STAFF REVIEW of KarmaZoo (Xbox One)

Tuesday, January 16, 2024.
by Adam Dileva

KarmaZoo Box art I believe in karma, that I’ll get what I put into the world, so I always try to do and be good. I’ll donate to causes now and then and be helpful to others where possible, trying to keep my karma up. KarmaZoo takes this philosophy and makes it a game, where you do what you can to help other people cooperatively, rather than competitively. The best part? You play with random people online, yet aren’t able to communicate in the traditional way, so you instinctively try to help one another for the same goal; Karma.

Don’t expect some large sweeping narrative in KarmaZoo. Actually, don’t expect any story really, as it’s simply an online cooperative game without any story as to who, what, or why. You share kindness with others by helping one another, and developers Pastagames has somehow managed to make a game where playing with random people online is actually fun rather than frustrating.

A group of up to ten random players online will be placed into a lobby together, then whisked off to a series of levels where you work cooperatively to not only reach the end, but collect as much fruit as possible. Simply getting to the end in this 2D platformer is only part of the goal. Again, your aim is to help one another reach that goal, and no two runs, called loops, will be identical since levels and characters change with each lobby. A loop consists of a couple levels back to back, with a vote taking place between each where the players get to choose a special bonus.

Even if you wanted to rush ahead and try to reach the end goal on your own, you wouldn’t make it far for a few reasons. Usually certain pathways are blocked so you need one player(s) to hold down a button to raise a wall so others can pass, then the players who have passed can hold the door for the original button holder. Also, you have a ‘halo’ around you that keeps you safe. If you have no one nearby it will slowly shrink until you die and respawn, though if you’re in range of another player, your halo’s somewhat meld together, keeping each other safe and becoming larger. This means you can only be on your own for a short time, always needing to be in range of at least one other player.

All good deeds give you and your team Karma. Held open a wall for others to get through? Karma for you! Used your character’s special power to help progress? More karma! All the karma you unlock is essentially a currency that you’ll then use to unlock new characters and more for future loops. The game even tallies all the karma all players earn and put it towards a KarmaPass, unlocking new rewards for all players that helped contribute, which even the bottom of their website showcases the cooperative essence of the game.

You start out as a simple blob with no powers or abilities other than being able to sing. After a brief tutorial teaching you the basics you’re then free to hop online and find others to play alongside. Yes, it’s a multiplayer only experience, which I found odd given the tutorial has you alongside a bot. With cross-platform support between PC and console, I never had an issue finding others to play with, as lobbies generally filled quite quickly.

Stages will somewhat cater towards the characters being used, and since there’s so many and they have a wide range of abilities, it’s pretty rare to replay the same level over again. Even if you do, the players you’re with will likely change, so it’ll be a different experience each time. You’re able to freely change to any unlocked character you own in your sanctuary, your home, but once you join an online loop, you’re committed to that character until the match is finished.

With quite a lot of characters to unlock, they all have a special ability that is used to help others. There is the odd few that overlap in special powers, but for the most part they’re generally unique. Some are cute, like the mouse, clock, lantern and more, where others I enjoy like the turtle, elephant and umbrella for their special abilities. The majority of levels can be completed without special powers, but choosing certain characters with abilities will give the levels a greater chance of needing that power to find all of the hidden fruit.

Each run will take around 20 or so minutes to complete. I seemed to earn on average roughly 2000 karma per loop, but once you start doing the math and realizing how much karma you’ll need for all of the unlocks, it’s can become quite a daunting grind. Character unlocks can range from a few hundred to thousands, there are locks that cost Karma to unlock, books to collect and more. It’s a massive grind if you’re a completionist, though I quite enjoy simply playing it casually and unlocking a new character after every few loops. I do wish the earned Karma per loop was higher, but if it was too high you’d then have everything and nothing to work towards long term, so I understand its design.

If you happen to have friends and/or family over that want to play, there’s also a local multiplayer mode, but it’s more competitive in nature. This mode is called Totem, pitting you against the other players in the room. There’s a handful of minigames that you can vote on by dragging trophies to the mode, then challenge one another to the game. Some are races, collecting fruit and others, though I wasn’t able to test this mode out much. I do wish this mode was online as well.

What I do like about the main Loop mode is that there’s actually no voice chat, forcing you to communicate with jumps and a wheel of limited emoji’s. Sure at times this could be frustrating when you’re trying to somehow tell another player that they need to let you pass a wall, or to step on a button. The majority of the time it manages to work itself out and it was quite rare that a round wasn’t completed within the time limit due to a lack of cooperation. Making a sacrifice to jump on a spike so the other players can pass by feels rewarding in itself, which is impressive, as we’re conditioned to feel like dying is bad. Even though you reappear within moments to get right back into it, you know you were part of the solution.

KarmaZoo surprised me, as I wasn’t sure what to quite expect, but came away addicted to a fun and quirky cooperative game where I actively wanted to help other players that I couldn’t even talk to. While it is quite a grind if you’re going to want to unlock everything possible, it’s quite fun for a few rounds here and there in between other games and downtime.

**KarmaZoo was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 7.3 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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