I love Magikarp. It’s my favourite Pokémon. I have a Magikarp pin badge attached to my bag, I always have one in my Pokémon team and always make sure to give it an everstone so it doesn’t evolve into a pesky and far inferior Gyarados.
There’s just something appealing to me about Magikarp’s uselessness. Maybe it reminds me of myself, always splashing around, making a big commotion but never really doing anything or going anywhere. Whatever the reason, I’ve been preaching the gospel of Magikarp for years now.
Which is why I felt vindicated when I opened up my phone and saw that the Pokémon Company shared my passion for Magikarp and had released Magikarp Jump, a new freemium game for both iOS and Android.
Developed by Select Button, a Japanese company with a history in creating freemium games, Magikarp Jump is half Tamagotchi, half Rocky montage and all grind.
The game works like this: You fish up a Magikarp, and then feed it food and undertake training regiments in order to increase it’s ‘JP’ (Jump Points).
Each new Magikarp that you fish out of the pond has a unique bonus that will help it grow faster. Not all bonuses are created equal however. Some are pretty much useless, some are so good that your Magikarp hits it’s max level in a third of the time it normally would.
Once you have your fish and it’s been trained and fed to your satisfaction, it’s time to send your Magikarp out to a jump league where it competes with other Magikarp in a contest to see who can jump the highest.
League battles, while amusing to begin with, all play out the same, your androgynous avatar carries his or her Magikarp to the battlefield and places it down. You then press the jump button. If you’re lucky, one of your support Pokémon will boost your Magikarp’s jumping ability by cheering for it. Then it’s up and away for your beloved pet as it flies into the sky before crashing back down to the ground, creating a hole as it does so. The Magikarp with the highest jump (the most jump points) wins. If you win, you collect some experience and coins that can be used to upgrade your fruit and training regiments to grant more experience and help raise your Magikarp faster. If you lose, then you still gain some coins, but you must wait a set period of time before you can try challenging the league again (or use a premium item to speed this process up).
As you increase your trainer level, the max level that your Magikarp can reach also increases, allowing it to jump higher. When your Magikarp reaches its max level, it will be sent to the league to jump until it either loses a match, or wins the league. Either way, it is then retired and a new Magikarp is fished up. Although you can retire your Magikarp before it reaches it’s max level, the game encourages you to raise them to competition by giving a permeant 10% XP boost for each karp that you raise to the max level.
This way you find yourself raising Magikarp after Magikarp, each jumping a little higher than the last, each getting closer and closer to winning the league and getting you new items and premium currency. It’s a fiendishly addictive gameplay loop, as I’m sure it’s designed to be.
As a freemium game, you can of course spend real money in order to speed the whole Magikarp training process up. Your hard-earned real world cash can be used to purchase exchange tickets that can be swapped for premium one-use items and diamonds that can be used to purchase support Pokémon. Decorations for your pond that grant a permanent positive effect to your Magikarp can also be purchased. Support Pokémon provide bonuses that must be activated to use. For example, Snorlax makes food appear in your pond every 50 minutes. Decorations grant passive bonuses. I bought the Aegislash Statue, a pond decoration that increases the experience I receive from training by 60%.
The game can be played totally for free. No content is locked out behind a paywall. Due to the way the game hands out diamonds however, realistically you will never be able to collect enough diamonds to afford everything the game has to offer. You’ll have to pick and choose the Pokémon and items you want to invest your precious diamonds in.
While exchange tickets are only available via the premium shop, diamonds can be acquired through regular gameplay via defeating leagues, levelling up, and through random events.
These random events are one of the more fun aspects of Magikarp Jump. Some events require you to take a risk in order to reap rewards. If you get lucky you can receive an XP bonus, coins or diamonds. If you are unlucky you might lose experience, accidentally evolve Magikarp into Gyarados or even end up killing your karp.
That’s right. Your Magikarp can outright die in this game. I was mortified when my poor Count Karpula was exploded into pieces by a Voltorb, and almost cried when Karpel Tunnel was snatched up by a Pidgeotto while innocently attempting to grab a delicious berry from a tree. Even though you don’t see the deaths on screen, it’s still pretty tragic.
So now to answer the question required of every review, is the game any good?
That’s a tricky question. Is any freemium game good? Addicting? Yes. Good? I’m not so sure.
I’ve spent hours checking in on my karp and making sure it trains properly and eats all the food in it’s pond. I’ve made sure that I check in at just the right time to active my support Pokémon after their cool down period has finished. I’ve watched my karp participate in countless hundreds of jump battles. But was I having fun or was I just another victim of the freemium app craze?
I wanted to think about it more, but I had to check on my Magikarp to see if my support Pokémon had recharged and if I had any remaining training points.
Through hours raising my Magikarp, I have come to realise that this game is just another well designed freemium experience that, although addicting, has very little depth to it. Were it not for the Pokémon theme I doubt I would have played this app for more than five minutes before closing it and deleting it from my phone.
An update that recently went live increases the level cap and allows you to challenge a new league, but it’s just more of the same. Each time you get a new karp it takes a little longer to raise it to it’s max level, and those in app purchases start looking more and more tempting.
The game is not without charm. The random events are cute, and the idea of a town filled with people obsessed with jumping Magikarp for sport tickles my fancy. Collecting each type of Magikarp is fun, and I get excited when I fish a new one, a rare one, or one with a particularly meaty bonus.
Here’s the bottom line, I recommend you don’t play Magikarp Jump. If you do, you’ll become addicted just like me, and then one day be staring at your phone and suddenly realise that you’ve wasted hours of your life and all you have to show for it is a virtual fish that has an overeating issue and can jump 120m into the air.
If you’re in the market for a time-consuming Pokémon themed freemium game, I’d recommend Pokémon Go, at least it forces you to go outside while it tempts you to open your wallet.