Imagine everything you know about Pokemon. A character that goes around collecting other characters. Characters that have certain types granting them advantages over other types. A world where you roam up through shrubs, bushes and other characters. Towns and wild bushes to traverse through.
You know, the core tenets of the original Pokemon games. That’s Pocket Mortys, the Rick and Morty themed rip-off of the monster collector, and it’s great.
Adult Swim launched the mobile tie-in to the animated series yesterday, a day before its scheduled release. A few friends of mine, who are massive fans of the franchise, Dan Harman and Justin Roiland, immediately stopped what they were doing and proceeded to do nothing else with their time.
Pocket Mortys borrows from Pokemon so heavily that it actually functions as a love letter to the classic franchise. That makes sense given the creators: in one episode the creators openly begged for free swag from Nintendo of America, and Roiland has gone public about his love for Nintendo’s handheld consoles before.
Pocket Mortys doesn’t borrow Pokemon’s famous opening, instead opting for the garage where Rick creates most of his inventions. True to form, a portal opens and the two are interrupted by another Rick and his Morty, where you’re prompted into an all too familiar exchange.
Combat plays out almost identically to Pokemon here. You can run, switch characters, use items and pick from a range of moves to attack the opponent Morty with. Because you start as the Mortiest Morty (watch the series if you don’t understand the reference), your first Morty doesn’t have a character type and, consequently, doesn’t have a weakness.
But others do. Character types are simplified into scissors-paper-rock, which is cheekily appropriate given the humour of the series. There’s 82 to collect in total, according to the inbuilt MortyPad.
After defeating and then chasing down the offending Rick, you’re taken to the Council of Ricks where your portal gun is suspended. The suspension? For engaging in unsanctioned Morty battles. The fact that you were attacked unprovoked doesn’t seem to matter, but that’s par for the course.
To get your portal gun back, you’re asked to travel to a variety of other dimensions to collect badges. After you collect enough badges, you can challenge one of the council members — pretty straightforward stuff.
Where the Adult Swim game differs is in the simplicity, items and, being a free-to-play game, monetisation. Each dimension has a range of weaker trainers for you to beat up before tackling the dimension boss, although the levels are designed as such that you can walk around the minor battles if you want.
It doesn’t remove that element of grinding that is endemic in Pokemon, and Pocket Mortys as well. Importantly, the majority of XP goes to the Morty that knocked out the opponent, which can make things a little complicated if you’re hoping to efficiently level a lower character up.
You can combine Mortys that share the same prefix (Old, Exo-Alpha, Scruffy, Mustache, Peace and so on) to evolve them into stronger versions. Two Rabbit Mortys, for instance, would combine into an Evil Rabbit Morty with better stats.
You can find items out in the wilderness, but the main methods of acquiring them are through battles (as a reward for victory) or crafting. You’ll only discover recipes once you rub parts together, but the advantage of doing so is that once a recipe is unveiled it also becomes available for purchase in the in-game item store.
I’ve been able to ignore the freemium element in Pocket Mortys entirely, a mark of the best free-to-play games. Here it appears in the form of tickets which can be redeemed at stations, although you can also earn tickets upon defeating a council member.
Rewards include items, money and other Mortys, and given that you can combine useless Mortys into more valuable chips (or leave them at the Morty Daycare) it’s not entirely a money sink.
To really get the most out of proceedings, you’ll need to be a fan of the franchise. Otherwise you won’t get full value for money from Bird Person* flying you back to the medical centre, the cues from the background music, or the characters that appear.
But it’s not necessary. Pocket Mortys looks a treat, and it makes me wonder what a licensed Pokemon release on mobiles could look like if Nintendo ever sanctioned it. Maybe that was part of the idea when development began. There was plenty of talk about Nintendo exploring mobile releases in a more thorough form, and I could see Roiland looking at Pocket Mortys as a gentle nudge in the right direction.
But it’s the simplicity that makes it work. This is Pokemon without the need or compulsion to play for hundreds or hundreds of hours. I can even skip a large amount of the busywork if I’m so inclined, and there’s just enough depth to grease the sounds, references and characters of one of my favourite Adult Swim cartoons.
Update: Not sure why I instinctively called Bird Person Birdman there, but that’s fixed now (thanks @toddizm).