KarmaZoo Hands-on Preview – A new breed of cooperative gaming

Posted on April 21, 2023

Arriving from Paris indie development studio Pastagames and publishing label Devolver Digital, KarmaZoo is a fascinating and novel cooperative experience. We got to go hands-on with the newly announced game in a media session where the game’s 10-player cooperative “Loop mode” was predominantly on display.

The title’s idea is as follows. Play as one of 50 unique characters alongside 1 to 9 others as you work together to platform your way through a hand-crafted level. The game is played as a 2D side-scroller and much of your gameplay will involve jumping around, avoiding death traps, and activating doors by standing on buttons or using a dedicated sing action. Different characters have different abilities, such as the Cactus who is able to throw their spikes along surfaces, providing new areas for players to grip onto, benefitting platforming.

The players would have to work together because if they strayed too far from one another, a safety bubble surrounding the players would untether, giving the players limited time to reconnect should they want to survive. A Karma system is also in place that rewards cooperation. For instance, if a player jumped into a set of spikes, they would leave a tombstone and then respawn. Other players can now use that tombstone to safely jump to and over the spikes and the original player gets Karma for their heroics. It all feeds back into a system of friendly interactions where even a more knowledgeable or advanced player will still benefit from playing with and assisting newer players.

Game Designer Nadim Haddad joined us in our play session and was able to give more insight into the game. Apparently inspired by strangers holding the door open for one another in the Paris subway, KarmaZoo really is a wholesome and collaborative affair. The 10-person cooperative system feels great in a chaotic way. Communication really seemed key if you wanted to unlock all the secrets, find all the fruit, and successfully complete the level in the time allotted. However, it was also clear that a lack of communication didn’t completely stop a group of us from brute forcing our way through to the end as we began learning the game.

Haddad described KarmaZoo as a collection game. The 50 different characters you can play as first need to be unlocked and it was exciting seeing new characters pop up and discovering their unique properties. Some of the 50 characters share the same ability, though they may have other differences such as size and speed. This allows for a lot of experimentation to find a character that works best for you. Or it simply allows for a lot of variety as you change things up from one run to the next.

“KarmaZoo’s levels will dynamically adapt to the needs of the party.”

Cleverly, KarmaZoo’s levels will dynamically adapt to the needs of the party. Whilst there’s no procedural generation to the levels, an algorithm does exist that will make sure whatever level you face is suited well to your party size and the characters you have chosen. All that’s left to do is complete those levels as things slowly get more difficult as new traps and devious puzzles are introduced.

A competitive mode is also on offer in KarmaZoo called ‘Totem’. In this game mode, 8 players could go head-to-head as they competed in sets of quick minigames. We only got to play the race minigame, but it still ended up being a good amount of fun as we put our platforming to the test and dashed through some hazardous levels.

By the end of the play session, I found myself strangely compelled by KarmaZoo. Nothing on offer is extraordinarily revolutionary, yet I still found the experience very novel and engaging. Not too many games offer 10-player coop because it’s hard to get 10 players into any game and make them all feel like a useful part of the team. KarmaZoo almost embraces that idea, reassuring players that it’s ok to rely on other, more experienced players. It’s ok to hang back and just go along for the ride. In fact, it even seemed ok for some players to stop playing altogether, as the rest of the party was still able to carry on without them unimpeded. How challenging does the game eventually get and would that change up the wholesome and accessible ethos? We’ll have to wait and find out!

KarmaZoo is coming to PC and consoles in 2023 with full cross-play available as well. You can find out more info on the official website.