When you think of whether or not a game is good or not, usually this entails analyzing the details of what’s actually in the game. Strangely enough for Pocket Mortys I found myself more consumed with what isn’t part of the game but I’m getting ahead of myself. Pocket Mortys is an adventure game starring the characters from the show Rick and Morty. The game lovingly rips off the tried and true Pokemon formula where you play as Rick, a maverick mad scientist who drags his hapless grandson Morty across different dimensions. Along the way, you encounter different versions of each character: “wild” Morty variants who’ve lost their Rick who you can capture, evolve and train as well as a variety of alien trainers eager to battle their squad of Mortys against yours.
Pocket Mortys is a game of paradoxes. On a symbolic level it’s quite well done: it does a good job poking fun at the absurd tenets of the Pokemon world. The whole idea of wounding and enslaving creatures then having them fight each other like gladiators is gleefully subverted into a Grand Theft Auto-level of satire which permeates the experience. Mortys are constantly in pain and nearly all visibly unhappy, Rick’s motivational abuse during battle, rampant references and callbacks all pepper the world with a zany richness. Despite this, the writing which is so on point for the show declined to make an appearance. The plot is wafer-thin, the characters are varied visually but painfully generic in dialogue and everything short of the buried flavor text is cut and dried. It’s disappointing to have these characters who are so developed and interesting in the show become nothing more than veneer to attract a fanbase in this game.
Speaking of the immersion/visual elements, the creators should be credited with faithfully recreating the art style and feel of the show. The Morty and Rick variations are visually fun and it feels like it’s a part of that world. That being said, the developers really missed an opportunity when it comes to Morty evolutions. You do this by combining two of the same Morty but the possibilities would have been immense if you could put different ones together. Also, there are only a few simple animations for battle attacks. The game is a grind but nothing makes me feel the abrasion more than watching the same basic animation for moves ranging from “scratching post” to “mind meld”.
There’s still a lot of depth to be had: the meta layers of reference and satire are strong, the Mortys variation are numerous, creative and visually distinctive. The game does well to incorporate the addictive elements of Pokemon while making fun of it. But, like a swimming pool, there are shallow ends and diving into those can get painful. I think the rock-paper-scissors system type system does well enough; while it’s not entirely intuitive what type a given Morty is, it’s adequate if a bit simple. However, the procedurally generated worlds you travel through are only superficially different and become rote very quickly. The items/quest/crafting elements are even worse. The majority of the items which can be crafted from materials found in the word are used for delivery quests in the main hub. Someone complains about how they need energy for their thing and you give them a battery you made. On its own that would just be uninspired but the actual act of crafting items, to quote Rick, is “a real big thorn straight up into my ass.” You have no real frame of reference so you initially use a handful of basic items to MacGyver possible combinations with. Seeing as how you’re a mad scientist I’m fine with this, but how different items come together makes no sense. For instance, to make the Pokeball-esque Morty manipulation chip, apparently the use of a bacterial cell that controls other organisms is not needed but a tin can is. Items also need to be individually added to the combining machine -even when you know the recipe- so the process of making each item is a glacial chore. It’s a cool idea that made no intuitive sense and is a tedious pain whose rewards didn’t merit the effort.
The final paradox is the difficulty. For the most part the difficulty curve is good. There were times I was really challenged, which among mobile games is a big plus. That being said, I became aware of another glaring void when all my Mortys became knocked out. The Rick and Morty universe is a dark place. People die, marriages are broken, Rick is a depraved and depressed sociopath and has dragged his grandkids (where are Summer and Beth by the way?) straight into the thick of morally bankrupt alien worlds . Despite this, when you lose all your Mortys you get airlifted back to the main hub where the game pats you on the head and brings the enemy level down a few pegs without telling you. Perhaps it’s overly idealistic to ask for a relaxed mobile game for harsh rogue-like penalties but if it was going to be implemented somewhere, this is the place to do it. Having a mechanism like other trainers insulting you for your loss would’ve been awesome but more tested penalties like losing badges or money would’ve been something. This supposedly bleak world that you exist in sadly betrays the excellent atmosphere the name bestows. No consequences other than wasting your valuable time means there are no stakes, no drama, no involvement, just frustrated disappointment.
Aside from the infuriating time spent at the crafting station, Pocket Mortys was largely enjoyable as is. It borrows the investment and adventure of Pokemon whilst mocking the absurdities, has some creative flairs and is decent from a gameplay standpoint. It is far from perfect however and I’m unsure whether the fact that the spots needing improvement were so evident to me is good or bad. Pocket Mortys has the foundation to be a truly fantastic mobile game, which not many games can boast. Sadly, it sorely neglected the details needed to truly ascend. If the developers had put more time and effort fleshing out the writing, mechanics and animations (perhaps morphing it into a substantial paid release) it could have been a quality addition to the Rick and Morty universe. Instead the game is much like Morty himself, a well-intentioned but awkward, underdeveloped and bumbling sidekick to a much greater entity.
If you want a great Rick and Morty adventure game with a Pokemon-like elements, you could do worse than this game, but it really could have been better.