So you've got yourself a successful franchise. A runaway success, even. The lines to play your newest game's demo take over an hour to get through. And yet, there's some small fraction of the market left untouched by your metaphorical finger of Midas. What are you to do? Well, if you're a Japanese company, the first thing is to make a spin-off that's as cute as possible. With this, Monster Hunter Stories certainly succeeds.
I can't imagine it was easy to make any of Monster Hunter's iconic beasts cute, but Capcom somehow managed with fairly minor alterations to their designs. The human and feline inhabitants of Monster World have had the biggest makeover by far, unless one also counts the combat system.
Monster Hunter Stories definitely falls into the RPG category, though it leans towards the simpler mechanics one might find in a card-based arcade game for kids. The regular attacks are based on strength, speed, or skill, which form a basic rock-paper-scissors dynamic. The partnered Monstie (the official term, if the English how-to-play sheet was accurate) may or may not obey commands depending on how much it likes the player, but it tends to do pretty well on its own.
The game started with my hero following a Felyne's nose to a choice monster egg, which he liberated from its sleepy mother — just not quite stealthily enough. One frantic dash later, and the hero was the proud owner of his first Monstie. I had to poke it till it hatched into a Congalala, a cute pink baboon-thing with morbid mushroom breath. The actual monster received was apparently random. Other people I asked reported getting things like a Yian Kut-Ku (basically a chicken wyvern in this incarnation) or something that "looked like a dinosaur with a thing on its head." The short pre-game orientation specifically told us that we were not allowed to reset the demo in the event we did not like what we got, in fact.
As my hero now had a Monstie to ride, the village elder sent him out to the standard Cave of Trials to prove himself capable of being a real Monster Rider. He was free to lope through the fields on the back of his Congalala, whomping on these skinny lizard-raptors and parasaurolophuses, and almost getting whomped in turn by what was supposed to be a grizzly bear monster, but to me looked more like a rainbow colored cross between a pangolin and a wolverine. Congalala was perfectly able to scale a vine-covered cliff, and th intrepid duo didn't even stop to take on the small fry as they raced to the end.
The big boss at the end was a bit stronger than the Elder had thought, unfortunately. It really came down to the last few hit points here, partly because I took too long to understand that I really needed to use the game's special Rider abilities. On the lower screen there's a gauge that fills up behind the central motif, and when it's at max, the hero can ride his Monstie in battle. The two of them get a significant damage bonus while in this state, and can also perform crazy cooperative attacks. For Congalala, that involved the hero throwing mushrooms in the air, the overgrown pink baboon catching them hungrily, only to stop right before the boss with its rear end front-first. The golden cloud of flatus which followed truly was foul enough to fell a firedrake.
Cute kitties, cheeky monkeys, and fart jokes. This really is a Japanese kids game.