Published on November 15th, 2023 | by Richard Banks
KarmaZoo Playstation 5 Review
Summary: KarmaZoo is here for a good time, not a long time, at least it packs some of the most fun multiplayer platforming I've experienced in recent memory. Aw.
It feels pretty weird writing about a multiplayer-only game in 2023 that isn’t an isometric horror or a Fortnite clone, but KarmaZoo couldn’t be more different. On the surface, this platformer boasts a maddeningly chaotic experience, but at its heart, KarmaZoo exudes wholesomeness that rewards kindness through cooperation.
Providing it can find its staying power. It’s a risky business these days – as soon as one multiplayer-only game pops up, another seems to wave goodbye – but KarmaZoo has all the hallmarks of a winner, and it’s all thanks to its USP. Rather than pitting players in a battle for superiority against each other, KarmaZoo asks players to reach objectives as a team.
Up to ten players can jump into KarmaZoo’s Loop mode, a gauntlet of hundreds of platform levels that require cooperation to navigate. How much cooperation varies – sometimes, all it takes is a button press from an ally, whilst other levels ask fellow KarmaZooians to throw themselves into a trap to create a platform for you to progress. The game also encourages you to keep near your allies – leave the safety of your group, and you’ll slowly head toward permanent death.
Most of KarmaZoo’s objectives are self-explanatory, but I was impressed with the depth KarmaZoo’s relatively simple platforming would go to mix things up. I particularly enjoyed levels that required my team to sneak around collecting keys from the prying eyes of deadly security cameras or the missions that needed us to link ourselves together in order to conduct electricity between bulbs. The bigger the group of players, the more in-depth levels become. Occasionally, it borders on chaotic, but for the most part, these bumper-size Loops work, especially if you have a team committed to working together.
But this is where KarmaZoo’s problems start to arise. Loop is fantastic – as long as your team is as committed to reaching the end game as you are. With the game designed as multiplayer-only, meanspirited teammates can hold back progress if they aren’t giving 100% – and with no voice chat – it’s nigh on impossible to communicate with other players. It sometimes makes KarmaZoo feel like losing a game of charades, as you endlessly try to mimic what you need them to do while your teammate looks on hopelessly.
That said, KarmaZoo’s whole ethos relies on kindness, and with this, helping is paramount to progress. Luckily, it’s not a thankless task, as helping others and reaching the end as a team will reward you with KarmaZoo’s currency, Karma Hearts. These are mainly used to possess the 50 or so creatures in KarmaZoo’s hub, the Sanctuary, thus allowing you to use these creature’s abilities throughout your adventures in the Loop.
Slowly, this became my favourite thing about KarmaZoo – unlocking a new beast after a successful run kept me wanting to jump back in for more, even if some of their abilities weren’t quite as useful as I first thought they might be. The seal, for example, can pound the ground, and whilst I enjoyed his adorable features and tiny seal squeaks, I didn’t find his belly flops much use. In comparison, the koala quickly established itself as one of my favourite animals to possess – its ability to hang off walls and sing (something you’ll find yourself doing a lot in KarmaZoo) got me out of several sticky situations. This is why co-op is key in KarmaZoo. With the right people at your side, all entering the Loop as different characters, KarmaZoo can easily offer endless entertainment for a like-minded bunch of friends.
If playing friendly isn’t your thing (note: in this case, KarmaZoo probably isn’t for you), you can step away from Loop and enter Totem mode. Offering both couch co-op and online play, Totem allows players to take what they’ve learned in Loop and use these skills against others. It’s split into short modes such as Rush and Eat, with Rush being a pretty standard race to the finish and Eat seeing which player can eat the most fruit within a time limit. While Totem is serviceable, it strips away what makes Loop such a fantastic mode, swapping great platforming for, at best, okay mini-games that grow old fast.
I also found it odd that Totem is the only part of KarmaZoo offering couch co-op, with Loop an exclusively online-only experience. It seems a missed opportunity, not letting people get together with friends locally to experience Loop – and this is what worries me the most about KarmaZoo. Humans are famously fickle, gamers, in particular, perhaps even more so, so for KarmaZoo to find a long-term audience, it needs to keep the player base open to as many people as possible.
One way that KarmaZoo is aiming to do this is by approaching an often nasty aspect of online multiplayer differently – battle passes. The KarmaPass asks players from across the world to work together to complete tasks, in turn unlocking bonuses and rewards. Not only will the KarmaPass be another way that KarmaZoo reinforces its sense of kindness and community, but it’s also completely free.
It’s through these little things that KarmaZoo can carve its niche in an oversaturated multiplayer market, but it’s up to the players to keep its dream alive. There’s incredibly fun platforming to be had here, and it’s hard to knock a game with such a wonderful, heartfelt message behind it, but the lack of couch co-op for Loop mode has me worried for the long-term future of KarmaZoo. Still, if KarmaZoo is here for a good time, not a long time, at least it packs some of the most fun multiplayer platforming I’ve experienced in recent memory. Aw.