Even a bodiless, shining ball or life force can find love. Of course, it isn’t long before that love is taken, what with all these ravenous space demons floating about the place. No need to fret, the answer is simple! Become born on a monster infested world and gather together the artifacts necessary to bring about the destruction of the space demons physical form. Now, if only you had chosen a body that was a fleshy ball with a mouth.
Karma: Incarnation 1 is an odd duck. It is an interactive story peppered with light-to-medium puzzle solving elements. The player takes control of the protagonist, an unnamed soul bound to a physical body. This physical body? A black, blob-like animal whose only attributes are beady eyes, stumpy tail and enormous mouth.
It is up to the player to guide this creature through a bizarre world, exploring and interacting with objects. The ultimate aim, secure a piece to some kind of anti-space demon super weapon. The premise is straight forward enough, but that simple story is wrapped in some kind of hallucinogenic wrapping.
The game play itself is extremely simple. Players click somewhere, and the creature shuffles over. If an object or being is close enough to interact with, a thought bubble indicator will appear. The player clicks this indicator, and the creature performs some kind of action. It is lesson one in the ‘How Do I Use a Computer’ handbook; clicking stuff.
Everything else about this game is not so simple. The visuals, from the most obscured background to the smallest main sprite, contain equal amounts of cartoonish whimsy and unsettling strangeness. One minute you are delighted by the playful whimsy of a character, only to be disturbed the next by a slopping mess of oily tentacles.
It’s an old approach, pairing ultra cuteness with elements of bizarre physicality and existential horror. But in Karma it is used really well, to accentuate the story being told, and the almost unrestrained anarchic nature of the world. It isn’t just weird for the sake of being so. This weirdness is used to put the player off guard, and fully give them the experience of suddenly being on a completely alien world.
The sound is an excellent support of this. Characters blather to each other in nonsensical noises, giving a voice to the creatures which seems simultaneously befitting and ludicrous. It isn’t for show, though. Great care has gone in to making sure that each character has a voice that matches its role in the game. Aggressive creatures are deep or gravely, while the innocent creatures have higher pitched and chipper voices.
Where music is used, it is amazingly put together. A blend of instruments and techniques, well known styles of music are reimagined in exotic and otherworldly ways. I challenge anyone to make it to the beach party and not loose themselves for a few minutes in the hypnotically catchy melodies.
Nearly all objectives the player learns of are communicated by other creatures. Rather than spell it all out for the player, instead dialogue is handled as a series of animated scrawls. As creatures talk their almost cave wall drawing-like words move and twist, telling the player about both their next challenge and the history of the world.
Married together, all the elements of the game create something which is extremely open to interpretation. It is a bold idea, to provide players with no real explanation, thus leaving them to both learn the language of the game from scratch as well as construct an understanding of the narrative themselves. And while this is a fantastically unique approach, it is also a double-edged sword.
Players will either love or loathe Karma. Ironically, for the same reasons. To some people the obtuse way the game delivers information will be exciting and challenging, while others will just find the obscurity frustrating. This runs the gamut of the games content; from the intro, to puzzles and even non-vital world building information.
Karma: Incarnation 1 has some limited replayability, with a handful of secrets to find. But once a player has solved all the puzzles and experienced the story there is little reason to revisit it. Save to relive some of the more memorable scenes in the game, or to refresh on the world when more chapters become available.
If you like puzzle games, and have an aptitude for comprehension and interpretation, then Karma: Incarnation 1 will be an excellent use of your time. But if any of these things don’t seem attractive, you are better off utilising your abilities in another game. If you do decide to give Karma a chance you will be surprised and shocked by how such simple concepts can be given so much depth.
Karma: Incarnation 1 is developed by AuraLab and published by Other Kind Games. It is available right now on Steam.
Reviewed On: PC
Review System: nVidiaN9600C, G1 Sniper M7 S1151, 16GB RAM
Playtime: 2 hours