Starting Screen is the USgamer staff's weekly column. Check back every Monday as we share our thoughts on the news as well as our favorite game music, alternative games, and more.
I stood over my first Anjanath kill last week with my heart beating loudly in my ears. I finally got it on my fourth try, my previous attempts ending with me being barbequed, chewed up, or otherwise being torn apart. It felt so good that I had to share it on social media.
Okay, maybe it was just a sigh of relief.
Monster Hunter: World is built on moments like these. Its beasts are meant to feel punishing and overwhelming. The battles have a David vs. Goliath character to them, which is naturally compelling—everyone wants to feel like the underdog. When the monsters finally go down, you can't help feeling ragged. Every fight is meant to feel like a life or death struggle.
It was the Anjanath that really drove that feeling home for me. The Anjanath—a massive T-Rex-like beast that breathes fire and snaps at you with huge jaws—is one of the first real challenges you will face in Monster Hunter: World. The monsters that come before are difficult in their own way, but the Anjanath is the first monster fight that really demands mastery.
Here's what's likely to happen the first time you fight the Anjanath. After dodging around a bit and getting a few solid hits in, it will suddenly sprout fins and start breathing fire. If you happen to be in the way when it lets out a full-force flamethrower, you will die. Full stop.
You have to be patient and careful when fighting the Anjanath. You need to resist the temptation to attack it head-on, which is not always easy when it keeps turning and charging. If you let your guard down for even a moment, there's a good chance it will hit you for massive damage, or even one-shot kill you. Even in a group you have to constantly be on your guard lest you accidentally get turned into a human torch.
The Anjanath fight, and many of the other encounters in Monster Hunter: World, feel like a callback to the days of 8 and 16-bit action games, when boss battles were reliant on quick reflexes and pattern recognition. It understands the elemental appeal of a one-on-one boss duel—something that's surprisingly rare in an era of setpiece encounters larded up with empty-calorie quicktime events. You want to know another game that understands the appeal of one-on-one duels with massive enemies? Yeah, I'll bet you know what game I'm referring to.
Monster Hunter: World uses many of the same tricks as Dark Souls in its encounters. When large enemies stomp the ground, you will naturally be staggered, which is an easy way of conveying their size and power. Their devastating roar causes you to freeze and cup your ears in agony. A single swipe of their tail can send you flying; and if you try to take cover, they can charge through the environment and smash you out into the open.
The effect is to make you feel powerless against the overwhelming force directed against you. But you in turn have plenty of tools at your disposal. The first time you manage to leap and get on to a monster's back is a watershed moment. It turns their large size against them, making them flail desperately as you hold tight and stab as hard as you can. Time a combo properly and a monster will go down hard, allowing you to flail away at their exposed belly. You can even carve away their tail if you know what you're doing.
Every hunt in Monster Hunter: World naturally has an ebb and flow to it. There are the first, tense moments as you square off and learn the monster's pattern. Then you might get some strong hits in and cause it to flee, or it might crush you and force you to heal. The battles move all around the level, giving them an epic feel. Some of the longer ones can take up to 45 minutes, but they somehow don't feel long at all. Indeed, Monster Hunter: World's fights are bracing, intense, real. They resonate because they lack the stagecraft and artifice that has long dominated triple-A design.
It's these experiences that I crave when I'm playing action games. I want some sense of verisimilitude—a feeling that I'm really there and not just playing some predetermined role in an action movie. Monster Hunter: World is better than most at leaving me with that feeling.
Capcom has been perfecting the Monster Hunter formula for more than a decade now; and with World, they successfully take it to another level. Its design reminds me of a clock, with every single part serving an important role, no matter how small. That goes double for the weapons, which are the heart and soul of Monster Hunter. With Monster Hunter: World, Capcom has managed to refine them so they feel exciting and interesting to use, but without sacrificing the tactical component that defines its action. It's the need to plan every action that really makes Monster Hunter: World what it is, as simply being able to run in and hack and dodge roll monsters to death would take away much of its edge.
The coup de grace is when a monster finally goes down, at which point you are rewarded with the opportunity to slice away your foe's carcass and turn it into armor. It's a primal, violent act, and like Bob, it makes me feel slightly uneasy. But like so much of the rest of Monster Hunter: World, the act serves to ground the action and make you feel connected to your prey. You end up feeling sorry for the beast you just felled, but you also can't help glorying in your kill. It's the secret moment that immediately elevates it over every other loot-centric action game.
Like so many others, this is the first time I've really engaged with the Monster Hunter series. I could see the appeal of past versions, but they always felt artificially constrained to me, bound by the limitations of the small screen and the technology of the PSP and 3DS. Released from these bonds on the PS4 and Xbox One, Monster Hunter is finally the action game it's always wanted to be. And man, I don't think I'm going to be putting it down any time soon.
Looking Ahead to the Rest of the Week
Monster Hunter: World is still the king of the jungle, but there are also new games coming out. Here's what to expect this week.
- Shadow of the Colossus [February 6]: Bluepoint Games tore down the entirety of Team Ico's haunting original and rebuilt it for the modern era. While it may not share the same aesthetic as the original, the new Shadow of the Colossus looks like a good remake of the title for PlayStation 4.
- Civilization VI: Rise and Fall [February 8]: One of the longest-running series in the 4X genre, Civilization expands again. Modern Civilization games tend to have this slow ramp up, where the base game is okay, but it's made much better with subsequent expansions. Will Rise and Fall do the same for Civ 6? We'll see!
