Nintendo are slowly taking over the mobile world. Pokémon GO took the world by storm; from Tokyo to Timbuktu, it felt like everyone was stuck to their phones in pursuit of a Pikachu. The big N followed up later with Super Mario Run, a cuddly-looking runner game crafted in the signature style of the New Super Mario Bros. games to an equally warm welcome. Now, we’re here. Faced with a game where you have to make Magikarp jump high. It’s a difference in scale to exploring the world, but when it comes to Nintendo, all we can do is trust. Will Magikarp Jump leap to the occasion or will it just flail pathetically?
Nintendo have their tongue firmly planted in their cheek as to the premise of this game. The entirety of this game is built around the idea that Magikarp are useless Pokémon; all they can do is Splash, or it would seem so to the casual fan. I wouldn’t chat rubbish about a Magikarp considering what happens at level 20, but I digress: within the boundaries of this game, Magikarp are useless, and the only thing they’re capable of is jumping really high. As such, a subculture has formed around Magikarp, and people are raising and “battling” their friends in order to see who can jump the highest and win the Magikarp Pokémon Leagues. This is the stupidest thing you’ve likely read all week, but just hold on.
Being a mobile game, much of the gameplay is extremely pared back in order to make it suitable for quick-fix “on the go” gaming. There are two major strands of gameplay; raising your Magikarp and battling, and in truth, these are rather insubstantial. Magikarp Jump is built around tapping and points. Tap on things to build up your jump points. Tap on the berries. Tap on Pikachu. Tap the screen to complete minigames. Tap like your name is Billy Elliot, because you’ll only need one finger, maybe two, to enjoy this game. It’s all about doing menial busywork in order to gain points and level up your friend into a jumping machine. On paper, this doesn’t sound impressive and would deserve to be laughed out of any creative meeting it gets pitched in. However, hard to define as it all is, it just works.
Maybe it’s the “ping”-like sound effect punctuating the pick-up of points that satisfies deeper than anything in the world. Maybe it’s the sense of progression raising your Magikarp from a baby to an adult, and the genuine connection that arises between you and your splashy sons. Perhaps it’s the simple addiction to bigger numbers that made similar content-light games like Cookie Clicker and AdVenture Capitalist so hard to put down. In all likelihood, it’s a combination of all factors: Magikarp Jump’s gameplay is uninspired and somewhat cynical; it’s no more fleshed out than any other clicker game you’ve ever played, but the Nintendo overlay and usage of an unsung Pokémon mascot, a true underdog, keeps the game initially engaging.
Yet, for how blisteringly engaging the title is, it’s shockingly threadbare. Training consists of different unlockable minigames, all centred around tapping the screen really fast, with no variety between them other than visual reskins; instead of jumping to move a rock, Magikarp can jump to cut down a tree or beat up a punching bag. Riveting. Battling is much the same, although the player gets the sense that their input means nothing as the battle comes down to numbers; your jump points dictate how high you can go, and as such, input more than likely means nothing. Tapping the screen gives your Magikarp encouragement but it’s hard to say how much this really does, which might make players feel a bit impotent. Yes, the game is supposed to be uber-simple, and this does pay dividends in that you’ll keep playing (I certainly did) but expect a feeling of emptiness when you contemplate “what for?” at the abject lack of content on offer.
While the base formula of the game is compelling, like all clicker games, Magikarp Jump eventually becomes a monotonous drag, and eventually succumbs to hellish and boring “cycles”. Throughout the game, you won’t raise just one Magikarp; you’ll raise your current Magikarp to its max level, and once your Pokémon hits its wall in terms of capacity, the old flailer will retire and be replaced with a new catch. As you progress through the game, you yourself will level up as well, and higher levels mean you can raise the next Magikarp to be even stronger.
This, as mentioned, puts you in a constant monotonous cycle, and as such, while the game begins initially beguiling, it soon mutates into work in the mawkish and evil way that all mobile games do; check in every day, collect berries, raise your Magikarp up a few levels, check out, check in, repeat until dead or bored. Not even the Nintendo magic can save the game and as such, the title begins to feel somewhat limp-wristed after extended play. Which is fine; it’s a free game, you’re not losing anything, but even at the low, low price of zero, players can and should expect more considering it bears the good names of Nintendo and Pokémon.
What will really smack players around the face like a wet fish from the market are the beautiful visuals. Nintendo always put a high level of visual quality into their titles, and even though Magikarp Jump has been outsourced to a third party, Select Button, this game is cute as a button, both aurally and visually. The graphics are 2D, but nothing like the original series of games; whereas the games were 8 and 16-bit, immortalised in pixelated goodness, Magikarp Jump has a more hand-drawn flavour with a heavily super-deformed look; human characters have massive heads and tiny limbs, and the Pokémon are equally cute to match. Combine this with the vivid colours typical of Nintendo games, and Magikarp Jump just leaps off the screen, looking resplendent and severely outclassing Pokémon GO in the “prettiest game” department.
Musically, the game follows suit. The presentation serves to be a saving grace for this game, as without it, it would be consigned to being just another clicker game. The beauty of this game’s music is that it takes cues from many of the main series greatest tracks; light-hearted with a nostalgic sound that beckons adventure, the soundtrack is a smash and a winner, complementing the easy and relaxed tone of the game.
This game is no revolution but the ever-increasing numbers and the relationship that builds between you and Magikarp is more than enough to keep you coming back for more, even if there isn’t much to the game; you’ll end up hating yourself for sinking so much time into it. Still, for people who like to keep their hands busy, or for Nintendo’s rabid loyalists, Magikarp Jump is easily enjoyable, but that’s it – saying any more than that would be a leap.
Pokémon: Magikarp Jump (Reviewed on iOS)
This game is good, with a few negatives.
A more-than-serviceable mobile game, cute and time-filling, but some may feel it rests on its laurels of being a Nintendo title.