Ultra Kaiju Monster Rancher Review (Switch)

Game Details

Retail Price (USD): $49.99
Release Date: October 19, 2022
File Size: 3.1GB
Publisher: BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment
Click here to view on the Nintendo eShop.

**Last updated on January 18th, 2023 at 06:08 am

It warms my heart to see Kaiju getting more love these days. It’s not just the idea of giant monsters destroying cities that is appealing, it’s the fact that so many are clearly men in giant rubber suits, making the most of their limited range of movement with exaggerated gyrating and silly poses. Yes, Kaiju are really a special thing, but the media that features them is largely ignored by the West. There’s Toho’s Godzilla films, but Kaiju also feature as an element in many iterations of Ultraman. In case you’re particularly well-versed in that series, it would be kind of crazy to imagine a game being marketed based off of their presence.

This brings us to Ultra Kaiju Monster Rancher, a monster-raising and -battling simulation game that does, in fact, feature Kaiju exclusively from Ultraman. If you have no particular love for the property and are unfamiliar with Monster Rancher as a series, does it make any sense to use this title as an entry point? Honestly, no. But just in case you’re curious, this review will cover the particular features and charms of this title, and determine whether or not it is a game worth your time, should you be the sort of Kaiju-loving, Monster Ranching type of fellow that might still be on the fence.

I think it is important for me to mention that I have no particular love for Ultraman or its Kaiju, and that I’m a relative newcomer to Monster Rancher as a series. I knew of it, but I didn’t really know what it was all about. This was an enlightening learning experience for me, and the end result is that… I probably won’t ever play another Monster Rancher game. But just because I feel that way doesn’t mean the game is bad. It’s just not for me.

Let’s find out why!


Gameplay


Ultra Kaiju Monster Rancher is a game more concerned with the process of raising creatures, though there is a battling element present. You will recruit Kaiju either via the fare offered by the officials present at the summoning hall, through the use of keyword-generated monsters, or via NFC devices such as payment cards, Amiibo, and the like. While it isn’t necessary to use the last of those three options in order to enjoy the game, one of the primary appeals of the Monster Rancher series has been interactions with other forms of media with the result of receiving new creatures. You don’t have to pay extra money in addition to buying the game, but if you have some spare NFC-enabled items lying around, it’s worth experimenting with what you’ll receive.

Once you have Kaiju to look after, you’ll head to your ranch, where you can select a number of tasks for your monster to achieve every week in hopes of honing their stats for fighting tournaments. This is achieved via menu selection and is depicted through charming and punchy cutscenes, but admittedly, there’s very little interaction involved during this process. The most important thing to do is to use your time wisely: identify the stat distribution of your Kaiju and consider what exercises will maximize their potential within the amount of time they’ll be on your ranch. Since you’ll need to keep your monster well-rested in order to ensure success, feeding the Kaiju properly and allowing it weeks off of performing tasks is the best way to ensure its continued success. Sometimes, variables will throw a wrench into the carefully planned gears you’ve developed, causing monsters to fail certain tasks or be disobedient.

Sometimes, another Rancher will show up with their Kaiju and invite you to do some more specific training, or a roaming Kaiju might lumber into your area and need to be cleaned out. Sometimes, neglecting a Kaiju’s particular tastes or overworking them can result in a rampage that costs serious coin to repair. It’s all about careful balance around these occurrences- something I’m not sure I can confidently state I know the precise equations for despite my time with the game. There are some resources floating around the internet that might answer these questions more thoroughly, but the core of the Monster Rancher experience is learning about and developing your own system and relationships with your creatures.

Tournaments occur in specific time intervals and are the most active part of Ultra Kaiju’s gameplay. You’ll take control of your monster in a linear fighting arena and attempt to whittle down as much of your opponent’s health as possible to move up in the bracket. Though these battles and their monsters are rendered in 3D, the movement options are on a 2D plane, which is meant to limit the kinds of attacks the Kaiju can perform and whether or not they are at a safe range to do so. Attacks are accomplished through a stamina system that slowly recharges, so you’ll need to be aware of what attacks you’ll be able to accomplish at a certain time as well as how much distance and time is required to execute them. There’s actually an option to fast-track these tournaments, since the overall stat spread of the participating Kaiju is often a rather strong indicator of who will achieve victory, but in the interest of time, the option is available for those who want to focus on ranch training.

