There was a certain lightning-in-a-bottle energy that was super effective when Niantic launched Pokemon GO. Arguably, nothing since has caught on as well with the mainstream public, but since I played Monster Hunter Now in the summer, I've wondered if it could be the next big thing in AR gaming.
Monster Hunter Now taps into Capcom’s iconic franchise, taking it back to its heyday as a portable game you can play on the go. You play as yourself in the real world (or whoever you want your avatar to be), and it’s up to you to figure out why monsters are appearing on Earth.
Like Niantic’s other titles, this game taps into Google Maps, using it as the platform to support the rest of the gameplay. I wandered around Seattle, foraged for plants and crafting material, and hunted some monsters. Overall, I had a pretty great time doing it.
Why a Review in Progress?
I played Monster Hunter Now’s closed network beta for weeks over the summer, but I’ve only had a few days with the review, for-public build. Mobile games, by their nature, encourage players to build habits so they keep coming back for more, and judging that will take more than a couple days.
For the most part, the gameplay hasn’t drastically changed since my time with the beta. However, in the interest of fairness, I think it’s only right to spend a few more weeks to meaningfully assess Monster Hunter Now, especially in how it deals with the tension between microtransactions and overall progression.
It’s the Simple Pleasures
For Niantic's Tokyo office, one of the team’s biggest goals was nailing down a simplified yet authentic take on the Monster Hunter formula. It’s a delicate balance, especially considering how complex your average hunt can be.
Understanding monster weaknesses, memorizing attack patterns, perfecting your dodge, mastering your weapon’s quirks and combos—all these things are part of what makes Monster Hunter simultaneously hard to approach and wildly fun to master.
Niantic has found a way to distill all these parts into the palm of your hand, and it’s all accessible with your phone and a couple of fingers.
You can attack by tapping constantly, holding a tap, or tapping a special attack button, which comes with a cooldown. There aren’t complex combos here; you’re either doing your attack string or not. Diehard switch axe players, this is your chance to see what the sword and shield is like.
Long taps do something unique to each weapon. For example, the sword and shield mitigates damage, and if you absorb a hit early in the defensive stance, you can counterattack with a flurry of strikes. The great sword charges a big swing, while the long sword sheathes it and unleashes a dashing attack on release.
Ironically, simplifying the intricate weapons in Monster Hunter is probably a complicated undertaking, so Monster Hunter Now is launching with only six weapons. If you don’t play with any of the above weapons or the hammer, light bowgun, or bow, you’ll have to get familiar with one of them.
Luckily, all the weapons are pretty easy to grasp, and they mirror their mainline counterparts well. The great sword is chunky and unwieldy, but one good hit is all you need. The bowgun can swap between different types of ammo, and the gyro-control aiming is surprisingly effective and intuitive.
Hunting for a Good Time
When you step outside to play Monster Hunter Now, there are a lot of bite-sized activities you can expect to run into. Approaching forage points gets you resources by tapping on them, and small monsters are easy to kill in a few hits, giving you some small claws or hide.
It all ties back to Niantic’s mantra of simple authenticity. These core tenets of the franchise are quick to do and in line with series’ expectations, and they’re easily accomplished while mid-stroll.
The real meat of Monster Hunter Now, though, lies in the big monster encounters. It’s what we’re all here for, right? Monsters are given star ratings; the more stars they have, the harder they are to kill. If they have purple stars, that’s an even higher tier you probably won’t see for a while.
When you engage a big monster, the game prompts you to stop and find a safe place to stay while you fight it. They’re more involved, prompting you to dodge big attacks by swiping. It’s all freeform, so it’s up to you when and how you want to move before closing the gap to attack.
Doing enough damage to certain areas breaks off monster parts, though it’s hard to aim for this early on. Certain headgear gives you the power to lock onto certain parts, but you have to work toward building those pieces after getting the right parts.
Now legally, I recommend that you stop walking to fight a monster. Getting hit by a car is embarrassing. But between you and me, you get to a point where you can knock out one-star monsters in seven seconds without paying too much attention. That’s a distraction I can afford while walking, but your mileage may vary.
Once you start fighting stronger monsters that take upwards of 30 seconds, the game starts really mimicking those 30-minute fights that Monster Hunter is famous for. It asks for an intense level of concentration on a micro-scale.
A few mistakes are all it takes to wipe out, and you need to be on top of your game to knock out a monster before your 75 seconds are up.
I can’t stress enough just how intrinsically enjoyable hunting for monsters is in Monster Hunter Now. It’s easy to forget about the grind for materials because of how well it distills the joy of a hunt into bite-sized chunks.
