Generally when you think of roguelikes, you picture painfully difficult games that can take thousands of repetitions before actually making any progress. This genre is the perfect metaphor for the life of the lowly Magikarp, the weak Pokemon that can’t catch a break even in its scathing Pokedex entries. Since the titular fish of Magikarp Jump can only bounce, the goal is to train up one to jump as high as possible. Actually beating the game requires a bit of repetition, mimicking other portable rogue-likes.
Randomness is the main way any rogue-like will keep things from getting too monotonous. Magikarp Jump puts it’s own spin on this by having 34 different events, with many that can happen any time after the player finishes an activity. These events can range from getting some extra currency to extreme high risk/high reward situations. The more harrowing events are clearly dangerous, making the gamble more of the player’s choice than a way for the app to take more money. Every load screen becomes an exciting opportunity to roll the dice and hope your Magikarp doesn’t bump into an exploding Voltorb, rather than a moment that might make them bored. Players are actually encouraged to take these chances as each Magikarp has a level cap. At the end of this cap the fish is forced to jump until it can’t win anymore and then it retires, forever becoming a decoration drifting in the aquarium. Raising the Magikarp isn’t a total waste of time as the resources gained aren’t lost afterward.
Both the food and training that Magikarp partakes in can be upgraded to help with the next run, taking cues from the likes of Rogue Legacy to give players a creeping sense of omnipotence. Magikarp Jump even copies the passing of progress through generations, with each new Magikarp being slightly better than the last. The game is split into 3 different modes, giving players reason to check their phone almost hourly. This game design can be addictive as it doles out a ton of smaller rewards between bigger accomplishments in order to maintain the player’s attention. Even events that kill off your powered up Magikarp aren’t too much of a setback since they add to the trainer’s overall experience. Each level the trainer receives allows them to fish for better Magikarp, creating a constant feedback loop that would make other free-to-play games blush.
Surprisingly all the unlockable content isn’t hidden behind a paywall, allowing players to get it the old-fashioned way. In fact the game consistently reminds players of this with a screen whenever the app is started. Even if someone tries to pay their way to victory, they still need to play the game a bit to see many of the events. Some of these events have strange requirements, like tapping on Magikarp a ton to evolve it or breaking the tv to encounter a ghost. There are also timers in the game that can’t be paid away, making the game perfect for killing time in small chunks.
Magikarp Jump shares the same pick-up and play aspect that games like Spelunky and The Binding of Isaac used to entice people. The simple controls emulates these other rogue-likes, making it easier to hook people and reel them in before they have a chance to get away. While many other free-to-play games follow a similar formula, Magikarp Jump can be completed without spending any real money, using the micro-transactions as a way to mimic “good runs” in normal rogue-likes.
One of the distinctive elements of a rogue-like is the procedural generation of levels. Exploring the layout of each level is part of the fun, with each run feeling different than the next. The more memorable moments are always kept static though, with the game’s introduction and bosses staying steadfast in deliberate design. Magikarp Jump follows this same formula, keeping the random away from the league battles that serve as the boss battles for the game. If the journey is the only thing that needs to be random to be a rogue-like then Magikarp Jump easily fits the bill.
Magikarp Jump has made the weakest Pokemon a powerful companion. The novelty of trying the train the most pathetic Pokemon is the hook that can catch the attention of anyone taking a break from Pokemon Go.There’s a surprising amount of depth to jumping fish like they’re the last good handball on the playground, with different patterns and situations to keep things interesting. It’s perfect for introducing people to the concept of rogue-likes, which to the casual gamer can sound more like the trial of Sisyphus than a fun way to spend an afternoon. With genres like these it can be better to ease people into it and it helps that Magikarp Jump stars such a lovable underdog.
Magikarp Jump was developed by Select Button Inc. and published by The Pokémon Company. It is available for iOS and Android.
Kevin Slackie likes to play videogames and ride motorcycles though not at the same time. You can follow him on Twitter.