Free-to-play games often look appealing, but it’s difficult to know at a glance whether the business model is insidious and fun ruining, or reasonable and worth pumping a few bucks into. With Freemium Field Test, we’ll take a recent free-to-play iOS game, put it through its paces, and let you know if it’s really worth your time (and money).

Of all the many hundreds of Pokémon available in the monster-catching franchise today, the lowly Magikarp remains one of the least appreciated. The dopey-looking orange fish have bulging eyes and slacked jaws, and really can’t do a whole lot. But they can jump, apparently, and it’s enough to earn the creatures their very own iOS game.

Pokémon: Magikarp Jump is in on the joke, clearly acknowledging how goofy it is that such a useless monster would have its own competitive game—but the competition isn’t very active. You’ll train the fish to jump and then watch the proceedings unfold after a tap, but even training requires zero interaction. It’s like a super-streamlined version of a “clicker” game, but even as a Pokémon fan, I found it overly simplified to the point of tedium. 

The pitch


You’ll need to chomp all the food in sight to grow big and strong.

Magikarp Jump gets off to a fun start, especially when the town’s mayor (named Karp!) tells you that their “Magikarp are more like Tragikarp these days.” The town’s awkward fish just aren’t holding their own in jumping competitions anymore, and it’ll be you, young trainer, that will guide them back to leaping supremacy in league after league.

And so begins the routine. You’ll tap on pieces of food in your tank to gobble them up, which boosts your power and helps you grow in size. Also, you’ll train to further improve your skills—but much like the jumping, that’s also just a matter of tapping a button and watching what happens. Even so, it’s funny to see your Magikarp flop furiously against a punching bag, and the colorful, cartoonish look is really endearing here.

Still, without any real in-game interaction, the actual jumping competitions turn tiring in a hurry. You’ll tap the button, see the fish leap into the air, and then find out which one ultimately leapt the highest. If it’s your fish, then you’ll continue on to the next battle and do it all over again. And if it’s the other fish, then you can go back to training—unless you’ve maxed out that Magikarp’s top level, in which case it automatically retires and you’ll start all over again with a younger fish.

fft pokemon magikarp jumpMacworld

Tap the button and hope you’re strong enough to prevail.

This actually happens with startling frequency. Granted, over time, you’ll unlock Magikarp that can reach higher power levels, thus allowing them to notch better leaps and push ahead into tougher league battles. Still, having that hard cap on each Magikarp’s career really limits the fun, and just as you start making progress, you’ll have to start all over again. 

And there are painful moments along the way, too. You’ll run into random encounters where you have a chance to take home some free coins or diamonds—or alternatively bring about your Magikarp’s untimely death. It’s true! I told my Magikarp to leap into a tree to snag an item, but a Pidgeotto swooped down and carried it away forever. It’s heartbreaking stuff. On the upside, however, I have a Pikachu hanging around my pool and giving my Magikarp occasional training bonuses, so you have to take the good with the bad.

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