Snap. Crackle. Pop. Yes, these are the sounds puffed rice cereal makes when coming into contact with milk. But they are also the sound dinosaur skulls make when coming into contact with my very big and very cool hammer.
I was going to write ‘there’s something perverse' about it to kick off the next bit, like some coy introspection, but I’m realising that’d just be saying the loud part louder. Yeah, it’s nasty. It’s worrisome that I like the feeling of concussing an adorable, fuzzy bat that inflates like a balloon. There are plushies of the Paolumu. Google it ‘Paolumu cute cartoon’ right now. Adorable, yeah? I love to smash its head in.
The hammer isn’t like other weapons in Monster Hunter, or most other action games. Every swing takes a good second to wind up. It’s heavy, so moving around with it unsheathed means you’re practically immobile. The hammer requires patience and precision and close study of every monster attack animation. I sit back while my thirsty longsword and insect glaive friends wail on the intensely cute cartoon bat, inflicting it with hundreds of flesh wounds. My time will come. The bat stops to catch its breath, perhaps to consider whether or not this is it, taking a moment to think about those the bat has loved and lost, whether it had done all the huge bat things it had wanted to in life—I destroy the thought, leaping from a slide with a triple front flip, bringing down the hammer on the crest of their skull effectively liquefying the grey matter inside.
Monster Hunter: World is just as sick as I am, possibly sicker, laying down little gamer treats for me to hoover up on my journey to mastering this outright deranged skill, deflating heads like difficult balloons. To congratulate me for scrambling the Paolumu’s brains, sometimes a gem will fly out of a monster’s head and an on-screen notification will let me know ‘Parts Broken’. I can pick up that little snack during the ensuing break, when the blade crew continues their incessant, mindless blading. I scoop up an extra bit of monster, sheathe my hammer, reposition, and get ready for the next opportunity to smoosh the thing’s head into the floor.
Sometimes a monster will trip and stay grounded for five to ten seconds. I worry about what happens to my brain while I’m enjoying making theirs basically have to shut down and reboot itself. You get the opportunity—a word I usually save for dream job interviews or fascinating free lectures about the history of statuary or whatever—to just wail on a monster’s head with a hammer as big or bigger than it. I just bash and bash and bash with an object the size of an eighth-grader that weighs as much as a fridge and would turn any bone and blood adjacent structure into dust and water with a few strong swings.
Monster Hunter: World’s brutal cartoon logic forces these monsters to endure the force and the pain, to live through a nightmare of pain without the physical degradation; or, the freedom of death. And there I am, feeling rewarded and good about it. Because it is good! And somehow not the horror show I’m describing. It’s such an odd, precarious balance. Monster Hunter: World renders these creatures with stunning detail. On a PC their skin and fur, expressions, and animations really give the impression of a living creature. It’s magical computer puppetry, all propped up in service of being chopped, or in my instance, pounded down. Absolutely pancaked.
The incredible work done in design and QA to make the act of inflicting terrible violence upon innocent, often cute, creatures satisfying and fun far more than grim and cruel is something that’ll always confound me. Like, it’s the kinda thing that I can’t imagine getting past the first meeting. “Alright so I think we should make the hammer bigger and more impactful and the monsters, like, way more realistic and adorable. They shouldn’t be conceived of as preternaturally evil or tainted whatsoever.” And now it’s one of Capcom’s best-selling games in recent history. I’m just thinking about the feeling of the hammer connecting with a Kulu-ya-ku skull and getting a little dopamine hit! So yeah. There’s something perverse about it alright.