In any case, these battles control well enough, considering the Kaiju mimic their television counterparts by having large windup animations and absurd special beams. However, there isn’t a great deal of strategy to be implemented during these fights. You can stagger your opponent, attempt to close the gap so that they can’t use certain attacks, and conserve your stamina, but your success is highly dependent on how well-trained your Kaiju is to face down certain kinds of threats.

Alas, if you’re looking to start the game and end it with a particularly well-trained Kaiju, you might be in for a rude awakening: the monsters in this game aren’t around for the long-run, which means you’ll eventually need to retire them from battles and either raise a new Kaiju from scratch, or fuse your previous Kaiju in order to transfer its progress over to a new creature. This does mean you’ll get to see a colorful variety of Kaiju throughout your experience, made even more fresh for longtime Ultraman fans thanks to the weird color and trait combinations that will occur as a result from fusions. Some of these can feel garish, but it’s all in the hokey spirit of the Kaiju costumes of the genre. Even so, this is a game where a slow and steady training regime over several in-game years will result in achievements and narrative progression, which means there’s a certain degree of time investment you’ll need to make in order for things to feel like they’re going… well, anywhere.


Narrative and Aesthetics


Ultra Kaiju Monster Rancher is a Monster Rancher game first and an Ultraman game second, which means the narrative justification for why you’re raising Kaiju is explained away at the start of the game, and then you spend the rest of your days ranching like a champ. There’s really not much to say about any sort of narrative here, only that it’s breezy and inoffensive, with characters being extra helpful and lacking any sort of edge, even when you take on and defeat other ranch owners. The game does well to ease newcomers to the series into its particular quirks very friendly NPCs, but you won’t be plumbing some complex conspiracies or revealing great truths throughout your time with your Kaiju.

The game leans heavily on its theming with well-rendered Kaiju models and environments perfectly suited to match their scale. You’ll see them lumbering around in the background of cityscapes, or tussling in arenas that are still a bit small. The training cutscenes and result screens feature a number of humorous scenarios for these giant monsters, and when paired with their garish and nonsensical appearance, animations, and traditional cries from their original appearances, the whole thing is pretty absurd. Add the whacky fusion aesthetics to the mix, and anyone with an appreciation for these designs will find the variety in character presentation to be a gift that keeps on giving.

A great deal of aesthetic consistency goes into making this game feel cozy, from its music to its landscapes, but nothing here feels particularly ambitious or cutting edge. Not that it needs to be: the inherent goofiness of the Kaiju designs is cartoonish, and the color palette and visual complexity of the world matches this well enough. We could speculate all we want about how a better lighting engine and more careful consideration of the construction of tokusatsu dioramas could have made this game feel as if it were right out of a classic Ultraman episode, but this is a Monster Rancher game. It’s a niche product, especially so beyond the borders of Japan, and the investment in these elements would have made for an even more loving homage, albeit a more costly one, as well.


Impressions and Conclusions


If you like Ultraman, this is as loving as homage you’re going to get in terms of Kaiju. You even spot the eponymous Ultra-guy himself a few times, and he absolutely wrecks any Kaiju that stands in his way. If you are already familiar with Monster Rancher, chances are you won’t find much new or of note in this game. It is apparently a very familiar formula that has gained a strong, niche appeal, and that means the gameplay itself isn’t going to be for everyone. Watching many different types of Kaiju perform training montages wherein they are the only unique element is a pretty tough barrier of entry, but if you’re just looking for something to pass the time, the game runs competently and the formula is reliable enough to exist as comfort food.

It’s not junk food, though, as the production value is high, despite some framerate drops during taxing animations and effects. It also does manage to evoke the feeling of a sixth-generation game with modern graphical refinements. But if you’re hoping for an experience that rivals Pokemon or Digimon in terms of exploration and evolution, you won’t find it here. What Ultra Kaiju Monster Rancher does offer is wholly unique, however, and I think it’s unfair to compare it to other monster raising simulation games. It’s a laid-back, whimsical experience, and if that appeals to your palette, you’ll find yourself right at home.

About the Author

  • Evan Bee

    Editor. Writer. Occasional Artist. I love many obscure RPGs you've never heard of because they aren't like mainstream titles. Does that make me a contrarian?

Evan Bee

Evan Bee

Editor. Writer. Occasional Artist. I love many obscure RPGs you've never heard of because they aren't like mainstream titles. Does that make me a contrarian?

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