It’s no secret that online gaming has acquired a less-than positive reputation over the years. We’ve all seen, heard, and possibly told jokes about how some popular competitive online game have a toxic community, but who says that has to be the only kind of experience you can have with an online game? Well, if you’re looking for a more friendly online experience, developer Pastagames and publisher Devolver Digital have the title that you have been looking for. KarmaZoo is a multiplayer platformer with roguelike elements that is focused on helping players spread love and good karma all around the world.
KarmaZoo offers players two different modes of play: loop and totem. Loop is the primary focus of the game, and it will match players with 9 other people at random and put them in a randomly-generated level that they must work together in order to overcome. The loop’s puzzles perfectly balance the complexity it needs to be challenging and fun to solve and the simplicity players need to quickly intuit their mechanics. I also believe that the simplicity of the puzzles is to help compensate for the lack of a voice chat, and while I am tempted to criticize the game for lacking this feature, I am fully aware that the voice chat of a game can be a hostile place. If Pastagames aimed to create a multiplayer game about spreading positivity online, then this omission is understandable, and I think it’s executed well, overall.
Of course, that isn’t me saying that KarmaZoo isn’t difficult. It is still a roguelike, after all. While the game does feature traps like spike pits or acid as obstacles, it doesn’t handle player death in the same way other games of the genre might. Heck, dying to these traps doesn’t kick you out of the loop. It merely spawns a tombstone that can act as a temporary platform for the team to use to overcome that obstacle (which is a very fun element of gameplay). Instead, players have an aura around them that grows stronger and larger if they’re near other players. This aura ensures that players can respawn after death, and it also lights up areas in the loop. If players split up, the aura grows smaller and will start to shrink. If that aura fully shrinks, then the player will die permanently and the run ends. The gameplay loop becomes a race against time where players must solve puzzles and stick together to fend off the ever-encroaching threat of annihilation, and that is a very fun twist on the usual roguelike gameplay formula.
As players help each other in the loop, they will accrue a resource called “karma”. Karma can be used in the hub area to unlock permanent upgrades to take into future runs (this is a roguelike, after all) alongside unlocking new statues to possess and play as in the runs. There are a lot of statues to unlock, and each one has unique abilities that can affect the player’s platforming abilities or grant another unique skill. These offer a lot more gameplay variety as players can use them to change their playstyles and establish a helpful niche in the group on their next run.
Totem is KarmaZoo’s second, more party game-esque mode for players to enjoy, and it offers four games to enjoy. In these, players will race to be the first one to get to a totem in the form of one of the game’s statues. The game’s physics feel good enough so that the platforming is satisfying in a competitive race format. It’s a straightforward mode, and the joy of it really comes from the fun of inviting a couple friends over and having a fun time with the people close to you. Unfortunately, if you wanted to play totem mode online with strangers as you would loop mode, you can’t. You can only play totem mode either in couch co-op or by creating a private lobby. The random matchmaking used in the loop mode is not used here.
Similarly, you cannot play loop with couch co-op. You can only play it with random matchmaking or private lobbies. Heck, you can’t even play it with AI partners even though the game’s tutorial gives you one. While this feels like a nitpick, I can’t help but feel as though it punishes some players that might have poor internet connections or a lack of friends able to play this game by locking off large parts of it.
Still, KarmaZoo is an endlessly fun, incredibly charming game that rarely, if ever, ceases to entertain. Despite my disappointment at the gameplay modes’ limitations, those criticisms come from a place of worry about the people that might not get to experience all that KarmaZoo has to offer. I can easily give this game a 9/10, and I will definitely still be playing this long after this review is done.
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Related: Reviews by Josh Freeman