Best Monster Rancher Games From The Entire Series (All Ranked)

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Monster Rancher (MR) is one of those series that, fair or not, had to contend with the “Pokémon clone” tag right from its initial release in 1997.

Despite that, Monster Rancher still grew to become legitimately popular for a time between the late 90s and the late 2000s.

The gameplay gimmicks that defined the series, like letting players “create” a monster by switching the Monster Rancher game disc with CDs or DVDs, are some of the most beloved characteristics of these games. Heck, even the one-eyed Suezo feels like a true-blue ‘90s mascot.

But this series is still viewed with fondness and Koei Tecmo announced they will be releasing an updated version of the first Monster Rancher in Japan soon.

And with that said it feels like the right time to look back at all of the Monster Rancher games and see how they stack up. Note that the games I’m ranking are only those developed on consoles and also released for North American audiences. So that means no Japan-only games, and the less said about the 2011 mobile version the better!

So are you ready to get 90s radical? Cause here’s my rankings of all the Monster Rancher games, dating back to the original PS1 all the way up to present day.

12. Monster Rancher Hop-a-Bout (PlayStation)

Monster Rancher Hop-a-Bout PS1 racing gameplay

Nothing quite says “popular videogame series” like having a licensed racing game. Except… well, it’s not kart racing.

The only “racing” you’ll have to do is against yourself and the lap time you must beat. All by controlling a monster avatar who moves like a sack race player on steroids.

It makes sense if players control Suezo, what with being a sentient eyeball and all. But having monsters with hind legs do the hopping animation instead of just letting them run?

I don’t know about you, but that just seems cruel.

While I’ve nothing against spinoff games, it’s very easy to imagine how this game might have looked like if Tecmo just went with the usual videogame mascot route of releasing a racing kart game.

11. Monster Rancher Explorer (Game Boy)

Monster Rancher Explorer GBC gameplay

Speaking of spinoff games that don’t exactly fit with its source franchise, whodathunk Solomon’s Club, that most obscure of all ‘80s NES games, would be the one that got remade using the Monster Rancher license?

To anyone unfamiliar with Solomon’s Club, its gameplay simply involves guiding your avatar to get a “key” by going through multiple side-scrolling dungeon levels. Enemies would be blocking the player’s progress, and just a single touch from them results in instant death.

Honestly, the reason why I couldn’t rank this action-puzzler higher is because it doesn’t feature any of the elements that the Monster Rancher series would become known for.

Either way, it’s easy to imagine this getting ported to smartphones.

10. Monster Rancher Battle Card Episode 2 (PlayStation)

Monster Rancher Battle Card Episode 2 playstation game

Ah yes, here’s another one I can file under videogame cliché #274: Have a game do well enough that the publisher will be justified in commissioning a card-themed game.

And hey, just about every Japanese media property was doing it, so why not them?

As an aside, this might be a good example of how the series’ main hook – monster creation through analog CDs – has shown how it can be transposed to a game that isn’t about breeding; instead of monsters, players get decks.

The main thing that one might dock points from this for is the uninspired UI and animation. Everything about this game is presented so barebones it’s barely a cash grab for the PlayStation.

I say “barely,” though, since it at least has a rocking card-game mechanic going for it.

9. Monster Rancher Battle Card GB (Game Boy)

Monster Rancher Battle Card GB gameplay

This game’s sparse UI, however, is more understandable since it’s running on a Game Boy. Think of it this way: If this were made in this decade, it would have been for a smartphone instead of getting beamed through a 160 x 144 LCD screen.

This game might also contain one of the strangest videogame intros anyone will ever experience: Players are given their starting decks according to a “personality test” they had to answer at the beginning.

So, not only are players exposed to a new type of card game, but that was also their first stab at taking a Myers-Briggs Personality Test. Neat.

8. Monster Rancher DS (Nintendo DS)

Monster Rancher DS video game screenshot

It’s no surprise that the last mainline Monster Rancher release happened on the Nintendo DS; both are known for incorporating quirky gimmicks into their properties, though one has a better track record than the other (I mean Nintendo, in case it’s not obvious enough).

The 2010 iteration of the series sees players using the DS’s touchpad and/or mic to create monsters.

Unfortunately, that’s not enough to mask the process behind how the randomly generated creatures are made, since one can literally draw or say anything and come off with a creation that looks… well, like a stock monster.

