Niantic, the developer and publisher of the critically acclaimed game Pokémon Go, released their newest location-based adventure game last Thursday. The game, Monster Hunter Now, has the same premise as its predecessor: Walk around your local area, gain resources from landmarks and interact with a diverse catalog of creatures as you stroll about.
After playing it for about a week, I can confidently say that Monster Hunter Now has a good chance of becoming as big – or even bigger – than its predecessor.
True to the Monster Hunter format, Monster Hunter Now is about defeating monsters from different habitats and gathering area-specific resources. This simplified version of that formula has beautifully integrated habitats, designed in a way that’s practical and works well.
Habitats are randomly selected each day and – unlike Pokémon Go’s weather – they don’t affect the whole game. Instead, the habitats generate a grid-like pattern with each cell adopting one of the three current terrains: Forest, Desert and Swamp.
While the Monster Hunter franchise has ventured to more locations such as snowy tundras, lush jungles and even active volcanoes in previous installments, the way it is handled in this iteration effectively keeps Monster Hunter Now from growing stale, at least so far. The changing terrains also make sure that Monster Hunter Now doesn’t make a similar mistake Pokémon Go makes: Locking certain Pokémon to certain regions, making it impossible to catch certain Pokémon without traveling abroad.
With each Habitat, different resources are available at “gathering points,” which take the place of PokéStops. Along with different gathering points, each terrain is inhabited by different monsters, each rewarding players with resources unique to that monster. All of these resources can be used to craft new armor and weapons.
Something that baffled me about this system wasn’t just the stylized visuals it provided, but that the game didn’t try to ransack my wallet for playing too much. Pokémon Go’s item system has notoriously shallow storage, leading to hundreds, if not thousands, of items needing to be discarded unnecessarily as people continue to play and engage.
This cycle of needing to discard items for new ones is especially frustrating if you’re unwilling to fork over more money to one of the biggest video game companies just to hold on to a few more essential items. Monster Hunter Now, on the other hand, gives the player a lofty 5000-item storage to start, which I haven’t even come close to filling after six days of playing.
Another difference is that Pokémon Go has a simple system for catching wild Pokémon and a separate system for battling them against other players. Monster Hunter Now, on the other hand, foregoes capturing monsters and allocates more resources into a battling system that’s very true to its predecessors and easy to use even while walking (just remember to look up every now and again). The simple combination of tapping and swiping across the screen, reminiscent of Pokémon Go, excels at being beginner-friendly, something mainstream Monster Hunter games struggle with.
When it comes to playing with others, Pokémon Go took nearly a year to get its major cooperative content “Raids” live, while Monster Hunter Now has released with its own cooperative content core to the game’s design. Monster Hunter Now also takes a completely different approach to players interacting with one another, allowing up to four players to work together to bring down larger monsters.
While there are many similarities between the two games, there are plenty of things that Niantic hasn’t implemented that could really separate the two, like sharpness or item crafting. Adding things like this would help Monster Hunter Now have a more unique identity that could help it become more attractive than Pokémon Go.
In fact, I was baffled to find the iconic sharpness system missing, something that gives the Monster Hunter franchise some of its identity and charm.
In Monster Hunter, each weapon, even the Hammer, for some reason, has a sharpness meter. As you attack, the meter depletes. After a certain threshold, weapons become dull and will harmlessly bounce off whatever monster you’re trying to fight.
Item crafting would help make the game’s resource gathering feel more necessary and allow the player to prepare for upcoming encounters. Unfortunately, the only available items of note are potions to regain health and paintball to save a monster for later. The list isn’t as extensive as Monster Hunter games prior to this. Quite frankly, it’s already annoying that the only resources used to craft items in this game are a couple bucks.
Monster Hunter Now is fairly true to the traditional Monster Hunter format, even if it’s missing some things. Niantic has made sure to balance the exciting battles with calm resource collection. Meanwhile, Pokémon Go is estranged from the usual form Pokémon games take, taking its time to implement real-time battles against other players, something core to the series’ identity, and slowly adding the last remaining Pokémon to the game.
Moving forward, Monster Hunter Now has plenty of untouched content that could finalize the look and feel of a traditional Monster Hunter game. Currently, a little over half of its weapon roster is still missing, many fan-favorite monsters have yet to make an appearance and several helpful items – like attack and defense-increasing items and antidotes to cure poisoning – haven’t been integrated yet.
Despite these missing things, Monster Hunter Now looks and feels different enough from Pokémon Go that it has a chance to be something huge, unlike Pikmin Grow, which you’ve probably never heard of until now.