"Wubba Lubba Dub Dub", Rick Sanchez cries as he extends a hand to block the blaring sun. Silhouetted in its warm embrace is a half-bird, half-man named Birdperson. Rick and his Mortys are saved.
To any who doesn't watch Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon's Rick and Morty on Adult Swim, that snippet above will seem like a piece of bad millennial fiction. But fans of Rick and Morty are the primary players of the new mobile game, Pocket Mortys. Taking story cues from the tenth episode of Season One, players control Rick Sanchez as he battles against aliens and Ricks from parallel universes to win back his portal gun from the Rick Council (a regulating body of Ricks that this Rick enjoys ignoring).
What follows is a Pokémon-inspired game utilizing the shorter lead character: Morty. According to the game's thin plot, Mortys have become separated from their Ricks, and everyone has caught on to the Pokémon craze of catching and battling them for prizes. Naturally anyone genre savvy enough will have already figured out that you battle each Rick Council member for a badge. Collect all Council badges and you will retrieve your portal gun and return home.
As a clone of Nintendo's hit series, I'm actually fond of the simplified systems that Big Pixel Studios used in crafting their mobile monster catcher. As the Pokémon series has grown, it has unfortunately put on weight. As of today, the series has over seven hundred creatures to capture; this has left a sour taste in my mouth. As a result, Pokémon's Types - properties that define their attacks, strengths, and weaknesses - has become bloated to the point that I need to reference a chart for basic play.
Pocket Mortys says 'screw all that' and introduces a familiar childhood system - Rock, Paper, Scissors - to the battle screen. (Insider Tip: The Among Elusions team uses this tried-and-true decider all the time.) I'm sure I don't have to explain to you how it works. This is a video game, though, so your Rick is the only trainer with a special Morty, the original fourteen-year-old boy who has no 'Type' and can fight evenly against any threat.
Until he loses all health and becomes dazed. In everyone's favorite Japanese monster battler, the simplest fix to an exhausted party is a quick run back to the healing center. The same is true for your legion of Mortys, but the game tacks on a dumbfounding caveat. You see, because Rick has lost his portal gun, he cannot exit the battle dimensions he travels to by any player choice.
Instead, Big Pixel Studios elected to have the player force a total defeat for your five Mortys in order to return to the Galactic Town Center. 'Why was this the system chosen?' I ask myself every time Birdperson flies down to rescue me yet again in an unskippable cutscene. It defies logical game design to not allow the player to rest up and try again. Instead, you must fail - and fail hard - to get a chance to revive your party. Luckily, there is no consequence for this, but Pokémon didn't have much of a consequence either (to my failing recollection).
I imagine that unlike a lot of our audience (namely, people who play a wide variety of games) I'm in the minority for enjoying the level grind that Pokémon and Pocket Mortys require to make your party stronger. But the inability to rest your team by choice makes even this grind a chore. You need to fight and defeat trainers until your Morty reaches a comfortable level fit to battle the next Rick Council member. But now you're forced to fight an unwinnable battle to KO all your party members.
There are items available to keep your Mortys fighting. As with your standard RPG, you have your healing items and your revives. You're given stat boosters for the ultra-lame fun inherent in deciding whether to use it now or save it for an endgame Morty. You can buy items using Schmeckles (another episode reference) at any point from your menu screen, which begs the question of why reviving isn't available as well. Sure, it'd be broken. But now there's a shop in town that I never use because it's right in my menu.
Okay. Breathe in. Breathe out. Let's keep going.
Winning battles and finding loot caches in the battle dimensions gives you currency, but the items initially appear in the shop at very high costs. When I sat down to write this, I had just reached five grand in-game, which now feels like enough to buy items at leisure.
To balance the early game expenses, you can find crafting items in the environment and make free stuff instead of spending precious Schmeckles on a purchase. Which means, yes, this game has continued the 2015 Year of Crafting in Video Games. Using an in-game kiosk, you are given three slots to place an item to craft, but the game will tell you when certain combinations work. Better still, they tell you exactly what you're going to get before you make it, and the recipe is saved to a menu for future viewing.
But, I have a complaint. When you add an item, the game fades to black for a few moments and loads your inventory. This happens every time you tap to add an item, which means testing out all your items to find all possible combinations takes more time than I have patience for. On top of that, you can't just click on a known recipe and auto-craft it. Each time I want to create a Morty Manipulator (think Pokéballs), I have to first combine a Battery and some Turbulent Juice to make a Superpowered Battery, which I then have to combine with a Circuit Board and a Tin Can. That's five different times the game has to load for an item I can buy for 500 Schmeckles.
At this point in the game, I just want to spend the money and save my time.
I've mentioned the Morty Manipulator now, so I think it's fair to talk about the biggest sell: taming wild Mortys. Pocket Mortys drops far more trainers into a level than wandering fourteen-year-old boys, so it feels like a rarity to come across one. It's never quite clear based on your starting money and the price of Manipulators if you are supposed to spend time 'Catching them all!', but Pocket Mortys places more focus on another system: Combining.
When you tame two of the same Mortys and choose to fuse them, you are given a new, stronger Morty of the same Type. This comes with an increase in health and strength for your party, so I'm led to believe the game wants you to focus on your favorites rather than have you fill up your Mortydex with entries.
Pocket Mortys demands that you train hard. Unlike Pokémon's trainers which slightly wear down your party on the way to a boss fight or new town, trainers in this mobile monster-catcher bear the brute strength of the toughest badge holders in the game. To fight every trainer in a dimension is to submit yourself to defeat against the area boss. Adding salt to the wound, dying and returning back through the dimensional portal in town drops you in a new randomly-generated environment where none of the trainers you've faced have been defeated.
'Why are you still playing this game?' you might ask me. It seems completely unfair, right? Well, Pocket Mortys was developed with an understanding that this is unfair. In each pocket dimension, there is a path you can take around trainers, bypassing the need to fight them at all. I've played levels that have had a clear path straight to the badge fight with my party at full strength. Combined with no penalty for losing, it washes away the mild frustrations I have with the game's design. It's almost like Rick is telling me to cheat my way through, that there will be a way around these unfair situations.
I'd be petty not to mention that the game does feature those dreaded micro-transactions that mobile studios have latched onto as a money maker. Contrary to the unfortunate norm, it's not intrusive and I am fully in support of it. After every Council battle, you are given a 1 Free Morty Coupon (References. References everywhere) to use in carnival-style toy machines. A few turns of the crank and out pops a new Morty and a ton of useful items. Now, I've not put money into the game, so I've only gathered three coupons.
But Big Pixel Studios hasn't put any ads in the game. [Corey's Note: The game does allow you watch ads for Schmeckles and Johnny completely missed it. It's framed off of the Interdimensional TV episode, so it gets a pass.] Honestly, I feel a little guilty not throwing them a couple of bucks here. They've made a Rick and Morty game I didn't know I wanted and I have been playing since launch. No ads, no need to really buy coupons. They've even avoided obnoxiously reminding you that they're selling digital items for money, which other developers can't seem to resist.
So should you put money into this free game? I don't know. That's up to you. Should you play it? I think so. As a fan of the show, I'm giving this my thumbs up. If you don't watch the show, you may not understand the appeal. That's not an insult against non-viewers; on the surface, I'm aware that the game is pretty basic.
Download it and find out for yourself. Give it a try. And don't forget, if it seems like the game is getting too difficult, just shout out 'Wubba Lubba Dub Dub'.
But not at work. Don't do that, you crazy person.
- Johnny Toxin