previews Devolver Digital's KarmaZoo

KarmaZoo is Devolver Digital’s latest find… and it’ll be an indie multiplayer darling

The feel-good game of 2023, right here.

7 mins read

KarmaZoo is a wholesome little thing with some real potential to become a multiplayer favourite. I recently had the opportunity to sit down with a couple of other critics, and a member of the Pasta Games dev team to play through some of the co-op experience. Though I’m not someone who is big on online multiplayer experiences, I do already like this.

The main mode of KarmaZoo is a co-op platformer, where you and up to nine other people need to navigate through a maze filled with traps and puzzles to overcome. You also need to work with your allies to overcome each challenge. For example, one player might need to flick a switch so an ally can go through a door, and then flick another switch to let the first player through. Or one person will need to manipulate a lever to move a platform so another player can reach a previously inaccessible area. This is nothing new for co-op experiences, but two things set KarmaZoo apart:

Firstly, good behaviour means everything in this game. Not only is it impossible to make the exit without working as a team, but every good and helpful action you take earns you hearts, which act as the game’s currency to unlock new avatars (and there are a lot of these avatars).

KarmaZoo Preview 1

Secondly, each avatar has unique abilities. When you first play, you’ve only got access to a blob, and the blob doesn’t do much. Soon enough, though, you’ll be able to play as birds, cats, elephants and more. There are 50 different avatars to unlock, and when you get ten people together, each using their own special abilities to help the team out, you’ll be in for some of the most positive and uplifting chaos that I can remember seeing from my long years of gaming.

There’s a secondary mode too, called “Totem mode” which I think could end up becoming a even bigger drawcard in the long term. It’s designed around local multiplayer for up to eight players, and acts as the game’s “competitive” mode. There are four different categories of competition, and each time you’re given a random minigame from that category.

So, in the demo session I participated in, there was a level where you needed to glide down a stage and navigate through traps as a bird to reach a goal first. In another level, you played as a fire-breathing lizard and needed to light more candles than your opponents in the time frame. Some of the mini-games had a co-op element as well, such as one where the players were split into two teams and needed to use their avatars to “sing” at bells, which would then cause a platform to move forward once run. The team that activated the bells most efficiently moved the platform the quickest and reached the goal first.

KarmaZoo Preview 2

Basically, think of it as Mario Party, without the board game. After eight (or was it ten?) stages, the player with the most overall points won. It only took 15 minutes or so to play through, and I can easily see this mode becoming a big beer-and-buddies Friday night party game.

I just hope the developers find an audience for this, and that audience will play it in the spirit that it’s intended. The competitive mode doesn’t allow you to play with randoms and while you can play online via a code system, the intention is that this is a mode for people that know one another (and the developers want you to play it in local multiplayer anyway).

Meanwhile, the main mode has been designed to throw randoms together. Again, you can set up a private room, but the intent is to get people from all over the world together so everyone can have a laugh working with people they’ve only just met for the first time. Pasta Games, has done everything it can to try and prevent griefing (with a simple three-strike kick system, no chat options, and by hiding player names in-game) but… I just don’t know if I have the same faith in the online community to take this wholesome experience in the spirit that it’s intended.

KarmaZoo Preview 3

I am also inherently concerned with any game that completely neglects single player. I know that single-player wouldn’t work with KarmaZoo, but at the same time that immediately dates the game to the moment that the servers go down. Pasta Games say that there is “months” of support planned, and the developer itself has been around for a long time at this rate, but still. At some stage, KarmaZoo’s main feature will go dark, and at that point, all you’ve got left is the (admittedly hilarious) couch multiplayer.

It’s impossible not to be charmed by KarmaZoo, and I do think that Devolver Digital has found yet another indie darling here. There’s no exact release date just yet, but it will land at some point in 2023. Stay tuned, because I do think you’re going to hear a lot more about this one.

Matt S. is the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of DDNet. He's been writing about games for over 20 years, including a book, but is perhaps best-known for being the high priest of the Church of Hatsune Miku.

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