So, I got a joke for you.
A man goes to visit a suspiciously cheap zoo.
He finds out why immediately. It only has one animal.
Not only that, but the animal is a fairly small dog.
It’s a Shih Tzu.
It’s cute pixely art of various animals in meditative poses cast across a blanket of stars.
Dripping water in the background audible over ethereal chimes which kind of remind me of the music from the first hubworld of Spyro 2… if anyone reading this has been around long enough for that to mean something.
A deep, accented voice introduces the game to me from the main menu. The same voice who will explain the premise to me as we continue.
I’m trapped here without a body, apparently. All I am is a small black blob, capable of jumping and singing… not much else to start with.
In the brief intro, I waddle my way along a fairly simple side scrolling 2d platformer map.
My tools are rudimentary. I have a jump, I can cling to and jump off sticky walls, and a squawky singing voice I did not anticipate coming out of Rimuru Jr here.
At all times I am surrounded by an aura, a bubble of lighter shading that will fade and pop if not periodically connected to the bubble of another. The game teaches this with a robot companion who follows you through the level and shows the mechanics we can expect to be making use of in multiplayer.
One player sings to activate effects the other player makes use of, one player stands on a button to trigger effects for another player, all the usual co-op stuff.
We get introduced to the hubworld.
A cathedral like collection of rooms filled with statues of animals we can unlock through spending the currency gained by doing loops through the Karma Zoo. Each has different abilities.
Once we unlock one, we can take it with us when we enter the loop and try out playing with others.
So now that I’ve put it off for this long, let’s get into the meat and potatoes.
…is what I’d like to say, but I immediately ran into a bit of a snag.
As I’m writing this, I am a full week out from the actual release of KarmaZoo.
After a couple of hours of sitting in a lobby by myself collecting fruit and practising my singing, I threw in the towel and started looking for players on the other game modes… no luck there either.
Turns out I am the Shih Tzu.
Here’s what I know.
KarmaZoo is, at its heart, a co-operative multiplayer game. The entire emphasis is on that co-operation.
Reading through the abilities of the animals whose bodies you will eventually be able to carry through gameplay, many if not most of them involve some kind of interaction with another player.
Abilities which improve mobility, abilities which create platforms or climbing points… it’s all that kind of thing.
Furthermore, a fundamental ability we get introduced to after the intro is the ability to shoot a free ‘karma heart’ at another player. That free heart recharges after a short delay, meaning as long as you and everyone else is using it, you will collectively be earning more of the game’s primary currency.
For those karma hearts are what earns you more bodies to take with you on the loops.
Graphically the game goes for the retro style pixel art that Devolver Digital has become known for.
There is a consistent theme of a kind of lost jungle civilisation look spread throughout, like we are in the spider-monkey exhibit and the zoo artisans have opted for a kind of lost temple vibe.
Colours are somewhat washed out and we can’t see as much past the bubble of safety we have around our characters; what we can see however is gorgeously put together.
In game music is fairly generic, you wont notice it, which in some ways is what video games should be aiming for. But it’s nothing special either.
KarmaZoo is an interesting blend of a few different genres and does something genuinely new.
A full co-operative game where everyone has to give in order to receive. While the community is in its infancy, I look forward to seeing if this particular brand of gameplay leads to a collection of players willing to purge the usual gamer toxicity from themselves and finally create that holy grail we have all been chasing for years.
A game where nice people go.
Released: November 2023
Platforms reviewed: PC
Developer: Pasta Games
Publisher: Devolver Digital