In one of the more unusual turns for Pokémon, the new mobile game Pokémon: Magikarp Jump has been released on mobile devices in a gradual international rollout. This game is developed by Select Button and is a Pokémon-themed spin on its game Survive! Mola Mola. The task? Raise a Magikarp to be as strong as it can be to enter leagues to see how high your Magikarp can jump!
How's this done? It's quite simple. Your first task is to capture a Magikarp by fishing; this is automatic, you'll get a Magikarp and you can then start raising it. You raise it in an aquarium where you can feed it various types of Berries, which respawn every 10 seconds or so or by going through training regimes which regenerate every 30 minutes. These will give your Magikarp CP, which helps determine how high it can jump; that's the stat you need to increase. However, there is a catch. The CP of a Magikarp is limited by its level and its level is limited by your trainer level. Your trainer level is increased by earning experience in the Jump Leagues - this means the Magikarp you catch can only go so far.
Due to this, you end up raising a massive amount of Magikarp as you go through the game. When your Magikarp encounters an opponent that it just cannot beat, then that's the end of the road and you need to start anew and catch a new Magikarp starting from 0. As you'll have levelled up your Trainer rating, this Magikarp will be capable of being stronger. This does, however, show that the game is a considerable grind. You'll need to be continually raising Magikarp from Level 1 all the way up in order to proceed. At time of writing, I've raised 50 Magikarp already.
While this does seem like it could get boring quickly, there are ways that make it go faster. Using Coins you collect in the game you can upgrade the berries and training regimes you have, and you even unlock newer stronger berries and training regimes as you level up. In addition to this, there are also events that happen randomly at the end of some training or league matches that can give you CP, items to help you or coins. However, some of these events do have a chance of making you lose your Magikarp and having to start over, through hilarious instances such as a Pidgeotto carrying it away or it evolving into Gyarados, but you can opt out of doing these events. You can even decorate your aquarium with various items that can give small boosts. Finally, as you progress through the game you can find multiple different looks for Magikarp, such as one looking like an Orca, one being Pink and even Shiny Magikarp which have better CP stats.
There are also a myriad of support Pokémon in the game that you unlock either through completing leagues or purchasing with Diamonds accrued in the game. These Pokémon can have effects such as giving you coins, giving you CP, giving you more food and giving you a free training session.
The leagues are very simple. Each league has between 5 and 20 stages within it and the jumping is literally done by comparison. If your CP is higher, you win. If theirs is higher, they win. However, with Support Pokémon there's a chance that they can give a 5% or 25% boost to your CP. Once you lose a Magikarp in the league, you have to start over from the beginning of the specific league.
This is probably the most disappointing element of the game, as there is a distinct lack of skill and gameplay involved. Making it like a classic golf game where you had to time your tap to get the right jump would have been far more preferable as it makes you feel like you have some control over it, but that is sorely lacking.
As this is a free-to-play game it's fully playable at no cost, and even though it gets to be a significant grind in later levels you can never really feel like you're being blocked off from doing well by not paying in money. The microtransactions are a bit costly, topping out at £31.99/$39.99 for 2,150 Diamonds - which don't go very far - but they do give you access to various decorations and Support Pokémon that would be hard to get if solely relying on the Diamonds given in the game. This does make the game less grind-focused to get through to the end, but it doesn't change how the game works. You'd still be doing the same raise and repeat structure, it's just slightly faster. After buying 2500 Diamonds, however, you do get access to a special Digger item which will give you 100 Diamonds every 22 hours, so there's definite incentive to purchase. Plus, like Pokémon Duel and Pokémon Shuffle Mobile, it limits how much you can spend so you cannot buy more than 5,000 Diamonds every month.
The presentation of the game, meanwhile, is top notch - the artwork is crisp and fitting to the style of game. It's not necessarily fluidly animated, but it matches the aesthetic. Each league has its own look and the Support Pokémon all look great. It's nothing special, but it's definitely a cute look.
The music matches the look as well. It's got great music that definitely has a twist to it. Again, nothing special, but there are specific league themes, aquarium themes and battle themes, all of which are catchy and evoke feelings of classic RPGs and even, in some cases, Yoshi's Safari from the SNES.
Overall, Pokémon: Magikarp is a fascinating package. It has great style, but it severely lacks in gameplay. It feels like the epitome of a generic mobile title with a Pokémon twist, which is somewhat unfortunate. With no gameplay other than feeding the fish and playing "whose stat is bigger?", there's just unfortunately so little to the game. It's definitely something fun to play on the bus or the train to kill time, in a style similar to other mobile games that have you looking after animals or buildings, but it just lacks the depth that we've come to expect from the other Pokémon mobile titles such as Pokémon GO, Pokémon Duel and Pokémon Shuffle. While it's easy to recommend having it on your mobile device, it's hard to recommend paying for microtransactions.