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How Monster Hunter Now distills massive battles down to 75-second fights

Capcom and Niantic are collaborating on Monster Hunter Now, a new, real-world mobile RPG following in the footsteps of titles like Pokémon Go and NBA All-World. Players will be able to explore their neighborhood, alone or with friends, find materials, and fight monsters at locations near them. An open beta for the game begins later this month ahead of a full launch in September, but that comes after a four-year development cycle and a lot of work in refining the core gameplay loop of Monster Hunter into a very different style of game.

Monster Hunter Now - Teaser Trailer | Available September 2023

As Niantic and Capcom prepare to launch Monster Hunter Now and then run it as a live service, series producer Ryozo Tsujimoto believes that the core gameplay loop matches what makes for a Monster Hunter game that will please longtime fans. “The Monster Hunter series has this game loop of hunting and collecting materials from monsters and forging equipment you get from them; that game cycle is reflected in Monster Hunter Now,” Tsujimoto explained.

Still, hunting down a monster in the real world is a significantly different experience than doing it in a virtual one. While Niantic’s geolocation-based gameplay works for letting players explore and gather resources, combat is much more challenging to adapt. Niantic and Capcom had to take Monster Hunter’s trademark battles against these beasts, which generally take 10 minutes or more, and distill them into fights that last only 75 seconds. That was a difficult challenge, but the studios delved into the refinement process to get to that point during a prelaunch Monster Hunter Now press briefing attended by Digital Trends.

The road to 75 seconds

Tsujimoto was always quite open to the idea of a Monster Hunter AR game, and he tells Digital Trends that he knew that if Capcom ever did make that game, it’d need to work on it with Niantic. So, he immediately agreed when the Pokémon Go developer approached Tsujmoto with the pitch for a real-world Monster Hunter game. Monster Hunter Now wasn’t just going to be a Pokémon Go reskin, though.

A Monster Hunter player fights a Pukei Pukei with a Longsword.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

“We want Monster Hunter Now to be very casual, but at the same time, we wanted to bring in the series’ elegance of finding monsters in the world and the action itself,” Tsujimoto tells Digital Trends. “Since it’s on mobile, we wanted the action to be more sporty, so this hunting action could be done outside. This game is very unique, but it carries the legacy of the Monster Hunter series.”

Of course, carrying the series’ legacy on its shoulders is no small task to ask of Monster Hunter Now. The biggest hurdle to overcome to meet that goal was making combat feel satisfying in 75-second bouts, and Niantic senior producer Sakae Osumi outlined the developer’s process to Digital Trends.

“The combat element is the key feature in the Monster Hunter franchise, so there were a few things we had to consider while designing Monster Hunter Now,” Osumi says. “One was: Is it approachable? Is it accessible for playing outside and on a mobile device without a gamepad? Starting from there, we wanted to make the combat element in Monster Hunter Now simple, intuitive, and easy to get into, but still hard to master. We had to focus on the key essence of the combat and condense it, but make it still feel tactical.”

When condensing a formula to its basics, that means not every element from games like Monster Hunter World and Monster Hunter Rise can make it in. During the closed beta, players will only have access to three weapon types — Sword and Shield, Greatsword, and Light Bowgun — and a Palico to help them. Things that help with movement or tracking down monsters, like Scoutflies and traps that help players take down monsters, don’t appear to be in the game currently.

Still, the developers tried to make it feel as close to a mainline Monster Hunter game fight as they could. Osumi says that within that 75-second time frame, players will swipe to attack, charge, dodge, and guard at the correct times to take a monster down. They will gain some boosts if they’re playing with others as they coordinate which moves they make and when they should make them. Players can also hold their phone horizontally during a fight, more closely mirroring the perspective one would have when fighting a monster on a TV.

Monster Hunter Now being played horizontally.

And then, once the fight is complete, players want to ensure they get ample rewards that they can use to upgrade and customize themselves, just as they would in a regular Monster Hunter game. Niantic and Capcom believe Monster Hunter Now’s combat gameplay loop to be the purest distillation of all of the different types of gameplay and feelings players will have throughout a 30-minute hunt in a game like Monster Hunter Rise.

Meanwhile, Niantic CEO John Hanke is particularly gung-ho about the game, telling Digital Trends that this refinement has resulted in one of the studio’s most impressive and ambitious titles to date. “What you see with this game is a real evolution of anything that we’ve done before in terms of the real-time nature of combat, high-fidelity, very fast action, and seamless multiplayer,” Hanke tells Digital Trends. “More than anything, I think it represents this rethinking and evolution of action and multiplayer, and it sets a new standard for anything we’ve done.”

Hopefully, we’ll see that balance between classic Niantic game and Monster Hunter game mechanics faithfully in action when Monster Hunter Now’s iOS and Android closed beta begins on April 25. A global launch will follow this September.

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Tomas Franzese
Tomas Franzese is a Staff Writer at Digital Trends, where he reports on and reviews the latest releases and exciting…
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