2017 has had no shortage of incredible games; The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Horizon Zero Dawn, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Persona 5, Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, etc. And the rest of the year doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. We’re experiencing one of the best gaming years in recent memory, so much that even mobile games are becoming a part of my daily routine, and I’m not mad about it one bit. Despite all this, I am a little surprised that the Pokémon Company has gotten me hooked on a game that revolves around raising Magikarp. Not really much action – just fishing, feeding, training and jumping.

Fish out of water

Magikarp Jump takes place in a tiny little town whose livelihood revolves around raising Magikarp to compete in jumping competitions. The town hasn’t had a really great Magikarp trainer in a long time, and Mayor Karp is looking to you to turn things around for the town by becoming a Magikarp master.

You start out with a standard Magikarp, with its stats and bonuses randomly decided after you pick one of three Old Rods to use to fish. This first Magikarp has a rather small level-cap, but he gets the job done pretty nicely in your first League challenge, the Friend League. During the League challenges, you compete to see if your Magikarp can jump higher than your opponent’s. Like the rest of the game, there’s zero skill involved. You tap through, and then tap a Jump button. If your Magikarp has higher Jump Points (JP) than your opponent, you jump higher and win. Win all the battles in a league, and you earn a medal.

Conquering Karp

Raising your Magikarp to do better in League battles is pretty simple. Its home pond spawns berries for it to eat, which raise JP when eaten. The other option is training using different regimens. Only two types of berries and two regimens are unlocked at the start, but as you continue to level up your Magikarp and your Trainer Ranking through training and League Battles, you can unlock more berry types and different types of training as well. Raising your Magikarp’s JP also raises its level, which brings me back to the level cap I mentioned earlier.

You quickly learn not to get too attached to your Magikarp (even though I still do, it’s easy to bond with these little guys!) – once they hit their level-cap they’re given one more shot to get as far as they can in the league, and then they have to retire, giving you a chance to fish up a stronger Magikarp with different bonuses and potentially a different pattern. These Magikarp that retire at max level can be seen swimming around in the background of your home pond, and tapping on them will show you which ‘Karp it is and how high you raised its JP, but you’re never allowed to feed or train these Magikarp again.

Magikarp Giveth, Voltorb taketh away

Think that’s bad? That’s not the worst-case scenario. There are random events in the game that occur at different times. Most just give you an item, or restore Training Points, or give you coins – but some give you a choice: a choice to risk your Magikarp for a high reward. Choosing not to risk it will give you a small reward, and your Magikarp’s safety is guaranteed. If your risk goes south, a different Pokémon will not hesitate to harm your Magikarp. Massive harm. Nothing explicit, but it’s strongly implied that these Magikarp die.

So far, I’ve seen two different scenarios: While walking home from training, you and Magikarp find a berry tree, and you can have your Magikarp jump to eat one. Jump too high and a Pidgeotto will fly off with your ‘Karp, presumably to have itself a snack. The other scenario is even more dire: While walking home from training, Magikarp will come across a Poké Ball, and if you choose to open it, a Voltorb may reveal itself, promptly exploding and straight-up murdering your poor, scaly buddy. In both instances, your trainer walks home empty handed. Mayor Karp then politely scolds you about “working Magikarp too hard” and you fish for a new buddy to raise, and hopefully protect from harm.

Karp-llector’s corner

One of Magikarp Jump’s big draws is the amount of things you can collect. The most exciting collectible are the Magikarps themselves; there are 19 total different patterns of Magikarp that you can catch and raise. The further you progress, the more you can catch. The patterns don’t just stick to the standard orange Magikarp either; later in the game you can find pink, purple and gray Magikarp, each with their own set of patterns.

Shiny Magikarp make an appearance, though they are pretty rare to come across. You can also collect Buddy Pokémon that will hang out at your pond and offer bonuses for Magikarp. A few of these buddies are free, obtained by conquering different Leagues, but most are obtained through Gems, which are found at random throughout the game, or can be bought with real world money. Gems are also used to purchase most decorations for your pond. You can decorate your pond how you see fit, but the decorations also offer bonuses for your Magikarp, and those bonuses are applied once you own the decoration, whether it’s on display or not.

Carpé Diem

All in all, Magikarp Jump may not seem addicting at first, but it’s so simple that you don’t feel like you have to put a lot of time into it, which makes the “freemium” limits imposed feel unimportant. It’s easy to pull out your phone and gobble up some berries and skip through three training sessions every hour or so, and then you can go about your day. It’s got me hooked without really even having much to offer. I can’t wait to get back to my little fish friend so I can bring out the best in him and let him happily retire.

Magikarp Jump is almost unashamedly simple, but it’s for that reason that it is able to outshine its titular Pokémon. My hat’s off to the Pokémon Company and Select Button; I didn’t think there would ever be a time when I grieved after seeing a Voltorb stare my Magikarp straight in the face seconds before it took the life of my little friend, yet it happened twice today.

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Written by Jaxson Tapp

As a lover of gaming and the written word, Jaxson currently fills his time not only with playing games, but also writing about them. Ready for anything, Jaxson’s passion for puzzle games, JRPGs, tough platformers, and whimsical indies helps him bring a well-rounded opinion to Nintendo Wire’s reporting.

Jaxson Tapp