Ultra Kaiju Monster Rancher is quite literally Monster Rancher with the beloved kaiju from the Ultraman series replacing the usual stand-bys like Suezo. As a Monster Rancher, you’ll earn a breeding license to raise and train kaiju on your ranch. As you train your kaiju, you’ll be able to enter them into tourneys for gold and renown—but entering higher-ranked tournaments requires you to earn the appropriate licenses as a breeder, usually by coming in first in lower-rank matches.
It’s a simple format, but it works. And unlike other monster-raising games, Ultra Kaiju Monster Rancher requires that you factor in tons of characteristics from your kaiju to raise them. Moreover, your kaiju’s mood and energy are tremendous factors in rearing it. Kaiju can and will get fatigued from running drills every week, running the same exercises, or eating the same foods over and over; neglect their mood, and your kaiju will throw a tantrum and potentially lose you tons of money in damages or weeks of trainable time.
Winning tournaments can also earn connections with other breeders willing to take your kaiju on errantries, which might even teach your kaiju new skills for battle. And if you think your kaiju is strong enough, they can go on adventures in uncharted regions where they can uncover all kinds of valuable treasures. Sadly, there is also the tragic factor of your kaiju’s age: your kaiju will only live for about three or four in-game years. As time goes on, they’ll hit their prime and enjoy massive stat growths but eventually taper off until they’re too old to fight; you can either let them retire or use them as fusion material to make new monsters. It’s a bold move for a monster-raising sim to let you get attached to your little(?) guy for several hours only to smack you over the head with their mortality, but it helps reinforce the notion that these guys are just verbally-challenged athletes, and it’s your job to bring out the best in them.
But all that stuff is the “Monster Rancher” side of the equation: anyone who’s played one can tell you about all the weird little intricacies of raising a monster. But how is the “Ultra Kaiju” part of the formula handled? As someone who watched Ultraman, I’m glad to say that this game is dripping with fanservice. The game boasts almost 300 kaiju to play around with, and many of the “fusion” variants are well within the spirit of the show, like “Dada Baltan” (an Alien Baltan with a Dada’s stripes) or “Gan-Q Bemstar” (Bemstar with Gan-Q’s eye stuck in his belly). The absence of a handful of specific fan favorites might be a let-down for certain fans; for example, while Sevenger and Miclas of Ultraseven’s capsule kaiju roster are present, not all of their comrades made it in. On a personal note, Jamila wasn’t included in the game either—I’ll manage to make do.
There’s also tons of fanservice in how the kaiju move and behave; they all move like people wearing suits, their cries are the same sounds they make in the show (like Sevenger’s mechanical whirring or Alien Baltan’s spooky laughter). Some even have attacks based on classic episodes from the show. I had a very hearty laugh when I saw that one of Alien Metron’s attacks is sitting the kaiju down for a conversation over tea—like in their appearance in Ultraseven. Also, actual Ultraman characters appear! Not only does Ultraman himself appear in the intro, but he and Ultraman Zero might show up to help pacify rampaging kaiju. They can one-shot all of the most powerful kaiju, so don’t get too excited about seeing Ultraman go ten rounds against a kaiju (that’s what the show is for). But it is a ton of fun hearing the whooshes of the beta-capsule as Ultraman grows to fill the screen as he’s done since 1964.
The monster-spawning mechanics are also plenty fun: the Monster Rancher tradition of using physical media to spawn monsters is largely replaced with a keyword system requiring you to type in characters that will be used to generate a monster. Cuss words will not work; I know, I tried. There is also a curious spawn mechanic that uses the wireless scanner on the Switch’s controllers; while Amiibo are, inexplicably, incompatible with the game, NFC tags are (I was able to spawn a Baltan Sevenger from our bus pass in our attempts at scanning monsters). Also, for the loyal Ultraman fan who has imported Ultra Medal toys from Japan, these can be used to spawn monsters. Sadly, there isn’t a real way to generate your favorite monster unless you luck into the right keyword or have the right Ultra Medal lying around. So if your heart is set specifically on a King Joe or a Gomora, you might have to trawl internet forums to find codes other fans have discovered.
So the mechanics are there, and the fanservice is there, but make no mistake: there’s still some jank to Ultra Kaiju Monster Rancher. The nature of raising a kaiju can still be very repetitive, considering how many times you’ll have to repeat a drill or go through the canned animations. You can fast-forward the animations, but it’ll still take a long time to watch your kaiju make snowmen before they’re strong enough to compete. The animations aren’t quite 30 frames per second, so even just watching your kaiju trot around your farm can be stilted, even if your Switch is docked; just a little optimization could’ve made these giant rubber-suited critters really shine. As mentioned earlier, the monster-spawning feels way too random, and it feels like you get more Miclas and Bemstars than anything; it’s nice that Ultra Medals are an option, but outside of a select few who’ve imported those toys, it’s a real uphill battle to get the kaiju you want, and it doesn’t help that many kaiju are just bad; while I loved our Baltan Sevenger, he was born with an Intelligence-based stat spread and a full roster of Power-based moves. It can take a long time to make your kaiju combat-ready. And the fact that Amiibo aren’t compatible is a serious missed opportunity: we could have gotten a Samus-colored Baltan or a Yoshi-colored Gomora.
Monster Rancher has always been a weird game with weirder monsters, and Ultraman’s kaiju can similarly be out there. So I wonder how much appeal this game will have for folks who aren’t already fans of either. But there’s a ton of charm to this game and the goofy, wobbly kaiju. Similarly, with all those faults in mind, the mechanics are unique and fun as far as monster-raising sims go. Fans looking for a new monster-raising sim have a damn solid one in Ultra Kaiju Monster Rancher. And hey, it might open the door to them enjoying what already exists from both sides of this crossover.