If anything, it’s worth downloading the game just to feel a hunt for yourself, especially if you’re already a fan of the series. It’s not quite the same as the real thing, but it’s not trying to be. It’s a digestible, on-the-go way to play when you’re on a walk.
The only thing I'd recommend is bringing a battery pack or two, especially for longer sessions. Monster Hunter Now does eat into your battery. I'm on a Samsung Galaxy S23, and playing for a few hours had me reaching for my charger sooner than usual. The game looks great at high graphics settings, and it can even run at a buttery smooth 60 frames per second--but you'll be paying for it in juice.
Totally Social Mobile Gaming
As you start approaching a wall, you’ll want to tag in a couple of friends. After all, Monster Hunter is known as much as a social game as it is a monster-hunting game. My only times partying up were at media events, but it was a lot of fun.
Huge, four- or five-star monsters would be difficult alone, and they border on impossible with the time limit. But in co-op play, they can become almost trivial. The focus is definitely on having fun with your friends, but when you're matched with a properly tough monster, there’s a certain joy that comes with fighting a real challenge together.
The best hunt I experienced so far was against a purple-star Rathian during PAX West. It was strong enough to two-shot most of the party, especially with its big, sweeping attacks. It kept us all on our toes. Niantic Chief Product Officer Kei Kawai was surprised when we beat it, and it felt pretty rewarding.
What has me only slightly wary, however, is the in-game shop and in-app purchases. So far, the only items in the shop are health potions, paintballs, and wander orbs and droplets. You can also buy zenny, which is in-game money used to upgrade gear.
Health potions are pretty self-explanatory, and the game gives you 5 first-aid meds every day to offset the need for potions. If you want to purchase them though, they’re 60 gems apiece.
Paintballs let you mark a monster so you can fight it later. If you’re in a hurry, it’s a good way to save that Barroth for later, especially if you’re looking for parts. Wander items expand your play radius for different lengths of time, which is great for longer play sessions.
Each paintball is 180 gems, wander orbs are 480 gems (for 30 minutes of expanded radius), and wander droplets are 280 gems for 15 minutes.
$15 gives you 2,250 gems, though 1,120 of those are bonus gems; bonus gems can only be acquired your first time buying that bundle. $2 gives you 300 gems (150 bonus first-time gems), while $100 gives you 15,000 gems (7,463 bonus first-time gems).
At your most price-efficient purchase, a paintball is roughly $1.20, and a potion is about 40 cents. At the worst, you can only buy one paintball on your first $2 purchase, if you get the 150 bonus gems. Afterward, it’s simply not even worth spending $2 per gem bundle.
I’m really skeptical about the in-app purchases in Monster Hunter Now. Your Palico has three free Palico Paintballs per day, and it uses them randomly as you walk around. It’s up to chance, but that’s three reliable monsters per day for $0, and you can fight them on your own time.
That value is insanely good compared to the $1.20 per monster, especially if you’re talking about those one-star monsters that take only seven seconds to beat. If time is money, I’m hard pressed to say seven seconds is worth $1.20. I'm lucky enough to afford both, but I'd rather afford those seven seconds, even while walking. Once again your mileage may vary.
These in-app purchases are what give me the most pause for fully scoring Monster Hunter Now at this time. So far, I haven’t run into a wall that’s made me want to buy anything. If that changes, I can’t imagine it’ll feel good, especially with how generous the game is for free already.
Monster Hunter Now Review in Progress: A New Age in AR Games?
Monster Hunter isn’t as big as Pokemon—after all, few things can rival Pikachu—but it’s a magnetic IP in its own right. Rise hit 13 million sales in June, and in the franchise’s lifetime, Capcom has reported 94 million unit sales, making it one of their most lucrative IPs.
As a relatively recent fan of the franchise, Monster Hunter Rise was the one that tricked me into enjoying the franchise. Monster Hunter Now feels like an excellent extension of the daunting gameplay loop, distilled into bite-sized, addicting chunks.
As I climb in hunter ranks, I’ve definitely started to see the grind set in; hunting specific monsters for specific parts for specific weapons and armor is par for the course, after all. That grind is fun so far, but I’m a little worried about how that will pan out after a few more weeks of play time.
TechRaptor received early access to Monster Hunter Now’s closed beta test period from June to July courtesy of Niantic. Access to the launch build was granted on Sept. 8. I played the game on a Samsung Galaxy S23. The game is available now on iOS and Android.