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Niantic is giving Monster Hunter the Pokémon Go treatment

Monster Hunter Now offers ‘real-world hunting action’ within a familiar framework

Oli Welsh is senior editor, U.K., providing news, analysis, and criticism of film, TV, and games. He has been covering the business & culture of video games for two decades.

Capcom and Niantic have announced a new collaboration: Monster Hunter Now, a “real-world hunting action role-playing game” for mobile devices which combines an accessible version of classic Monster Hunter gameplay with the augmented reality framework familiar from Niantic’s smash hit, Pokémon Go. It’s due out in September on Android and iOS platforms, with a beta test beginning on April 25. Registration for the beta test is open at the Monster Hunter Now website.

Monster Hunter Now players will be able to find monsters and materials out in the real world as they walk around with their phones, team up with friends and strangers to hunt those monsters, and craft weapons and armor.

“The notion of majestic monsters roaming around city streets was extremely compelling as a real-world game,” Niantic’s chief product officer Kei Kawai said at an online briefing for press. The idea of an augmented reality Monster Hunter game was such a no-brainer that, Kawai boasted, Capcom accepted Niantic’s pitch at their first meeting. The game is being developed at Niantic’s Tokyo studio. It will be free to play, supported by in-app purchases.

Niantic and Capcom touted what they said was a simplified but authentic version of the Monster Hunter series’ combat, using taps and swipes on the touchscreen. The game will be playable one-handed in portrait mode, or in a landscape presentation closer to the console and PC Monster Hunter games. The maximum battle time is just 75 seconds, to be suitable for outdoor play; Niantic senior producer Sakae Osumi said it was the developer’s goal to capture all the fun and challenge of Monster Hunter battles in this short window. The series’ distinctive, gameplay-altering weapon classes remain, but players should expect to be switching between them more frequently. “We hope users will try out different types of weapons,” said Niantic Tokyo’s executive director Tatsuo Nomura.

Human players and a Palico battle a Rathalos in a tropical environment in a screenshot from Monster Hunter Now Image: Niantic/Capcom
A human player readies to strike a Pukei-Pukei in a swampy environment in a screenshot from Monster Hunter Now Image: Niantic/Capcom
A human player and a Palico encounter a Great Jagras on the world map in a screenshot from Monster Hunter Now Image: Niantic/Capcom

Niantic’s wayspots — local points of interest identified by the Niantic community — become resource gathering points in Monster Hunter Now, while players’ real-world environment is divided into different ecological zones, with different monsters and materials occurring in each.

Players can use a “paintball” item to tag monsters encountered in the real world to hunt at home, alone or with friends. Alternatively, their cute, catlike Palico companions can tag monsters with paintballs automatically, even if the app is closed, to gather hunts for later.

Asked about competitive multiplayer and potential integration with mainline Monster Hunter games, Niantic said it couldn’t couldn’t comment, but Kawai encouraged fans to “please stay tuned.”

Niantic has made several attempts to replicate the winning Pokémon Go formula with other properties, with limited success. Pikmin Bloom, with Nintendo, has been a modest hit, but the high-profile Harry Potter: Wizards Unite was shut down after less than three years in operation.

A human player encounters a Rathalos on the world map in a screenshot from Monster Hunter Now Image: Niantic/Capcom
A human player discovers a mining deposit on the world map in a screenshot from Monster Hunter Now Image: Niantic/Capcom

Monster Hunter isn’t as famous as Harry Potter, but the games have steadily increased in sales over the last two decades to the point it has become Capcom’s biggest franchise. In Japan, where Monster Hunter Now is being developed, the series has always been popular, and closely associated with handheld gaming. And the franchise is arguably better suited to augmented reality gameplay than any other since Pokémon.

“I strongly believe we have a hit on our hands,” Kawai said. “We do want to have this game last a very long time.”