Nowadays, this is often seen as the last gasp of the series before its unofficial hiatus.

7. Monster Rancher Advance (Game Boy Advance)

Monster Rancher Advance 1 gameplay

Monster Rancher’s earlier outings on the handhelds, on the other hand, have proven to be better, though the developers were honest at the time in stressing how this release on the Game Boy Advance was a port of the ones released on the PlayStation.

Similar to the DS version of Monster Rancher years down the line, writing a four-letter name for your creation (no swears, obviously) generates you a monster.

The usual rigmarole of train-battle-win is also present. Monster Rancher has always been a series where fans know exactly what they’re getting, so expect the same for the GBA version.

6. Monster Rancher Advance 2 (Game Boy Advance)

Monster Rancher Advance 2 gameplay

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss!

Well, in a small way at least.

In a gameplay feature that sounds Black Mirror-esque, the player can have their monster creation admitted to a hospital and have their “bad traits” be surgically removed.

Hey, ethically questionable procedure aside, at least it made training monsters a bit easier!

5. Monster Rancher EVO (PlayStation 2)

Monster Rancher EVO PS2 gameplay

This PS2 game was supposed to be the clean break the series was going for. Unfortunately, there were a few things going against it.

One, it was released in 2006. This was a year where the gaming industry was preparing for the release of the seventh gen consoles already.

And two, it subsumed the battling and tournaments into mere plot devices for the ambitious JRPG presentation the game was attempting to pull off.

There’s promise in the idea, for sure. Though whether through audience apathy or the inability to cope with producing for a contemporary console (as what the rest of the Japanese gaming industry experienced in the mid-aughts), Tecmo never pursued a proper follow-up for this.

4. Monster Rancher 3 (PlayStation 2)

Monster Rancher 3 PS2 gameplay

As the first PS2 release for the Monster Rancher series, it didn’t disappoint fans who got hooked with the deep training and simulation mechanics of the first two games.

Taking advantage of the PS2’s graphical capabilities, the developers went with a faux cel-shaded art style that looks charming enough to hook series newcomers.

As gameplay goes, it’s more of the same, though the polishing makes up for whatever staleness the series might have been suffering from at that point.

3. Monster Rancher 1 (PlayStation)

Monster Rancher 1 original gameplay

The OG Monster Rancher served a need back when it was released on the PlayStation in 1997.

Because every gamer knew PlayStation just had to have their answer to Pokémon.

I mean, what else is Suezo if not the grungier counterpart to Pikachu?

Of course, the monster generation-via-CD hook helped differentiate itself from Pokémon, as well as a less forgiving breeding system where being organized in training was as important as deciding on battle tactics on the fly.

For a new gaming audience starved of variety, MR was a very welcome addition, and I believe that should be enough to secure the series’ legacy.

2. Monster Rancher 4 (PlayStation 2)

Monster Rancher 4 PS2 gameplay

This is to Monster Rancher 3 what Monster Rancher 2 was to MR1: As games that offered significant improvements over their predecessors without undermining what its forebears did.

Monster Rancher 4 streamlined everything that was present in MR3: The scheduled monster trainings, the monster combinations, the schooling, and the ability to customize your monster farm.

The opened-up exploration element was welcome too (though Tecmo learned the wrong lessons from this when it came time to develop Monster Rancher EVO).

If there can be only one Monster Rancher title you have to play on the PlayStation 2, make it this one.

1. Monster Rancher 2 (PlayStation)

Monster Rancher 2 PS, best monster rancher game

This is the game that defined Monster Rancher’s identity for the rest of its lifespan.

As if the breeding system of the first game wasn’t complex enough, the developers had to add even more features, like the Errantries, training sessions where the player has his or her monsters go on quests to gain experience and skills (as well as to unlock new areas).

And man, all those CDs I swapped out to get just the right monster. All the food I had to feed it so it would train. Good times.

Just playing MR2 for a little while, it would be easy to imagine this was a series that could have continued onto the next decade like Digimon. But as it stands this has become one of the defining games of the Sony PlayStation era.

So, will Koei Tecmo remake the other games in the Monster Rancher series à la Capcom’s Resident Evil? Only time will tell.

In the meantime, I can only hope.

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