates Monster Hunter from many other games, and it’s clear from the final product that it’s all worthwhile.
The story in Monster Hunter Rise is nothing to really write home about, and isn’t quite as involved as the plot present in Monster Hunter 4, or Monster Hunter: World. But what it loses in plot-value, it makes up for in style and tone. Even so, some may take issue with the fact that the narrative feels lighter and slightly tacked-on by comparison. In fact, it doesn’t take that long to hit the credits at all. We recorded around 15 hours of playtime before the staff names began to roll, but don’t be fooled. There are many, many more challenges after that, which (slightly confusingly) also drive the plot of the game forward.
It’s from Kamura that you’ll gain access to the quests of Monster Hunter Rise, which is segregated into a few different types. Village, Hub, and Rampage. The Village quests are what predominantly drive the “main” story, and range from one-to-six stars in terms of their overall threat level. Multiplayer Quests are split out into the gathering hub, and with it, access to high-rank hunts – once you’ve reached the appropriate Hunter Rank, which can be increased by doing hub quests.
This split between single-player and multiplayer quests marks a departure from Monster Hunter: World’s unified quest structure, but the developers at Capcom have keenly realised that not everyone is going to be connected to the internet at all times (especially on a device like the Switch, which can be played handheld), meaning that you can’t really build out the game in the same structure as Monster Hunter: World. This means that during the course of the main plot you’ll have to fly entirely solo.
However, while in Hub Quests, you can have other hunters join you via a pre-established lobby which you can start while in Kamura, or via a “join request” which you can open to all hunters, and works similarly to the SOS Flare system from Monster Hunter: World. You can join one of these quests just by searching for a quest when in the Gathering Hub. We didn’t get the opportunity to test this too extensively before release, but while in a lobby, playing with people across the world, we experienced minimal lag while hunting on Wi-Fi.
It's worth noting that Monster Hunter Rise has no support for voice chat, even with the Switch Online app, meaning that there's no way to communicate via voice with other players. In place of this is a fairly typical chat function; while in a lobby, you can send stickers and messages. This is somewhat disappointing, as the voice chat integration present in the Wii U version of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate was a fantastic way to chat with your fellow hunters. If voice communication is an essential part of online gaming for you, then you'll have to coordinate with your team using a third-party app, like Discord.
With that said, multiplayer hunts remain a true spectacle. Every hunter can pick either a Palico or Palamute to come on a quest with them, which can mean that things can get very busy on screen, and on occasion, it becomes difficult to parse what’s actually happening, what with all the fancy graphical effects. But, the feeling of taking on monsters with a well-rounded team is peerless for a PvE experience. The game can get quite difficult when you’ve reached the later parts of high-rank, and coordinating with your fellow hunters is key to your survival.
Hub Quests have changed in comparison to older titles, however, as they now scale for the number of players in the quest, meaning that they’re not immediately defaulting to 4-player scaling like Monster Hunter 4 and Monster Hunter Generations. This is an incredibly important point as Monster Hunter is traditionally segregated into several different ranks. You start off at Low Rank, where most monsters are of a pretty minimal threat level. In High Rank, things start to get spicy when you reach the more difficult foes, such as the stunning flagship, Magnamalo. Here, you’ll find that some beasts have new moves up their sleeves (do monsters have sleeves?), and have different strategies. In Monster Hunter Rise, there’s nothing beyond high-rank presently at launch.
A welcome addition to Monster Hunter Rise is the addition of “Special License Quests”, where you’re able to access higher-level Hub quests based on your progress in the single-player Village quests. These allow you to practically ignore the low-level hub quests and skip through the quests that you’d otherwise be too overpowered for to pose a challenge until high-rank. This means that there’s no pressure in just focussing on single-player content first, before diving into high rank and the more difficult multiplayer hub quests.
With the inevitable expansion, we can expect to see G-Rank or Master Rank added in at a later date, but Capcom is already aiming to add to Monster Hunter Rise with further updates after its release. Two have been planned, with the first extra monster, Chameleos, having been announced already. Rise ends in a strange place after you clear out all of the high-rank quests, and there’s no solid 'endgame' to speak of. For many hunters, this might seem frustrating, but considering that the game is being released and has been developed in the middle of a global pandemic, it's perhaps understandable. We can surely expect to see something a little more firm as the updates begin to roll out but don’t expect a full endgame quite yet, after you exhaust all of the hub and village quests.
Until then, you can take down monsters in the brand-new “Rampage” quest, which is like a blend between an arena quest, and a tower-defence minigame. Monsters come at you in waves, with a larger beast to take down at the end of it. During the rampage, you can summon powerful NPCs and upgrade your ballistas to cannons, and eventually launch what seems to be a full-on nuke on the monster. In multiplayer in particular, these Rampages feel incredible, and after taking some time to get used to it, it felt just as rewarding as a normal quest. It gets incredibly hectic with four players placing turrets and fighting monsters during “counter-signals”, where you can get stuck in during some multi-monster madness and dish out extra damage. You can even “Ramp-up” your weapons at the smithy to add special Rampage-only skills.
While it might be hard to get used to, the Rampage quests are always accessible in the hub from fairly early on in the game, and you can even encounter “Apex” versions of monsters during these Rampages. These monsters have extra moves, health and drop different materials. You’re definitely going to want to coordinate with a team for these, and while it gets fairly busy, the Nintendo Switch barely breaks a sweat and retains a stable framerate throughout.
On performance, we found Monster Hunter Rise runs slightly better while undocked. One particular area makes the framerate chug quite a bit, but outside of that, we experienced minimal frame drops while docked and undocked. In multiplayer it can get hectic, and the framerate will begin to struggle; however, we only encountered that once in the 30+ multiplayer hunts we went on during the review process. Given how fantastic this game looks, it’s incredibly impressive that it remains as stable as it does.
New mechanics, monsters and a gorgeous setting make Monster Hunter Rise a new high-water mark for the franchise. The Wirebug, Switch Skills, Palamute and carefully thought-out monsters shake things up enough to make the game feel fresh for hunters who have previously spent thousands of hours with the series, and while the package could be slightly intimidating for newcomers, it's arguably the ideal place to get started if you're serious about getting into the franchise. And, with a peerless four-player multiplayer experience, the new Rampage quests are a blast. After spending some serious time with the game, it’s very easy to say that Monster Hunter Rise is one of the strongest entries into the franchise to date, and another stone-cold classic for the Nintendo Switch.