Magikarp Jump Spins a Pet Death Revisionist Fantasy

Magikarp Jump Spins a Pet Death Revisionist Fantasy

Like that time your parent said your dog went off to retire on a farm.

Have you ever lost a pet as a kid? Like as a really young kid, when your parents wanted to shelter you from the concept of death? I have. I remember my betafish turning upside down in their bowl. I remember my mom ushering me out of the room, flushing the deceased fish down the toilet, and later telling me the betafish went back to the ocean to be with their big fish friends. Right.

I’ve become surprisingly enamored by Magikarp Jump, a new free-to-play mobile game for iOS and Android from the Pokémon Company that shifts its direct focus to the flopping fish. Unlike the augmented reality-enabled Pokémon Go, at first blush Magikarp Jump seems just like most clicker-hybrid mobile games: you tap your screen a lot with some simple goal in mind. In Magikarp Jump, the goal is to raise your adored fish Pokémon well—through feeding, training, loving—and lead them to victory on the League trail, where they battle and eventually attain badges. And after that, they basically die. Or as the game says, “retire.” Sounds familiar.

Magikarp Jump doesn’t have Pokémon battles, at least not in the traditional sense. Instead, Magikarp are pit against another Magikarp, where they both leap sky-high into the air before plummeting down into the earth to create a Magikarp shaped hole. A Magikarp’s worth is measured by how high they jump. The stronger they are (accumulated by an adequate JP rating that grows with training, random events, and food), the higher they leap. Sometimes they win victoriously. Other times they fail, even their full potential not being enough.

A Magikarp can meet their end prematurely. This comes mostly in the form of undeterminable events: happenings that you have little-to-no control over (such as, should you leap for the fruit on that tree and potentially exhaust the Magikarp?). A Pidgeotto can swoop in after a training session, and snatch the fish away unexpectedly. Leaving you, the trainer, left to sadly fish for a new friend.

The random event deaths account for the reality we face when a pet dies. I remembered my first realization of my pets’ mortality when my cat murdered my hamster as a kid. I was devastated. For the first time, I truly felt like an animal close to me was taken from me too soon. We buried the hamster in a shoebox in our tiny apartment patio. (I wonder if it’s still there.) And then we moved on.

After the Pidgeotto seemingly consumed a Magikarp, the trainer is left alone again. Their sunset stroll before fishing a new generation is alone now. Our trainer is sad; partially embarrassed that they allowed the Magikarp to make such an amateur mistake. (Jumping out of competition in the open? Never again. There are predators abound.) It’s that realization that sometimes a Magikarp won’t flop gently into the sunset into a life of retirement. Or they won’t die of simple old age, as many pets do. Sometimes they die in horrible, cruel ways, and there’s nothing you can do about it, but mourn.

But in most cases, though, your Magikarp will opt for retirement after a particularly gruesome failure, or after defeating a league. Together you stroll into the sunset, Magikarp in arms, as you bid farewell. Your journey together is told through stats: how many times you flopped against punching bags in training, experienced random events, and so on. After that, your Magikarp flops away, only to be seen again in the background of your claustrophobic fish tank. While they are enjoying freedom from the tank, your newest generation is trapped within it, the future generations taunting them in the background. In a way, the ghost of your Magikarps’ past will always haunt you, rearing their fins as a reminder of your loss.

The Magikarps remind me of the cruelty experienced by Greyhounds, a breed of dogs commonly bred to race. In the United States, while 40 states now ban the practice, Greyhounds still sprint in the strenuous races elsewhere. Racing takes a toll on the hounds. When they start losing races, they’re forced into “retirement,” breeding farms, or sometimes go unaccounted for entirely, raising worry. The international industry is also plagued with the premature deaths of the racing dogs.

Editor's pick

Pokemon Company Surprises With Magikarp Jump For Mobile

Retirement for the animals often comes in the form of animal rescues, where people can adopt the long-legged pups. As a result, Greyhounds are astoundingly timid. Their lives once fielded worth by running on a track, then later settled down to enjoy the warmth of human companionship, saved from the life they never asked for to begin with. I hope the Magikarps, the “retired” ones anyway, experience this type of cozy freedom. But something tells me it’s all a facade.

Magikarp Jump positions a sort of revisionist fantasy, like the ones parents often spin to kids when a beloved pet passes away. Magikarps can be taken away by Pidgeottos, or retire when they stop winning competitive leaps. In another sense, the training we put the Magikarps through is gruesome: slapping them against punching bags, or jumping upwards to hit a button to tally their jump count. The Magikarp has no say in this life we’ve chosen for them after fishing them out of a pond. Sometimes, I think, the Magikarp would be more content with having a splash, and nothing happening.

Sometimes we include links to online retail stores. If you click on one and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. See our terms & conditions.

Caty McCarthy

Features Editor

Caty McCarthy is a former freelance writer whose work has appeared in Kill Screen, VICE, The AV Club, Kotaku, Polygon, and IGN. When she's not blathering into a podcast mic, reading a book, or playing a billion video games at once, she's probably watching Terrace House or something. She is currently USgamer's official altgame enthusiast.

Read this next

Mysterious New Pokemon Mobile Game Revealed by Job Listing

I'm hoping for a game that lets you wander a nuclear wasteland as a well-armed and battle-hardened Bidoof.

The Best Mobile Games for iOS and Android

From smartphones to tablets, these are the best games you can get on your iOS and Android devices.

Far Cry 5 Sets the Heartland Aflame, Magikarp Uses "Jump," and the Rest of This Week's Headlines

ENDING CREDITS | Taking a look a back at this week's headlines and everything else you might have missed on USgamer.

Pokemon Company Surprises With Magikarp Jump For Mobile

Magikarp is the hero we need and deserve.

What's The Coolest Video Game Collector's Item You Own?

COMMUNITY QUESTION | Let's talk about the cool stuff on our bookshelves.

"Stadia Nailed the Impossible, and Then Failed the Possible"

THIS WEEK IN BUSINESS | A time of technological transitions for companies like Google, Valve, Game Freak, Microsoft, Sony, and more.

More Analyses

A Fresh Look at New Super Mario Bros. U on Switch: Does it Measure Up to the Classics?

Where does New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe rank alongside Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World?

The State of Destiny 2 After Forsaken: A Game That Can't Shake Its Troubles

Forsaken was a solid start, but it wasn't enough to pull everyone back.

Sorry Pokemon Fans, Your Gold-Plated Cards from Burger King Aren't Worth Squat

Burger King's Pokemon cards from 1999 look kind of nice and they're fun to remember, but they're barely worth the cost of a milkshake.

More on Android

Amazon Will Reportedly Announce a Cloud Gaming Service Next Year

Google, Sony, Microsoft, and soon, Amazon.

How to Complete the Fortnite Pipeman, Hayman, Timber Tent Locations Challenge

Here's how you can complete the Fortnite challenge to dance in front of the pipeman, hayman, and timber tent locations.

Path of Exile 2 Just Got Announced, and It's Already Throwing Jabs at Diablo

We've got a tussle for the loot game spotlight on our hands.

Project xCloud’s Preview Selection Makes Stadia’s Launch Lineup Look Tiny

Dozens of games are coming for testers of Microsoft's game streaming service.

Several Big Google Stadia Features Won't Go Live Until 2020

Family sharing, Android compatibility, and more are missing the launch window.