- Rust [February 8]: After a long time in Early Access, one of the earlier survival titles is getting a full 1.0 release. Rust comes out on Steam this Thursday, meaning you can fight others in your underwear to protect the shanty shack you just built, with that new 1.0 smell.
- Dragon Quest Builders (Switch) [February 9]: Dragon Quest Builders gets another release, this time on Nintendo Switch! Now the game that brings together Dragon Quest and Minecraft can be played anywhere. Are you going to double-dip?
Nadia's Note Block Beat Box: Jungle Gymnast from Rhythm Heaven Megamix
My love for the Rhythm Heaven series runs deep. The thumping music by Tsunku combined with the fun, adorable visuals by Ko Takeuchi team up to form a series that's joyful beyond words. If video games had sentience, the Rhythm Heaven series would be a dog that's simply thrilled to be alive.
Rhythm Heaven Megamix remixes some old songs, but it brings in new fare as well even though Tsunku's been recovering from laryngeal cancer since 2015. One of the new songs, and one of my favorites by far, is "Jungle Gymnast," a wild techno beat accompanied by wooden flutes. The song plays while you help a monkey perform her routine, which involves grabbing onto swinging elephant trunks and flying through hoops of fire. It's not one of Rhythm Heaven's longer songs, but when you're done, you wish it was (even if you screw up several times and earn yourself a fail).
Mike's Media Minute
Black Panther is cooooooooooooming. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle has enjoyed a very strong run, but unless something goes horribly wrong, that run will fall off next week as Black Panther finally offers some competition. The Greatest Showman will likely continue unimpeded by Black Panther's launch, so it'll be interesting to see where that goes.
Last night was the Super Bowl though, so there are a few trailers that I want to talk about. Solo: A Star Wars Story looks like a Star Wars movie. I'm mostly in for Donald Glover as Lando, but I saw some things that interested me, like speeder drifting and those Destiny cosplayers. I'll be there on day one regardless, but this feels like an $800 million film for Disney and Lucasfilm, especially coming within close proximity to Avengers: Infinity War. Of course, Star Wars needs to figure out what its new normal is.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom had its best shot at the beginning of the trailer, with the raptor as a young girl's monster. Otherwise, I wasn't a huge fan of Jurassic World, which felt more like a boilerplate monster movie, so I'm not too excited for this one. Finally, Mission: Impossible - Fallout looks like a Mission: Impossible film. I own every single one on Blu-Ray and love them all for different reasons, so this isn't a problem for me. I will say that Henry Cavill looks like a much better Ethan Hunt replacement than Jeremy Renner did.
Caty’s AltGame Corner
I'm a sucker for a good platformer, and in falling victim to that love, I've played a lot of bad ones. But some shine through. Just weeks ago, Celeste whisked me away. Some years ago, the indie vertically-inclined platformer Downwell caught me off guard too. Early this morning, upon perusing itch.io for another game to check out for this very corner, I stumbled upon another 8-bit-like gem: Gravity Bandits.
From game developer Retrosaur, Gravity Bandits is a game about playing as a pint-sized thief who is stealing from a haunted house. To be successful, you must turn the rooms round and round, as ghosts inevitably chase you, shifting from walls to ceilings in a pinch. It does what I love most in the best modern platformers: it takes familiar platforming, but tweaks it ever-so subtly to make something wholly unique. And for $1.99, it's an experience that costs less than a cup of coffee. You can get Gravity Bandits on itch.io for PC, Mac, or Linux.
This Week's News and Notes
- After leaving Twitch for personal reasons, streamer Dr. Disrespect has returned, taking down the entire service in the process due to his legion of fans.
- Football season finally came to an end last night after an absolutely wild Super Bowl (notably, Madden was wrong about this year's result, but it did predict an absolute barn burner, which is what we got). With football dead and buried, it's time to turn our attention to baseball, and Sony has obliged with a gameplay reveal trailer for MLB The Show 18.
- Dragon Ball FighterZ has been out for almost two weeks now, but Mike wanted to write about the game's excellent story mode, which provides a lot of fun and easter eggs for long-time Dragon Ball Z fans.
- Billy Mitchell, the star of the King of Kong documentary, was accused of using an arcade emulator for some of his world-record runs in Donkey Kong. Members of a Donkey Kong community have accused Mitchell after looking at videos of him playing and noting that his cabinet renders the game like MAME would. That's not a probably, but emulated runs require an official witness, something Mitchell didn't have on some of his world records.
- Caty has a chat with Jae Kaplan, a former Lego Island speedrunnner who is attempting to speedrun Disneyland. Not a Disneyland game, the actual theme park. What started as a joke has become a mission for Kaplan and you can read all about it in Caty's profile.
- Monster Hunter: World is out for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, but Mike makes the case that the Xbox One version is a bit of an afterthought for Capcom.
- In Case You Missed It: The Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl, but Kat simulated a couple of alternate Super Bowl matchups in Madden NFL 18 to see who would win. Hint: It's the Vikings.
- The USgamer Podcast: Mike, Caty, and Nadia talk about the Sea of Thieves beta, Dissidia Final Fantasy NT, and Monster Hunter World. Subscribe here!
- Axe of the Blood God: The latest episode of our flagship RPG podcast celebrates the 20th anniversary of Panzer Dragon Saga. Special guest: The Ringer's Ben Lindbergh! Subscribe here!