Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
We may earn a commission from links on this page

Monster Hunter Now makes hunting dinos in your neighborhood a little too dull

The latest phone game from Pokémon Go creators Niantic is fun, but fails to evolve

We may earn a commission from links on this page.
Monster Hunter Now
Monster Hunter Now
Image: Capcom

Every Friday, A.V. Club staffers kick off our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans and recent gaming glories, but of course, the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What Are You Playing This Weekend?

The problem with coming up with a genius idea first—and we’d argue that Niantic’s massively successful “Walk into traffic to snag a Pikachu” phone game Pokémon Go, was, indeed, a genius idea—is that you’re kind of stuck with it. Try to step away from it for a new project, and you almost inevitably invite comparisons back to your earlier work; slavishly repeat it, and, well, what’s the point?


It’s not like phone game-based studio Niantic hasn’t tried to refine the basic “walk around your neighborhood and chuck balls at Squirtles” gameplay of its original hit, which is still going strong seven years after becoming an international sensation. Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, released in 2019, added more robust combat and puzzle-solving to the basic formula, while The Witcher: Monster Slayer—despite some weird tonal mish-mashes—proved that the basic idea could at least ostensibly support something a little heavier. But now, the studio’s latest game, Monster Hunter Now, suggests that they’ve hit a wall on what they’re willing to attach to their location-based gameplay. No video game about hunting dinosaurs on the streets of your own neighborhood should feel this rote.

『Monster Hunter Now』Launch Trailer | “survival dAnce” | Music by 4s4ki (Prod. by Yaffle)

MH Now is based, obviously, on Capcom’s very popular Monster Hunter franchise, marking an inflection point in that series’ increasing (and mostly very welcome) turn toward wider market appeal over the last few years. The surface-level fit for a Pokémon Go-style game is obvious, too: Like Pokémon, Monster Hunter’s biggest draw is its beautiful creatures—even if players in the world of Nintendo’s best-selling series aren’t usually trying to murder a Rattata to turn their skin into a swanky new vest. On a deeper level, meanwhile, both series put a focus on the somewhat nuanced pleasures of “The Grind”—featuring steady gameplay loops that incorporate repetition into part of their appeal. (And Niantic’s design philosophies certainly aren’t afraid of a bit of grinding, as anyone who’s spent weeks mulching their ‘mons into candy will know.)


The issues with Monster Hunter Now come down to a few factors, some commercial, and some philosophical. The (mostly) commercial one is the pace at which the game doles out new monsters: Having grasped the obvious fact that no gaming reward is going to be as satisfying as having a new, gorgeous beast to battle, the game rolls out these new creatures exceedingly slowly—to the point that, after multiple weeks of near-daily play, we still have only eight of the things listed in our in-game Monster Guide. There can be a thrill to learning a single monster’s quirks through multiple fights, especially as the player comes to terms with the game’s combat, which is more sophisticated than anything Niantic has offered before. (Which isn’t saying much, but they’ve at least found ways to make each of the game’s weapon sets feel genuinely distinct.) But the slow, dripping spigot of new content can be legitimately demoralizing; there’s only so many times you can fire up the app, see the same four Great Jagras or Kulu-Ya-Kus wandering down by the local convenience store like a crew of Jurassic ne’er do wells, and say “Screw it” to your afternoon walk.


The philosophical problem, meanwhile, comes down to seemingly missing the other half of Monster Hunter’s appeal: The crafting system, which, in the main series games, is pleasantly complex, allowing players to tailor outfits to maximize the strengths of certain weapons, or even for individual hunts. That system is here in name, but not really in spirit—because the resources involved in making weapons and armor are so heavily gated, and the interface for building them so desperately clunky, that the idea of crafting a fit for a particular fight just feels exhausting. Monster Hunter fights are won in the prep as much as in the heat of battle, and by missing that element of the series (including by turning each such battle into a 60-second bite-sized fight), MH Now renders itself a far less satisfying, or deep, experience.


It’s not like there’s no fun here: The combat is genuinely good, the creature designs as delightful as they always are. And there are, as ever, worse excuses for getting one’s daily steps in. But the potential of a “real-world Monster Hunter” isn’t being fulfilled, either, as Niantic continues to cling desperately to its one genius idea.