More than a decade ago, in a lifetime before The Verge, Monster Hunter on the PSP was my commuting game of choice. I’d spend a couple of hours a day tackling solo quests as my train wound through the Japanese countryside, then compare loot with friends late at night as we teamed up to take on the monsters we couldn’t beat alone.

2018’s Monster Hunter World couldn’t hope to replicate that experience. World sought to reimagine the series as a primarily online adventure that took advantage of powerful hardware — and it was a huge success, bringing Monster Hunter to a far bigger Western audience than it ever managed before. World was a great game, and Capcom clearly moved Monster Hunter in the right direction. But for me, something was missing.

That’s where Monster Hunter Rise comes in. It’s a Nintendo Switch-exclusive game that builds upon World’s advances — but now you can take it on the go.

Monster Hunter Rise isn’t altogether a new idea. The last time a major new Monster Hunter game first came to a home console — 2009’s Monster Hunter 3 for the Wii — it was coming off the huge success of an earlier PSP release. Monster Hunter 3 brought a lot of advances to the series, but a straight port to the less powerful PSP wouldn’t have been practical for technical reasons, so Capcom adapted much of its elements and contents into a new PSP game called Monster Hunter Portable 3rd. It ended up being the bestselling game in the series, at least until World came along, and it was the version that ate up the most time for me on those train rides.

That’s basically what Capcom has done with Monster Hunter Rise. It’s not a Switch port of World — it’s better. Almost all of what made World a huge leap forward for the series is here, and Rise evolves the formula further while operating within a scope that makes more sense for the Switch. The result is an all-new game that feels at home on its portable hardware instead of having been compromised to fit.

Monster Hunter Rise might be the most technically impressive Switch game I’ve seen to date; it’s certainly the most impressive one that isn’t made by Nintendo. Running on Capcom’s RE Engine, the character models and monsters look very close to those of World — especially on the small Switch screen. Capcom has done an excellent job of preserving World’s essence and style on less powerful hardware.

The biggest concessions are the environments. The stages feel more like old-school Monster Hunter games than they did in World, with less elaborate designs and fewer graphical flourishes like dense foliage. Unlike the older games, though, the subsections aren’t broken up by loading screens, which helps Rise play similarly to World’s more free-flowing style.

In fact, Rise goes even further in that regard. Traversing around the environments is faster than ever thanks to two new elements: a pet dog called a Palamute that joins you in battle and lets you ride on its back, and a tool called the Wirebug that can be used to zip up walls and hop onto monsters, occasionally even controlling them in large-scale confrontations with other beasts. What Rise’s stages lack in complexity they add in verticality, and while your targets are marked on the map from the start this time around, you’ll often find yourself figuring out how to meet them on their level.

Rise feels even better suited for portable play than the earlier games, since you’ll never find yourself wandering around aimlessly in search of a monster. Other alterations save seconds that will add up over hundreds of hours — you now exhaust the supply of resources from a mining outcrop or a bonepile with a single button tap, for example.

Otherwise, Rise is a typical Monster Hunter game. It’s a fairly complex action RPG where you’re choosing one of several weapon classes with which to hunt increasingly dangerous beasts, harvesting them for materials that you can use to craft new weapons and armor to take on even more dangerous beasts. The game is certainly an acquired taste, and I’m not sure the constant barrage of tutorial pop-ups explaining obscure mechanics will be as helpful for newcomers as Capcom seems to think they will.

What will help, though, is that Monster Hunter Rise just isn’t very difficult compared to other games in the series, even World. I found the “village” quests that progress the story and get you to the endgame unusually easy — it’s like they’re the actual tutorial. I’m experienced with the series, but by no means an incredible player, yet I dispatched most new monsters much faster than usual on my first try. The village quests are never the true meat of any Monster Hunter game, so I think it’s fine for them to serve as a fun campaign that anyone can blast through.

There’s also a series of more challenging “hub” quests available from the start, and those should dispel the notion that Rise isn’t focusing on existing fans. But it’s hard to review any Monster Hunter game ahead of its launch because I’ve had very little time to test it online, let alone see how the player base takes to its most challenging content. Rise’s longevity will largely be down to its endgame design and how Capcom handles future updates, neither of which can be known at this point.

At least for now, Rise looks like a more solid package in terms of content than World was at launch before its major Iceborne expansion. It’s certainly not lacking in monsters, and the variety is broader than what World offered, with several old favorites and some imaginative new designs.

Monster Hunter Rise is the most accessible game in the series to date, and it might well prove to be the best. I’m not willing to call that just yet, because a lot will depend on how its post-launch support turns out. But Capcom absolutely has the bones of a classic here already. Almost everything that was great about World is also true of Rise, unless you want to run it at 4K / 60fps. If you do (and I do, too), there’s a PC version coming next year.

It feels like Monster Hunter is coming full circle with Rise. The series started on the PS2, sure, but it only really became a cult phenomenon when it moved to portables, and that’s where it’s now returned after World brought it to an even bigger global audience. You don’t need to have a lengthy commute to appreciate how Monster Hunter benefits from a portable format.

One of the joys of the Switch is that it allows you to slot in game time when you otherwise wouldn’t be able to, even if it’s as basic a situation as your living room being occupied. Monster Hunter has always had that just-one-more-quest impulse for series fans, and with its breezy new design and portable form factor, Rise should see a lot more converted to the cause.

Monster Hunter Rise is available for the Nintendo Switch today.

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