KarmaZoo’s Party Games Will Only Carry It So Far

KarmaZoo is two games in one. Well it’s more like a hundred or so, but let’s just stick with two for now. The first one was previewed by my colleague Meg Pelliccio a few months ago, and sees a bunch of people play through Metroidvania-style levels wherein they must cooperate without communication to make their way through each passage.


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Sometimes this will be via flicking switches in order, fulfilling certain thankless roles, or even careening to your death so other players can jump on your coffin to clear a tricky gap. This is the true KarmaZoo experience. But the game also comes with some Mario Party-esque minigames that can be played in local multiplayer as well as online with no communication – this is the version I played at Gamescom late last month.

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It’s odd playing a version of a game that you know isn’t the true representation of it. It’s like only previewing the clothes customisation in Animal Crossing or judging Red Dead Redemption 2 based solely on the fishing. I know KarmaZoo is an inventive platformer that reinvents online multiplayer in a way that brings a fresh cosiness along with new challenges. Playing the party mode version mostly served as a tease for the depth the full game has waiting for me.

Avatars working together in KarmaZoo.

We played through six minigames in total, and each were built around a different mechanic that shapes the playthrough in the full experience. However, where in the main game, everyone has a different role to fulfil and must find the way to be most useful, in the party game mode everyone has the same role and must compete to do it best. For example, in the main level there might be a switch inside a small wheel, where the mouse character needs to hop inside to spin it (perhaps the elephant needs to stand nearby to give the mouse a platform too). In the party game, we’re all mice in wheels, and must spin fastest to win the race.

My favourite was the pig, gobbling up fruit, as it was the most obviously intuitive. Others, like the cactus, took a little while to understand how it might be used. Slamming downwards, you can spread your spines for other players to stick to, leading to a two-on-two co-operative race. However, the candle and cog abilities about ringing bells and staying illuminated still made no sense to me even after I lost badly and simply stood still to observe what others were doing better. In the main game, where I’ll be playing these roles alone, that sort of thing could cause frustration, but also a unique learning curve as you find yourself alone and responsible for the survival of others.

A player blob beside a doorway in KarmaZoo.

There’s obviously a learning curve to be ascended too – thanks to a no-show, we played alongside one of the devs who was supremely better than us in every way, highlighting the method to the mania. I wonder if the game is out in the wild longer if it will maintain the casual chaos it is leaning into or if some of the fun will evaporate when players of different skill levels are paired up to complete courses and find their playstyles incompatible.

It’s difficult to recommend KarmaZoo from what I played. Not because it was bad – I had fun with Marooners and KarmaZoo reminded me a lot of that – but because even more so than a usual preview, it felt like only a bite-sized version of the whole thing. KarmaZoo is a decent party game, but it’s a puzzle platformer at heart. The mechanics work well, for the most part, and I hope that carries over into the full thing when KarmaZoo launches on Xbox Series X/S, PS5, Nintendo Switch, and PC later this year.

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