Magikarp Jump captures both the charm and frustration of everybody’s
least favorite splash-happy Pokémon. At this point, I’ve raised 11 generations of Magikarp, yet despite having poured hours into The Pokémon Company’s free-to-play mobile game, I haven’t accomplished anything at all.
Inherently, the game is nothing more than a stat grinder coated in standard-fare Pokémon dazzle. Mayor Karp, the game’s version of a Pokémon professor, tasks players with training Magikarp to compete in jumping contests. Magikarp level up by earning Jump Points — experience gained by eating berries that appear in their underwater habitat over time or by participating in quick training regimens that you unlock with in-game currency. Once leveled up, you can challenge other Magikarp in league contests that involve two Magikarp flailing into the air to see which can jump the highest.
None of these tasks demand anything from the player, though. Neither the short training vignettes nor the jumping contests play out as minigames. To win a jumping contest, you must only have achieved a greater number of Jump Points than your opponent. It’s all stats. There’s no strategizing — no puzzles. No mechanics that take advantage of the touch screen. (The most agency the game gives players is when you choose which berries or exercises to level up with in-game currency, which increases the Jump Points those activities award Magikarp.) Otherwise, the game’s design is laissez-faire — it forces you to watch rather than to participate.
Knowing each training vignette didn’t require anything of me made me want to skip them completely. They felt like tedious busy work — not fun, gamey work.
Once your Magikarp reaches its level cap and can no longer earn Jump Points, it’s forced to retire. This can increase your Trainer Level and, consecutively, the next generation’s level cap, enabling you to beat a few more trainers in league battles next time.
And then you do it again. And again. And again.
This fence-painting monotony is corrected somewhat by random events that occur while you play. After a training session with one of my early Magikarp, we came across a berry tree, and the game gave me a prompt: pick a berry from the tree or go home. I chose to pick the berry, of course, but when my Magikarp jumped into the air to snag it, a Pidgeotto swooped in and carried it away. Poof. Gone.
There are a number of random events like this players can experience, and new ones are triggered as you compete in more difficult leagues. Most are simple, offering some in-game currency or a bonus training point, but all add a vital dose of variety to the eat-train-fight gameplay loop. I found myself more drawn to the game’s charming, color-splashed world than the actual gameplay, but the cutesy atmosphere isn’t enough incentive to keep players sticking around.
Magikarp Jump isn’t a game that deserves your real-world money, but if you’re compelled to raise the greatest Magikarp that ever was, the game replenishes your training points and awards you with enough coins naturally that you shouldn’t need to break out your Pikachu piggy pank. (Once, a random event that rewards you with an additional training point occurred three times in a row for me.) If you do want to invest a little bit, the store offers decorations for your pond that will definitely expedite the stat-grinding process.
Magikarp Jump is a flop. A game asks something of its player — solve the puzzle, shoot the bad guys, be creative, etc. But Magikarp Jump’s brilliant atmosphere doesn’t compensate for its lack of meaningful work. However, if the point was to create a game that mirrored the mindlessness and tedium of Magikarp, Magikarp Jump is an incredible success.