Niantic, the company behind the uniquely popular Pokémon Go, has spent the past few years trying on IPs like a kid at a hat. They’ve tried everything from Harry Potter to the NBA with limited to no success, and now that its new game, Monster Hunter Now, has been out for a few weeks, it’s time to see how it has shaped up.
As always, Niantic’s latest augmented reality romp is effectively a reskin of their own less successful IP, Ingress, but this time with a Monster Hunter veneer – and a seriously uninspiring name. PokéStops are now mining points and monsters are now killed, not caught, but the core mechanic of real-world exploration is still very much front and centre. The key thing is that, unlike Wizards Unite or Pikmin Bloom, this common formula actually lends itself incredibly well to Monster Hunter Now.
Instead of catching monsters you kill them, and instead of farming for Candy to level up a respective Pokémon, you farm monster parts to level up your swords and equipment. As in the main series Monster Hunter games, if you want a fire-based Anjanath sword, you have to go hunt some Anjanath. And you really gotta hunt em all because loot drops are random. You can easily spend hours in the main series hunting the same monster looking for the 1% drop rate Rathian Mantle that just won’t drop. The same thing happens here, given how stingy loot drops can be.
However, to find a given monster, you need to go looking for it in the correct biome — a real-world overlay that makes certain parts of your neighbourhood either a Forest, Swamp or Desert for a three-hour period, before the map cycles to a new biome.
Beyond that, PokéStops/Gyms are farming points that you can only harvest once per day. All of this is major encouragement for you to get up off the sofa, stop playing the main series game and pick up the mobile version instead.
For the most part, this Skinner Box cycle, which you repeat across the pantheon of 13 monsters currently in the game (a mere scratching of the IP’s surface), is pretty satisfying at low levels. It’s an extremely watered down version of the likes of World and Rise, but it’s got fantastic potential that is very encouraging to see after the past few Niantic games we’ve reviewed.
The first issue is that as you level up, you quickly get to the point where you are fighting over-levelled monsters with under-levelled gear, and either get one-shot killed or simply can’t hack it down quick enough in the mercilessly short 75-second window. Even taking one hit can eat up too much of your limited time.
Combat is simply tapping to attack and swiping to dodge, eventually hitting an special attack button once your gauge is full. When the enemy flashes red, you know to time a dodge; if you flash gold you executed a perfect dodge and get to counter attack. It sounds simple, but with each monster having its own attack patterns, and with their rapid pace of attack, taking your eyes off the screen to cross the road will have you being battered like a rag doll. Given your likely low defence and inability to invite friends from afar to help out, you need to get good at dodging (monsters, not traffic).
This is incredibly frustrating because for the first time in a long time, Niantic has stumbled upon a game with seemingly limitless potential. This genuinely could be better than Pokémon Go, if Niantic quickly address this and the other issues that are popping up, and do so before players give up and move on.
Monster Hunter Now is currently riddled with server issues – the eternal thorn in Niantic’s side. Too often when playing, you will see a notification that your connection is to weak, causing your character to idle. This could result in absolutely nothing happening; or it could also result in lag, hunts dropping or a monster healing itself back up to max after it should have died. I’ve had each happen multiple times.
Despite that, the game is very good at remembering when you use paid-for items; lag means taking damage and that means using Potions or First-Aid Meds (the free potions you get five of per day, in a nice nod to the main series). Given that you can lose all of your health in one hit, but need two Potions to heal to max, you’ll burn through them quickly. Alas, the only way to get new Potions is to buy them with premium currency: Gems.
Quick side note: ‘Gems’ is a terrible name. In a franchise re-meow-ned for its cat-based puns, how could the writers not think of something better?
It’s frustrating to only have this option when other mechanisms could easily be used. The in-game currency of Zenny can only be used for upgrades, and while you can pick up plant-based materials from the harvesting spots, they’re only used for crafting weapons and armour. Either item crafting could be added or Zenny could be used to address the Potion price issue, because with servers this worthless, the game might as well be pay-to-play.
You can always simply wait if you don’t want to pay, Niantic would point out if it ever read feedback — your health will slowly recover over the course of an hour, but that’s little reassurance in a game that asks you to physically leave your home and play. Imagine walking for 20 minutes, finding the Rathian you want to hunt, but your health is only at 10 points after getting bodied by the 5-star Paolumu. You need a minimum of 30 to do the hunt and you’re out of free Meds. Do you spend money on Gems for Potions, or do you sit on a nearby wall and wait for half an hour? Then, when you do spend the money and take a hit because, despite your perfect dodge timing, the server is lagging, it’s a bit of a slap in the face and/or wallet.
All of this came to a head during the game’s first global event this week: the global debut of Diablos — a monster so difficult that people across the internet were complaining at how the event was virtually impossible, if not because of the actual difficulty, but because of the server issues and the price of chugging potions.