Most video games suffer from high expectations. Massive build-ups, the weight of previous successful installments, fan's demands and realistically limited possibilities all come together in a perfect storm of eventual disappointment for someone.
Even if that someone isn’t you, you’re almost guaranteed to hear or read about it.
Though I understand that’s just a part of being invested in something (it happens with films and books and music as much as it does games) the relentless exposure to negativity can sometimes feel draining.
That was why the latest mobile Pokémon game Magikarp Jump was such a refreshing experience this weekend. I hadn’t expected its release, so there was no build-up; it was a mobile game, so it was naturally going to be limited in what it could offer me; and it starred the Pokémon, for which I have the least patience in the world. So I was already comfortably sitting on my last nerve and prepared to give up.
Set the bar low
Just in case I hadn’t set the bar low enough myself, the app’s description helped take things down a further notch with its own derisive incredulity: “What is this world coming to?! It's a Pokémon game all about the weakest Pokémon ever –Magikarp! […] It's famous – for being pathetically weak, unreliable, and generally useless. It can't learn any powerful moves – all it does is flop around and splash! When it flops its way too high in the sky, it's sometimes snagged by the bird Pokémon Pidgeotto – never to be seen again!”
Sounds terrible, yet there I was, lying on the sofa in the oppressive heat (more like a Slowpoke than a Magikarp) utterly invested in a game I hadn’t even expected to enjoy. It was wonderful.
Then I went online in what I imagine was some kind of self-sabotaging attempt to smother my own perplexed joy and was delighted to find that, actually, the general feeling towards the game was as positive as my own.
There are a few reasons I think Magikarp Jump is such an enjoyable game and a genuinely good Pokémon mobile game and they’re worth pointing out, particularly in light of the fact that Nintendo seems to be channeling some kind of Jigglypuff-esque drive to be noticed in mobile games and could really learn from what The Pokémon Company is doing.
Watch and learn
If you haven’t come across the game yet it stars Magikarp, a Pokémon notorious in the main video game series for being useless in battles and overly abundant in random encounters.
Here, however, the underfish is the star of the show and it’s your job to grow your Magikarp by feeding it and training it so that it can compete in jumping competitions against other Magikarp.
Doesn’t sound like much, right? Well, that’s part of what makes it so good. Magikarp Jump is simple both in terms of its controls and in the goals it sets you.
The game is clear that it’s been designed to be extremely easy for anyone to play, but that doesn’t stop it from praising you at every turn which, to be frank, feels great. It's a game that's so relentlessly nice it's hard to hate it. It's basically a form of digital self care.
It’s kind of the opposite approach to Pokémon Go which largely forces you to grind and grind without the feeling that you’re getting much reward for your efforts.
There are many things that Magikarp Jump does different from Pokémon Go that make me more inclined to turn to it for a quick feel-good Pokémon fix.
It doesn’t require that I be constantly connected to the internet; it doesn’t require to me engage with reality in any way; it leaves me with the feeling that every time I play I’m progressing to a satisfying degree; and it more effectively establishes an emotional connection between me and my Pokémon.
Nice guys jump highest
If a long week or even a long day has left you feeling drained and unappreciated at home or at work, Magikarp Jump is a great way to get some praise without exerting much more effort.
The encouragement of the underdog is part of something bigger I really love about Magikarp Jump, though, and that’s how it manages to capture the positive spirit of the original Pokémon anime and games with the deftness of a Master ball.
At some point or another we’ve all felt like a bit of a Magikarp, but this game shows that even when you do feel useless, pointless and annoying not everyone will see you that way and it’s important to try and be the best that you can be and make the most of what you’ve got because you still have value.
Ash Ketchum might want to be a Pokémon Master but throughout the anime his companions want to follow other paths and they’re not made to appear any less valuable or talented as trainers as a result.
The familiar RPG game elements are present in Magikarp Jump – welcoming you to the world of Pokémon, setting you up with your starting Magikarp and introducing you to the competitive league and the concept of training to succeed.
However, there are little important feel-good extras – your Magikarp’s jump power, for example, can be boosted by other Pokémon cheering it on from the sidelines.
Another thing is the bond the game encourages between you and your Magikarp, a bond that’s made especially bittersweet by the fact that you know you won’t be able to keep your Magikarp forever, whether because it retires or because it’s stolen away by a hungry Pidgeot.
In the time you’re together you feel extra incentive to keep your Magikarp healthy and safe so that it can have some success in what could be a potentially very short life.
Basically, if you’re feeling a little run down or a little lacking in motivation this week why not try a short game of Magikarp Jump? Keep your expectations at the bottom of the pond and you might find you feel a little more positive very quickly.