We've brightened up our daily walks in the woods with Niantic's latest attempt to repeat the success of Pokémon Go.
There is a video from 2016 where Central Park in New York is completely flooded with Pokémon Go players. I also remember my landlord stopping me one summer day that year to ask about the game because she had seen people playing it on the streets of Oslo. It's no exaggeration to say that the Pokémon Go phenomenon is unprecedented. The real-life equivalent of gotta' catch em' all took the world by storm and still has almost 80 million active players today.
So, it's no surprise that others want to follow suit, and Capcom's acclaimed Monster Hunter series has now become a mobile game in much the same vein as Pokémon Go. It is actually the same developer, Niantic, who is behind this as well, so they have an impressive track record in the genre even if all their attempts have not been very long-lasting. The question is whether they can once again repeat their success with the one they got with Nintendo and The Pokémon Company's extremely popular game series.
The game starts with a clear, consistent and slightly too long tutorial. I learn everything I need to know and the game holds my hand tightly so I get all the knowledge needed for further adventures. There are tasks like "kill X number of monsters" and "collect X number of items" and the goal at the beginning is to level up and collect things so I can upgrade my equipment. The first few encounters with monsters are easy and I kill them in a few hits, with the gameplay asking you to simply click repeatedly on the screen for your character to cut their lives down to zero. However, it's the game's bigger monsters that are the real challenge - even though challenge is not something I've encountered during my playtime at all. The same principle applies; tap the screen to stab, but now you also have to swipe to the side to avoid the monsters' attacks. The only thing you really need is a good enough weapon and you can handle the game's battles with ease. These are timed. 75 seconds is the time you have to kill the monster, so all fights are fast and fit the mobile format well.
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The graphics are functional and stylish for a mobile phone. But it is just that - neat for a mobile phone. Things like the map needing to be loaded at times, problems with connecting to networks and other things are all areas that detract from the gaming experience, but it doesn't ruin it and you accept it. After all, you're not playing on a PC or console.
In addition to slaying monsters at a steady pace, there is a lot of focus on your equipment. You can use the materials you collect to upgrade, and even forge new ones, and making sure your weapon is the best it can be makes battles much easier. Because, as you level up, the really difficult monsters start to appear so keeping track of your weapons and armour is of the utmost importance. And even if you add in some special attacks, the actual battles against monsters are still as simple as game design can get; tap the screen to stab, swipe to dodge. You always have first aid a simple button press away and here I can feel that they could have created a system with a little more depth, a little more finesse. I understand that they approached this with a simplicity, something that should work smoothly and quickly, but when all encounters are the same, no matter how big and terrifying your opponents are, it also becomes quite repetitive.
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The game's biggest monsters can also be viewed in the environment you are in, in real life that is. An AR mode is accessed with a button and you can see them interacting where you are. The AR mode is cool, though far from perfect. The monsters tend to hover a bit above the ground but it's still fun to see them roll around or make other movements in real environments. Definitely something to try every time you come to new environments and with newly discovered monsters. Even if it doesn't look completely perfect visually.
The game's map is divided into different zones such as forest, swamp and desert and some monsters are found in one and some in others. The zones themselves are quite small so not many steps are needed to walk between them. I think the map itself is rather boring visually, but I like the idea of going between different areas and I think it's clear with good icons when you go out in search of something. The game also has a very good lexicon for all monsters with facts and you can see how many times you have killed a certain type.
It is precisely in walking around in the real world that Monster Hunter Now utilises all the things that the game does well. Going for a walk, no matter what environment you are in, seeing an icon on the game's map and trudging there to get some materials or fight a particular monster is something that makes it unique. I start my walks in the forest by locating something I want to hike to and then just go there. The ring that marks what you can interact with is also quite generous, making it easier to actually reach the icons you want.
Since Monster Hunter Now is a free game to download, there is of course the possibility to buy things in the game, for real money. However, I have never felt that it was a necessity to have fun with the game. Things are given to you at a steady pace and there is no barrier or waiting time that you need to spend money to get past or shorten.
I'm a person who usually gets tired of mobile games incredibly quickly. I'm a gamer who enjoys playing on a PC or console and uses my phone for other things. But Monster Hunter Now has not only succeeded in capturing the very essence of what a mobile game of this type can be, but also made it stylish and entertaining. Monster Hunter Now definitely succeeds in being a perfect companion that you can easily carry with you. And that can turn a walk or any other occasion with a mobile phone into something very entertaining.
8 / 10
Easy to play and entertaining. Fun AR feature. Great concept for mobile. Micro-transactions don't feel necessary at all!
Boring design on the world map. The battles are a bit too simple.