This review was written on June 29, 2017 for Version 1.1.0 of Pokemon: Magikarp Jump
"Addicting Fun and Friendly to Free Players"
The world of Pokemon is filled with unusual partnerships. It's not uncommon to find humans and Pokemon living in perfect symbiosis; Arcanine often accompany police officers, Machamp lend their strength to construction projects, and Pikachu and other electric Pokemon power electric plants. Sometimes, the strongest Pokemon find themselves alongside a Trainer, where they fight for fame and fortune while traveling the world with their best friend. The Pokemon world does, however, offer little quarter to the pitiful, pathetic Magikarp...until now.
Magikarp Jump is essentially a union between the clicker genre and a pet raising simulator, with the identifying elements from both genres scaled down significantly to produce a game that's both kid-friendly and good at passing time. In Magikarp Jump, Trainers fulfill the sole purpose of training their Magikarp to jump higher than other Magikarp across a series of League battles. When you reel in a Magikarp, your journey with your new fishy friend begins in the Pond, or the "home screen" of the game. Training your Magikarp revolves around three core gameplay mechanics: feeding, training, and events. All three of these are used to build up Jumping Power (JP), which is used to measure how high a Magikarp is able to jump. As your Magikarp's JP increases over time, it'll be able to overcome opponents with progressively higher JP and move on to greater Leagues. Eventually, when a Magikarp reaches its maximum level, you and your fish take one final run at the League before Magikarp settles down to enjoy its hard-earned retirement, and you'll return to the pond to fish up a new Magikarp and start over again.
Training a successful Magikarp is mostly a matter of patience, though a good sense of resource management efficiency can certainly expedite the process. At the Pond, various berries and bits of food steadily appear over time. You can click on the food to make your Magikarp eat them and gain JP. You can also spend a Training Point to randomly select one of your currently unlocked training activities for your Magikarp to participate in, which also rewards JP. Though the game is well-characterized as a hands-off pet simulator, training activities feel hit-or-miss because they're completely reliant on RNG. In the early stages of the game when only a handful of training activities are available, the random selection isn't that big an issue, but when all of the training regiments are unlocked and only the final four (or so) are somewhat viable for use, randomly rolling many invalid activities can feel like a waste of time.
Events are triggered randomly once a certain set of conditions are met, and involve one or more members of the zany cast of Magikarp Jump. Some events trigger naturally in the Pond, like when a lone Manaphy wanders by and decides to fill the screen with food. Other events happen after a hard training session, and others yet after a close League battle. Events serve a wide range of functions, from adding to Magikarp's JP to gifting free coins or even nothing at all! The real fun provided by events comes when they require a choice from the player. During these events, the game assumes a risk/reward mentality, where you can essentially gamble the well-being of your Magikarp for increased rewards. Say, for example, there's a delicious berry floating in the water. Commanding your Magikarp to eat it might give it a HUGE boost in JP, but if it's actually a trap, Magikarp could end up losing JP instead. Events like these force the player to juggle the positive and negative outcomes of each event and take risks that could potentially benefit their Magikarp. At the very least, events are usually humorous and witty, producing tongue-in-cheek chuckles and depreciative jokes (usually at the expense of poor Magikarp).
Upon successfully retiring a Magikarp at its maximum level, your Magikarp's Motivation Bonus increases by ten percent, which effects the JP gains of every successive Magikarp. A player who has raised thirty Magikarp to retirement will have a Motivation Bonus of three hundred percent, meaning their Magikarp will be earning a directly proportional amount of JP from all activities. Retiring a Magikarp will also grant the player XP, which contributes to their Trainer Rank. Earning higher Trainer Ranks allows your Magikarp to grow to higher levels, meaning their maximum JP increases and they can defeat stronger opponents. When the game first begins, conquering the first few Leagues is a simple matter of learning the basic mechanics and walking through the steps of learning to play. Once the "tutorial phase" ends, however, training a competitive Magikarp falls into a self-perpetuating cycle of raising, battling, and retiring fish after fish until your Trainer Rank increases to the point that allows Magikarp's JP to grow higher than that of its opponent. The journey is constantly steady, but can sometimes feel like a grind with no shortcuts.
Each victory in the League rewards players with coins which can be spent in the shop. Coins allow you to either purchase new types of food and new training regiments, or upgrade the potency of those you've already purchased. With coins, the process of training a new Magikarp to its maximum level becomes quicker, which, along with the Motivation Bonus, is how Magikarp Jump embraces the exponent-curve signature to the clicker genre. Every time a Magikarp retires, progress in the current League is reset, and the new Magikarp must start from the beginning. At first, slogging all the way through the ten to fifteen League battles over and over seemed like a chore, but it soon became apparent that they were the most consistent and steady source of coins and XP.
Aside from coins, Magikarp Jump runs on two other kinds of currency: the "premium" microtransaction Diamonds, and the elusive Support Candies. Diamonds, though they are able to be purchased with real money, come at a reasonably steady pace to players who don't spend any money. You can acquire large amounts of Diamonds from winning milestone League battles, from discovering new Magikarp patterns, and from succeeding in certain events. Diamonds can be spent on pond decorations which grant marginal benefits, or on Friendship Items, which allow other Pokemon to visit your pond and lend Magikarp their help on his quest to jump high. Pokemon with Friendship Items each have skills which serve different functions such as increasing Magikarp's JP or restoring Training Points. The potency of these skills is increased by spending Support Candies, which can be earned by spending coins in the shop or, once you've reached the maximum Trainer Rank (currently 63), surpassing the required XP threshold to "level up" again. The skills, while ultimately simple and transparent, add an extra layer of resource management for those willing to look for it. Otherwise, it's fun to fill your pond up with friends for Magikarp to play with.
Ultimately, Magikarp Jump is a game that's good at what it tries to achieve without taking itself seriously. It marries two similar genres of increasing mobile relevance and sheds the annoying factors of both: ridiculous, grindy curves from clickers and exclusive, freemium content from pet sims. Everything in the game is not only accessible, but easily attainable to players who don't want to spend a dime. In the modern age of mobile games, it's rare to find something like that, and that's not even mentioning the fact that you won't find a single ad anywhere in this game. It's good for keeping children entertained with its colors and simple gameplay, while meeting the more mature audience with decent clicker mechanics and nearly relentless humor. My biggest criticism of the game is its complete failure to capitalize on the opportunity to turn Training activities into short, WarioWare-style mini games, but the catchy soundtrack, genuinely entertaining gameplay, and planned future content updates make up for it. The game is simple and straightforward, just like the humble Magikarp.
Overall rating 3.5 - Better than average