Review – Ultra Kaiju Monster Rancher
I have to thank globalization and the increased popularity of Japanese pop culture in the West for letting me play this game, in full, where I currently live. Ultra Kaiju Monster Rancher is the kind of game you would never expect to see available and fully localized in the West. The premise is so stupid, so absurd, it feels like one of those wacky imports you’ve heard about because your friend found a used copy of it during a trip to Akihabara. Mixing the monster breeding gameplay loop from Monster Rancher (which, apparently, is now hell-bent on becoming a staple franchise once again) with the kaiju from the classic tokusatsu franchise Ultraman is just… so idiotic. Yet somehow absolutely genius at the same time.
Yes, Ultra Kaiju Monster Rancher is basically a game where you’re told to raise a randomly generated monster as tall as a building as if they were a cute little sheep in a farm. You can’t not smile at what is happening onscreen. The monsters walk around in stiff, clunky animations, just like their live action counterparts (remember, these are all dudes inside poorly-designed rubber suits after all), and you’re telling them to mow the lawn, sow seeds, explore little canyons, and do the occasional battle against other dudes in rubber suits. From a pure novelty standpoint, Ultra Kaiju Monster Rancher is one of the most creative games I’ve played this year. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t filled to the brim with issues.
First of all, let’s talk about the positives. If you were disappointed with the clunkiness and dated aspects of the previous Monster Rancher remaster, don’t worry. Ultra Kaiju Monster Rancher is more polished, with noticeable quality of life enhancements, such as improved visuals (at the cost of a poor framerate), an actual 16:9 aspect ratio, and a brand new method of randomly generating monsters, given how we can’t use CDs anymore.
The previous remaster collection had a bizarre workaround, with a list of CD names for you to choose, in order for you to pretend you were putting a CD inside the Nintendo Switch (somehow). It wasn’t fun and it felt like a quick afterthought at best. For Ultra Kaiju Monster Rancher, the developers decided to create two different means for you to acquire randomly generated monsters.
The first one is to write down two random keywords in order to generate a seed number. You get a kaiju from that. The other one, which is more interesting, is to use the Joy-Con’s NFC sensors to generate a kaiju from any object with NFC technology in it. That means that you can use more than just amiibos. You can even use a public transportation card if you live in a city with one of those. It sounds stupid, it is kinda stupid, but it works.
The remainder of the game, unfortunately, falls into the same issues present in pretty much any other Monster Rancher release. It’s grindy as hell. Its story is slow and its progression system is hampered by severe hand-holding. You need to do a lot of busy work with your kaiju for the mere opportunity of fighting once, maybe twice an in-game year. Series veterans will surely love the fact the game sticks to its roots, but it doesn’t bring many elements to the table when it comes to mechanics. The combat mechanics, for instance, still feel really clunky and annoying to deal with, especially when you’re used to playing other monster-based JRPGs out in the market.
In summary, this is one of the most niche games I have ever seen, and a difficult recommendation to anyone besides those who are either die-hard Monster Rancher fans, die-hard Ultraman fans, or the half dozen folks out there who fall into both categories. Ultra Kaiju Monster Rancher is a hilariously absurd game from a novelty standpoint, and it has neat elements, such as hunting for NFC-infused objects at home in order to generate monsters, which gave me a nostalgic feeling of inserting CDs in order to get monsters back in the 90s. However, it is still a dated and clunky game for 2022 standards. It gets repetitive quickly, but if you’re part of the aforementioned demographics, you’ll have the time of your life with this dude-in-a-rubber-suit breeding simulator.
Every single kaiju in this game is well-built and intentionally poorly animated, in order to resemble how crappy these suits were back in the day. A colorful and charming game, albeit hampered by an uneven framerate.
Even if the monster breeding gameplay loop is hampered by grind and a poor progression system, the NFC functionality is worthy of all praises. The combat is still underdeveloped at best.
Both the kaiju and Ultraman retain their original sound effects (yes, Ultraman still sounds exactly like Staryu from Pokémon). The rest of the sound department is comprised of cute, but repetitive tunes and a handful of below average sound effects.
Fun Factor: 7.0
From a pure novelty standpoint, Ultra Kaiju Monster Rancher is a ten out of ten. It’s dumb and weird in the most delightful of ways. It has some good ideas, namely letting you use any NFC device to create monsters, but it is hampered by how dated Monster Rancher‘s mechanics feel in 2022.
Final Verdict: 7.0
Ultra Kaiju Monster Rancher is available now on Nintendo Switch.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.
A copy of Ultra Kaiju Monster Rancher was provided by the publisher.