Take our mittened hand and let Polygon’s Winter Games package for 2021 guide you through the playground of wintertime games — what’s great, what’s not, and what exciting features await you in the games coming out in February and March.
The Mizutsune hunt kicked my ass in the Monster Hunter Rise demo for Nintendo Switch. Thirty minutes into my first run at the beast, I had it on its last leg, but in its rage, it whirled around and knocked me down for good. I failed, and I didn’t exactly feel like immediately playing through another 30-plus-minute hunt just to lose again.
A day later, in an effort to try the game in handheld mode, I decided to load up another hunt against Mizutsune — one of the two available hunts in the demo. I expected to go down more than once in the first area, with my skills rusty and the Joy-Con’s imprecise buttons under my fingers.
But I skated through the first area with heavy use of the new Wire Bug tool, a rechargeable, living grappling hook that lets me amplify my attacks, jump into the air, recover quickly, or dodge out of the way. After some sick dodges on my part — and another 30 minutes — I sunk my hammer into Mizutsune for the last time, and the watery beast went down for good.
As I collected my bits and pieces from the (relatively) innocent creature’s body so I could turn it into a hat, I reflected on how much the demo of Monster Hunter Rise had impressed me. Not only did the demo deliver a version of Monster Hunter: World on a much smaller platform, it showed me a game that’s faster and even more modern.
Monster hunting on the go
Monster Hunter: World was my first game in the series, and I loved following it up with the Iceborne expansion. But despite being in peak Monster Hunter fever, I skipped out on the Switch-exclusive re-release of Monster Hunter Generations: Ultimate. No matter how deep I’d gotten into the world of monster hunting, I could never go back to the pre-World Monster Hunter games with aged features like following monsters across loading zones.
Despite my love for World and Iceborne, Rise sat comfortably off to the side of my radar after its announcement. Then I played the demo. Rise isn’t a trip back to old-school Monster Hunter like I expected. Instead, it’s the next step forward for the series — even if it’s on something a little light on power, like the Switch.
Playing Rise while sitting at my desk, far away from my TV and my dock, reminded me of how amazed I felt playing Breath of the Wild for the first time — putting my Switch in the dock, then taking it out to sit in a different room. The Switch is old hat in 2021, but the Rise demo ignited that spark again. It’s almost entirely uncompromised from World, but it runs on a machine I can take with me on my next plane ride (remember those?).
Monster Hunter Rise on the Switch works as advertised — an impressive feat — but the true upgrade for Rise is in its speed.
The Monster Hunter you know, but faster
Rise lets you move like you’re late to a meeting with the monster you’re hunting.
Past Monster Hunter demos I’ve played, including World, are methodical. You move pretty slowly and you have to weigh the length of your attack animation against the monster’s movements. It’s what gives the game its difficulty. But Rise pushes Monster Hunter further away from Dark Souls and closer to something like Sekiro. Everything you do still feels deliberate, but it’s faster.
There are two major factors in this change, and both are new to Monster Hunter Rise.
The Palamute is a rideable dog that can join you on your hunt. While the Palico (the series’ infamous cat-pals) are great for supporting you in combat with healing items and traps, the Palamutes are more like motorcycles with teeth. Out of combat you can seamlessly grab onto your dog buddy and zoom around the map at top speed.
The Palamute is game-changing because it still allows for Monster Hunter essentials like assessing tracks and gathering resources on the move. But it speeds the process up by letting you move quickly between your battles or your resource nodes. This is extra welcome in the Mizutsune hunt, as the beast has access to a secret passageway that allows it to move between bodies of water. Without the Palamute, you’d have to hoof it old-school between Mizutsune’s battle arenas.
Palamutes are cool, but the biggest upgrade in Monster Hunter Rise is something I mentioned earlier: the Wire Bug. It’s not a new weapon, but a new tool available to every Hunter. The Wire Bug has two charges that replenish over time, and I can spend those charges to do unique aerial attacks or dash through the air to dodge an incoming slice from a monster’s tail.
Monster Hunter’s typical slow movement can make the series feel punishing for new or lapsed players — especially for Hunters like me who appreciate a slow, heavy-hitting weapon like the hammer. But the Wire Bug had me flying around the map, over the Mizutsune, by my second run.
This new method of movement fundamentally changes how Monster Hunter works. Now I can react as quickly as I want, and Capcom can build faster monsters to compensate. It simultaneously makes Rise more accessible while allowing high-end players to express their skill with incredible, speedy moves against their monsters.
But Monster Hunter Rise’s newfound speed wouldn’t matter if the game didn’t play well on and off the dock. In my handheld hunt, I didn’t run into any frame rate problems that would hinder my ability to battle as quickly and accurately as I needed to to succeed. It looks graphically worse than World, but Rise holds up to the stability I need when I’m eight Mega Potions deep into an intense monster hunt. Taking my Switch out of the dock is a privilege, not a downgrade for convenience’s sake.
Through a single demo and a couple trailers, Capcom showed me that Monster Hunter Rise is much more than I’d expected. It’s a true follow-up to one of my favorite games of the last generation, and it’s coming on a much more welcoming platform. And now, with a few hours of practice hunts now under my belt, Rise is one of my most anticipated games of 2021.