What is ‘Magikarp Jump,’ the Latest Pokemon Smartphone Obsession?

Don’t expect the latest mobile game from “Pokemon” to be the hit of the summer

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The Pokemon Company

There’s a new Pokemon game that’s invading smartphones, following the ludicrous popularity of last summer’s breakout hit, “Pokemon Go.” It’s called “Magikarp Jump,” and there’s a good chance if you’re interested in the gaming world or know Pokemon mega-fans, you might have heard of it.

What you might not have heard is what exactly “Magikarp Jump” is all about.

While it’s a spin-off of the same uber-popular gaming brand as “Pokemon Go,” don’t expect “Magikarp Jump” to have droves of people taking to the streets in search of virtual pikachus and charmanders. The new title falls into more traditional mobile game territory. It trades the “augmented reality” ideas of “Pokemon Go,” which uses your phone’s camera to overlay virtual characters on real-world settings, for a more casual, tap-focused and time-killing design.

For those wondering what people are talking about with this weird new Pokemon fish obsession, here’s a crash course.

The idea of “Magikarp Jump” is to focus on one of the sadder and more maligned Pokemon creatures — the Magikarp, a big, mostly useless fish. In the “Pokemon” world, which revolves around catching creatures known as Pokemon and battling them with other Pokemon trainers, the only thing Magikarp is really good for is “evolving” it into the much more formidable sea serpent Gyarados. In “Pokemon Go,” that means catching about 100 useless Magikarps before players earn the resources they need to get its much better counterpart.

“Magikarp Jump” makes a joke out of the fish’s reputation. It’s based on the idea that the fish, when flopping around on land, is actually a pretty great jumper. So players train Magikarps to compete in jumping competitions, where they can earn prizes that can be used to upgrade their training materials to make even higher-jumping Magikarps.

The basic premise, then, is tapping on stuff to make your Magikarp stronger. “Training” your Magikarp includes grabbing food for your Magikarp as it swims around its pond, and then taking it to training activities where you can tap the screen rapidly to try to get it to work out as hard as possible. Both things increase its JP, or “jump power,” to make it fly ever higher in the air.

The majority of “Magikarp Jump” gameplay is tapping away at food to feed your Pokemon, and bringing it along for training. Like most “free-to-play” games like this and “Pokemon Go,” lots of elements run on timers that make players wait to engage. You can only train your Magikarp three times before you have to wait for “training points” to replenish, for instance.

Once your Magikarp has reached jumping strength, you can take it to compete against other computer-controlled trainers in an attempt to climb the ranks of various leagues. This mostly amounts to preparation — if your Magikarp has higher JP than its opponent, you’ll generally be successful. The trouble is, you don’t know how much JP other Magikarps have until you face them in leaping battle.

Training Magikarps also causes them to “level up” to a certain threshold. It basically means that every Magikarp has a JP ceiling and, once it reaches it, the fish can’t get any better at jumping. When that happens, you automatically compete with your fish until you lose, and then your Magikarp is retired to hang around in your pond while you fish for a newer, better one to train. It goes on and on like that.

The best part of “Magikarp Jump” is its set of “random encounters” that can take place after you take your Magikarp to a training session or a competition. These often include people telling you how great you are and giving you coins that can be spent on increasing the effectiveness of your fish food or training activities. But sometimes, they require important decisions.

In one event, for example, you and your Magikarp come across a tree full of berries. If you let your fish jump up and try to grab one, you can get a major boost to its JP. But there’s risk involved, too. While your fish might nab a berry that makes it stronger, it might also attract a bird that can swoop down and carry off your fish for dinner. Yup. In this kids’ game, your beloved fish Pokemon can get murdered by the laws of nature.

If you’re wondering if “Magikarp Jump” is the new “Pokemon Go”-esque game craze you’re going to be dealing with, either as a breathless fan or as an exasperated observer, the answer is: probably not. Though it’s a fun distraction, it’s pretty unlikely that “Magikarp Jump” is going to take off the way the last “Pokemon” title did. It lacks a lot of the social possibilities that made “Pokemon Go” interesting, as well as the impetus to get out in the real world and play it in real places.

But, at least, if you find yourself waiting in line for a sandwich and see people ahead watching orange fish fly through the air on their phones, you’ll know what’s going on.