Monster Hunter’s latest Switch outing is a cute but repetitive spin on the series

Monster Hunter Stories

The Monster Hunter series is all about slaughtering wild beasts and wearing their skins – for fashion, of course. With the Stories spin-off, though, we’re taught to be friends instead.

Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin is all about kinship between riders and the cutesily named monsties that they tame, rather than hunt. 

And cute is the main word here. With its cartoon aesthetic and Saturday morning anime storyline, Stories is the fun and approachable younger sibling to the more mature – and superior – main series perfected in Monster Hunter Rise.

That story sees your customised rider on a journey to understand the disappearance of the Rathalos population and the sudden appearance of giant holes in the ground turning monsters hysterical. It’s all told through some very well directed cinematics, but leans heavily on RPG tropes and never quite reckons with the balance between monstie friends and the need to kill them. 

Plus having your protagonist silent is a bizarre choice that leaves a gaping hole. That’s filled by Navirou the cat who joins you on your journey and provides the goofy, slapstick comic relief. He also brings the cat puns that get old real quick – if I hear “pawsitively clawdacious” one more time…

Unlike the main series, though, in Stories the battles against monsters are turn-based and cleverly layered. As is traditional for the series, you have access to a huge variety of weapons here split between slash, blunt and pierce damage, with every enemy weak to one of these. Further, you can choose between power, technical or speed attacks in order to counter monster attacks of an opposing type.

It means you can’t just button mash your way through battles and need to think carefully about your moves to counter enemies, especially in later battles. Unless, of course, there’s a button mashing air combat or head to head moment that adds some dynamism along with fancy special skills.

Monster Hunter Stories

Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin. (Capcom)

You’re joined in combat by your collection of monsties, and often a battle partner. Building up your kinship meter through successful attacks allows you to ride your monstie for a big finisher, so there’s some strategy in deploying this. However, you don’t directly control the support characters and they have a nasty habit of making bad decisions seemingly designed to infuriate.

Yet while you can swap your monsties in and out of combat, there’s little reason to experiment. Though there are elemental types and you can manage abilities, this is hardly Pokémon – it’s simple enough to stick with a handful of monsties throughout. That’s despite the monster dens that crop up around the world to be explored and pilfered for monster eggs – they’re ultimately an unnecessary distraction in a game that’s mostly pretty easy.

What the battles do nail is that sense of hulking, colossal monsters scrappily fighting one another. And it’s smart the way elements from the main series make their way in: from the weapon types, to breaking specific parts for critical hits, gathering resources in the field, and of course collecting monster parts for new weapons and armours. Despite being a spin-off, Stories very much feels like a Monster Hunter game.

What’s most disappointing, though, is the game’s structure. Beneath the plot, you’re once again working your way up the food chain of monsters towards its most powerful dragons. Now, though, that’s dressed up with quests of the “go here, kill this monster” variety that quickly become samey.

The dungeon environments you visit, though vivid and tropical, are repetitive labyrinths with little reason to explore. Even the battles eventually become a chore as you run past monsters to get to the next story beat, unless you’re doing the usual Monster Hunter grind for specific parts to improve your equipment.

What’s more, Monster Hunter Stories is a game crying out for a Switch Pro (not that we’ll get one anytime soon). In docked mode, both the large open environments and the intense battles cause the frame rate to drop hugely. Thankfully it does run more smoothly in handheld mode but, despite being a pretty game, it appears to be pushing beyond the Switch’s capabilities.

Stories, then, features the best and worst of the Monster Hunter series: clever combat and hunting for parts are as addictive as ever, but the anime story isn’t enough to mask its repetitive structure. It’s difficult to recommend Stories when Rise exists on the very same console, unless you’re a sucker for more monster fashion. If that’s the case, this cute RPG adventure has plenty to offer.

3 / 5

Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin is released on Nintendo Switch on 9 July.

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