One thing I love about Pokémon Sun and Moon – and something Kat and I have discussed often about the games on Axe of the Blood God – is how Alola genuinely feels like a land where humans and Pokémon live together as friends and partners. Pokémon aren't merely pets that are primarily used to kick a few bucks out of preschoolers. They have clear, defined places in Alolan society.
I've been expecting / hoping the next major Pokémon game release will recapture Sun and Moon's comradery between human and Pokémon. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that same bizarre but compelling bond in Magikarp Jump, a free-to-play mobile game released earlier this week.
Magikarp Jump isn't a typical Pokémon title, though. Sure, you nab yourself some Pokémon – but in this case, only Magikarp are up for grabs. Then you train your Magikarp up to be a champion. But since Magikarp are the Pokémon universe's weakest, most helpless species, there's no fighting involved. Instead, the Magikarp are trained to jump as high as possible, and then they're pit against other high-jumpers.
The training process is a little more complicated than it sounds. Victory is a long game that involves raising multiple generations of Magikarp, and careers are often cut short by hungry Pigeottos who, unfortunately, know Magikarp suck at fighting for their own existence. Magikarp Jump is addictive, it's funny, and it's kind of sweet in its own way.
Magikarp Jump's opening sequence demonstrates how all Pokémon have value to people, even when said Pokémon are as pathetic and inedible as Magikarp. You name your 'karp, you carry it to jumping events like a baby dog, you train with it, and you go on long walks together (if nothing else, Magikarp deserves kudos for its abilities to flop on hot concrete for hours at a time with no ill effects).
Magikarp Jump is seemingly based in a corner of the Pokémon universe that's teeming with the fish, and instead of complaining about the crummy hand biodiversity dealt to them, the nearby villagers make the best of things by organizing their life around Magikarp. There are other Pokémon – they can become friends with your 'karp and give them a morale boost during competitions – but your character and your hometown are all about that Magikarp life. As you compete, you even gain fans and admirers, and you receive accolades for fishing up Magikarp that bear unique color patterns.
Now, I may be fooling myself. These leaping Magikarp may actually live the short, nasty lives of greyhounds and racehorses, and I'm just turning a blind eye. But I can't bring myself to believe it. I believe in friendship and trust. Well, I want to believe in it.
I don't know if The Pokémon Company had anything other than a tongue-in-cheek Pokémon simulator in mind when it put together Magikarp Jump. But whether it meant to or not, this cute little app gives us another welcome peek into the weird but interesting ways Pokémon and humans exist together.