PC, Nintendo Switch, PS5, Xbox Series X
November 14, 2023
KarmaZoo is a cooperative platform game developed by Pastagames and published by Devolver Digital. In it, you play as a little blob trapped in the KarmaZoo, an ethereal place between life and death. To escape the KarmaZoo, you’ll have to collect enough karma to be able to set yourself free.
Practically, KarmaZoo is a cooperative game for up to ten players, and you can choose to play with random players across the globe, or with people that you know. A playthrough is known as a ‘karma loop’ in-game, which your character can complete to earn karma. Each run consists of five timed levels, and a game takes about twenty minutes to complete. Visually, the level layouts in KarmaZoo are reminiscent of games like Spelunky, and the game’s visuals are colourful, beautifully detailed, and add to the game’s whimsical story world. With levels laid out like puzzles, KarmaZoo will have you work together with other players to explore your environment, open doors, and locate items.
Unlike other games, however, KarmaZoo’s core game mechanics mean that your team will have to – literally – stick together to complete levels successfully. During a level, your character will be depicted within a small circle, known as your halo. This halo protects you from harm in the KarmaZoo and allows you to come back to life whenever you die. To make sure your halo remains active, though, you need to share it with at least one other player at all times. If you’re unable to share your halo with another player, your halo will decrease in size until it eventually disappears altogether. If this happens, you’ll no longer be able to complete the level along with your teammates and will have to spectate until the next level begins.
As you progress through levels during a run, the level’s puzzles will increase in complexity, too. While the game’s tutorial will have you open a simple door to illustrate the way the halo functions in-game, later levels will have you locate keys to open doors, connect moving platforms, and explore hidden nooks and crannies. On top of this, your character has the ability to sing. Some platforms, switches, and doors can only be activated and jumped on if there is a player nearby using their singing ability to activate it. Not only are the singing noises quirky and adorable, the way players will need to use it to traverse the space within a level feels original and adds texture to both the world and the gameplay.
What makes completing levels more engaging, is the fact that you’re able to use the karma accumulated across playthroughs, to unlock different bodily forms that can be used during future runs. The game comes with over fifty different forms to unlock and includes anything ranging from animal forms like tiny frogs, owls, and wolves, to magical objects like pears and lanterns. Each of these forms comes with a different ability that can make your life and that of your fellow players easier. In frog form, for example, you can jump three times as high, while pears can magically hover in mid-air. Added to this, you can collect fruit during a level too. Any collected fruit can be used in between levels to unlock additional bonuses for the level ahead. Bonuses range from effects that make gameplay easier – like having more time to complete a level or unlocking specific forms for that run – while others just come with different music tracks, for example.
“…KarmaZoo is engineered to encourage players to work together, experiment, and to be kind to each other.”
Depending on how many people you’re playing with during a run, the size and difficulty of levels will look different, too. KarmaZoo comes with over 300 levels in total and depending on what forms players on your team have equipped, the ways to solve different puzzles are endless. In this sense, it’s clear that KarmaZoo is engineered to encourage players to work together, experiment, and to be kind to each other during the process.
Whenever you see another player doing something helpful, you can share some karma directly with them, which they can then use to unlock more forms in the future. This spirit of collaboration is further encouraged through the game’s free KarmaPass, a unique take on the traditional battle pass; rather than paying for a battle pass, the KarmaPass features rewards that unlock automatically, based on the collective playtime players have put in all over the world.
This, combined with the game’s enormous variety of levels and forms, makes for an original, charming and engaging gameplay experience, no matter whether you’re playing with random people from the internet, or folks you know. The fact that runs are relatively short and contained, makes it a perfect casual game to unwind while catching up with friends, too. Having so many characters to unlock over time, as well as having multiple achievements to complete per form, means that KarmaZoo has amazing value when it comes to replayability. The only thing that holds it back in that regard at times, is that unlocking forms can be quite expensive, and players would need to put in a lot of hours just to unlock a large range of gameplay forms. Considering that KarmaZoo doesn’t currently have a single-player mode and largely caters to a casual gamer audience, this feels like it is at odds with the broader gameplayer experience. As such, players who are looking for a game where they can unlock all content solo and/or at their leisure might struggle.
That said, with its layered puzzles and endless level combinations, KarmaZoo easily offers an original take on traditional platformers, and adds a meaningful message to boot. If you enjoy playing games socially and are looking to try a platformer with a twist, KarmaZoo is not to be missed.
- Beautifully detailed and colourful graphics
- Huge replayability value with over fifty forms to unlock
- No two runs are the same
- Original gameplay premise and a meaningful underlying message
- Different forms take a long time to unlock
- No singleplayer mode
KarmaZoo offers a unique cooperative platformer experience, that actively engages players to experiment and work together. Its colourful graphics and original game mechanics are incredibly charming, and the variety of levels and character forms means no two runs ever look the same. Additionally, thanks to the game’s structure, runs are short and engaging, making it a perfect title to unwind to while catching up with friends. That said, players who are completionists may find that unlocking every possible form can feel like too much of a grind, as that process comes with a hefty karma price tag. But, if you’re looking for a casual title to dip in and out of for a long time to come, KarmaZoo is certainly worth picking up.