Karma is the sum of a person’s actions in this and supposed previous states of existence, a sort of tally system counting how good you were in this life and your lives before to determine how good you get in your next. Outside of Fallout: New Vegas (and probably some other RPGs I don’t remember), I’ve yet to see a game where your Karma is tracked and good Karma is rewarded. Enter KarmaZoo, where you are not only rewarded for your good and helpful deeds but also for raking in boatloads of metaphysical ‘good boy’ points, which is the entire point of the game.
KarmaZoo sees the player as a lost spirit trapped in the titular KarmaZoo. There is an escape, though your narrator says nobody has yet reached it, and all you have to do is solve a series of platforming puzzles to reach it. However, these puzzles cannot be completed alone. To unlock powerful abilities to aid you in your travels, you have to amass Karma by helping out your fellow spirits.
Essentially, the only way out of KarmaZoo is Karma. Only the best of spiritual blobs will be rewarded.
The way KarmaZoo translates this mechanically is actually really clever. You will not progress through KarmaZoo levels if you play selfishly. You actually can’t even play the game without another player, and the game highly suggests you find this play in online lobbies of 2-10 strangers.
While I understand the spiritual reasoning behind this, building a puzzle game around strangers working together often means that slower players get left in the dust. I had a few players ditch me in a lobby because I wasn’t fast enough to figure out how to move ahead in a puzzle. Ironically, I’m pretty sure that should constitute bad Karma on their part, but I don’t think the game tracks that.
Besides needing other players to play, your halo is the most apparent mechanic incentivizing teamwork in KarmaZoo. Each player has a little blob that illuminates the area around them, and as long as the blob persists, the player cannot die. Well, they can die, but they’ll be instantly reincarnated. Often, dying is helpful since it drops a tombstone that you and other players can use as a platform to progress on. The halo is also your main light source, and you can’t see what’s ahead outside of it, making progress feel treacherous.
As long as players stay near each other, the halo never vanishes. However, too much time on your own and your halo will fade. This mechanic forces players to stay close and cooperate. When puzzles require you to separate, timing it so you can solve the puzzle and get back into halo range becomes a clever and challenging mechanic all on its own. A run ends when all players have their halos snap and die, or you successfully reach the end of the Loop.
The puzzles themselves also innately require teamwork to progress. One good example is doors, perhaps the most frequent obstacle in KarmaZoo, which requires one player to stand on a button while another player walks through and does the same. Again, the timing required to keep your halos from popping is a really clever way that KarmaZoo ups the stakes on otherwise straightforward puzzles.
These puzzles differ in every level you and your partners take on in Loop mode, which is the game’s main attraction. They become increasingly complex the further you get into a run, though you might struggle more with earlier ones than later ones based on what you encounter. A personal favorite of mine (and one I was able to breeze through) was this sort of security laser puzzle level that required the team to grab keys while avoiding being spotted by the big red death beam.
Overall, I felt the puzzles in KarmaZoo were well-designed and not too hard to solve. They seem to be built well around the game’s multiplayer mechanics, and much of the difficulty comes from your ability to stay together. While the game is built around 2-10 players at a time, I felt like it really shines with two players, and with 10, I imagine it can get a little hectic. The idea of teamwork is likely defeated in 10-person lobbies, as I imagine the slowest players will be left behind. Something I had to deal with even in 2-person games.
When you solve these puzzles, which inevitably require you to do something selfless to help someone else proceed, you earn a bit of Karma. As you quickly discover, Karma is the game’s main currency, spent between matches in the Loop. Karma can be used to buy upgrades, such as a longer time before your bubble pops or new forms, which are arguably far more valuable.
See, KarmaZoo isn’t just about being a little spiritual blob. As the name implies, there is an entire zoo of 50+ forms to reincarnate into, ranging from lions and seals to lanterns and aliens. Each of these forms comes with a karma cost and has different abilities to be used in platforming, such as the Lion providing a boost to singing or the Lantern giving you light to see ahead.
Each player is allowed to bring one form into the Loop with them, adding variety to each game session. When you get into a game with 10 people, each with their own animal form, the peak puzzle-solving ingenuity (and mild chaos) can be found.
KarmaZoo as a game is a lesson in cooperation and teamwork, where you absolutely must help your fellow players proceed. This is especially true in lobbies of two, where leaving one player behind means the end of a run, unlike in 10-player lobbies where most of the team can vanish without it dooming the experience. I think the game needs a stronger emphasis on sticking around and helping those who fall behind. I had more than a few lobbies where players chose to find a new match rather than deal with my sub-par platforming and puzzle-solving skills. However, when I did find someone willing to stick it out to the end, the experience was fun, rewarding, and even a bit silly, thanks largely to the ability to shriek at the push of a button.
The Final Word
KarmaZoo is a game that requires friendliness, cooperation, and altruism to progress. While you won’t find that in every player you match up with in this online-only experience, getting the right team in KarmaZoo can be a fun, rewarding, and silly experience. While I can’t speak for my online teammates, I found the game very zen and an utterly frustration-free experience.
Try Hard Guides was provided with a PC review copy of this game. Find more detailed looks at popular and upcoming titles in the Game Reviews section of our website! KarmaZoo is available on Steam, Xbox, and Nintendo Switch.
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