Ah, theres your problem.
Ah, there's your problem. Monster Hunter: Rise

You’ve got one week left to play the Monster Hunter: Rise demo on the Nintendo Switch—after February 1, it’ll no longer be available until the full game comes out on March 26. So should you play the demo? Yes, you should … but in a very particular way.

Here’s the thing you need to know: The Monster Hunter games are fantastic, but they are almost completely impenetrable for beginners. It’s almost as if they were deliberately designed to prevent newcomers from picking up the game, and the new Rise demo is no exception; so unless you have an expert guiding you in, you will almost certainly be terrible at it, confused, and frustrated.

That's a shame, because you absolutely should give them demo a shot—I think it's going to be a huge hit when the full game releases, but the baffling demo is a big turnoff for newcomers. So here’s the missing “beginner’s guide” that I wish someone had given me when I started playing.

What Is Monster Hunter & Why Should You Play?

I started with Monster Hunter: World, the previous installment in the franchise, and it took me forever to understand the appeal—“why is this fun?” I kept wondering—until my partner mentioned as a casual offhand aside, “it’s just Street Fighter with dragons.”

And while that’s kind of a jokey reductiveness, it’s a great way to approach the game. Street Fighter is all about picking your favorite fighter from a lengthy roster, learning their specific quirky attacks and combos, and recognizing the patterns in your opponent’s attacks so you can dodge and counter while watching for an opportunity to attack.

Just with dragons.

There’s a lot more to the games, of course—exploring weird terrain, untangling the confusing narrative, creating goofy armor, and a whole food-prep component. But at its heart, the core fun of Monster Hunter games is a big boss fight broken up into Street Fighter-ish rounds. I didn’t appreciate what was enjoyable about the game until that was pointed out to me, and then suddenly I was like “ohhh I get it,” and focused on getting good at that style of play.

Monster Hunter: Rise Demo Tips for Beginners

Here’s what you need to know: You’ll decide what weapon you want to fight with, then you’ll get dropped into an attractive environment full of nature and some old human ruins; your job is to find and slay a particular monster within 50 minutes, but you can also faff around and do other fun stuff in that time.

Which weapon should you pick? All of them. That is to say, give each one a try. And which monster should you fight? All of them—again, give them all a shot. Part of the design of Monster Hunter games is a level of variety that feels infinite, and the fun part is trying different combinations of weapons and monsters and tactics.

There are fourteen weapons, and the game limits you to one of each type (you don’t get to pick your armor in the demo). Each one has a completely unique style of attack, along with unique button combos—and, crucially, unique animations. It’s important to get used to the animations and how long they take because once you’re committed to one you generally can’t get out of it. (So if you commit to a lengthy attack, like for example with the sluggish but powerful greatsword, a monster has ample opportunity to hit you; if you go for a swift attack with the bow, you might not do as much damage but you have more time to dodge.)

Like the weapons, the monsters are extremely diverse. The best advice I ever got was to start a fight by not fighting at all, and just to watch them—hit them once to make them angry, then get used to how they move, what their animations look like, and how long their attacks take. The fun of the fight is recognizing behaviors and knowing when it’s time to dodge or time to jump in and attack.

The weapons can be quite complicated for newcomers; I recommend watching Gaijin Hunter’s excellent videos to get up to speed on each one.

It’s also key to know the monsters’ vulnerable points. Rise thankfully added little number pop-ups to show you how much damage you’re doing, and you’ll notice that each monster’s vulnerability varies between their head, their front limbs, their back legs, their tail, their torso, and their wings. Pay close attention to those numbers so you know where you should focus your attention.

What They Don’t Tell You

For some bonkers reason, there’s a whole bunch of stuff that you need to know in order to play effectively but they never tell you any of it. For example, there are buffs and powerups littered all over the environment, and the fights will be much much easier if you gather a few of them before running straight to your quarry.

Also, there are a bunch of items that you can collect at your base camp—but you might never know unless you go looking for them. Check the wooden chest outside the tent for a few useful potions, and then head inside the tent for even more treats. I cannot believe the tutorial doesn’t do more to let players know that there are useful items right at the spawn point; I played a dozen or so rounds before I realized how much I’d been passing up.

There are also useful critters to collect all over the map; Monster Hunter’s term for them is “endemic life.” Look for cute little mink that you can grab to change your scent, which affects how monsters regard you; there’s also a creature that will make it easier to mount the monsters. There are plants that you can use as ammunition, and bugs that heal you. You’ll miss all that stuff if you only look for the main monster.

Another tip that I wish someone had told me sooner: Zoom out your camera. This is a matter of player preference, of course, but I found it helpful to go into the menu and tweak some settings to widen my field of view. You may also want to change the language of the voice lines since the main tutorial character’s “hey, you’re here!” can get awfully repetitive; but resist that urge at first because those voice lines can pop up during fights to offer useful tips.

And then there’s one more tip that I understand why they don’t share: Delete your save data to reset your play counts. The demo is limited to 30 rounds of local play, but you can wipe your saves and start fresh.

So there you have it—the missing tips that I wish I’d had a few weeks ago. I hope this doesn’t come off like “ugh, Monster Hunter is such a pain in the neck,” because I do think it’s fantastic, and I can’t wait to play the full release in March. Get the hang of the demo now, and you’ll be the one explaining all this stuff to your friends in two months.