Here I am again taking another look at a point and click adventure title. So many of these have come across my desk lately it’s starting to feel like we should just change the site to focus entirely on them. This go around we are looking at the recently released Karma Incarnation 1, the first in a planned set of games that tells the story of a young amorphous blob who falls in love with another, pinker amorphous blob shortly before she (yes I did assume gender) is kidnapped by some evil spirits. As part of our quest to save his beloved our hero is reincarnated on the surface of a planet below, but things go awry and instead of being reborn as a great dragon he instead becomes Pip, a small slug like creature who must follow a somewhat lengthier path to complete his journey.
So hey, let’s lead with the good news here: Karma Incarnation 1 is an absolutely beautiful game to behold. The hand drawn art is stunning and does a lot to enhance the psychedelic feeling the game aims to impart. That high level of quality carries over in the audio department as well. The game’s creatures all have their own grunts and noises that bring them to life and the soundtrack is pretty catchy to boot.
The game’s art style carries over into its animations which are very detailed, perhaps to a fault. Pretty much everything you do in Karma feels like it takes longer than it should. Pip’s movement speed is abyssmal, and while double clicking puts a little spring in his step it’s still not enough to quell my impatience. It’s not just walking though, everything has animations, which are cute at first but quickly wear thin especially with repetition. There’s a segment where you navigate along a giant leaf, popping in and out of holes, and every single time you move from hole to hole you have to watch Pip slowly squeeze himself in and poke his eye out the other side to check and make sure the coast is clear. It’s fun once, then it just becomes unbearable.
How about the puzzles? The bread and butter of any real adventure game. Karma starts out okay, offering a lot of variety in the things asked of you. You do have an inventory but most of the time you won’t have to actually drag items out of it. Instead if you have an appropriate item for a given situation you’ll generally just use it when you click in the world. This of course takes some of the logic out of the puzzles, and towards the end of the game that logic disappears completely, particularly in the forest level where most of the puzzles are just “click random things until you collect enough small items to proceed”. Pressing space bar will trigger your “astral sight” ability. In this mode a trippy beam of light will surround Pip and he can often discover things that he wouldn’t normally be able to see in the world. This is used to great effect in a couple sections but I found the feature overall to be somewhat underutilized, with some zones not requiring it at all to make it through.
You can traverse the world relatively freely, traveling from zone to zone at your leisure, but most of the puzzle solutions are contained into their own zones. I’m torn when stating just how difficult the game is. On the one hand I breezed through most of the puzzles without incident, on the other hand there seem to be some optional characters whose fates you can change and many of them I was unable to resolve. Getting through the story is a fairly simple affair, giving everyone a happy ending might be trickier, more on that later though.
Of course you can’t call your game “Karma” and not tackle the subject of morality, which just happens to be another topic upon which I have particularly strong feelings when it’s placed into a video game setting. We can get into my longer rant sometime but I can succinctly say that Karma fails to ever ask any compelling questions or give you a difficult choice. Most of your heavy decisions involve whether or not you allow characters to live. At least one of the characters you can kill will impede your path (and I actually killed him solely because I was kind of sick of the game at that point), but all of the other characters that you can kill (or allow to die by inaction) are entirely optional, there’s no reason to kill any of them beyond your own malice or desire to obtain the achievement for making all the evil choices.
For example you encounter a character in the game’s snow world who has a drum that you need in order to progress in the level. When you find the character he’s dangling off a cliff precariously. Now to me a compelling choice might be rescuing him (and potentially having a harder time proceeding) or grabbing his drum and unfortunately letting him fall to his death. Instead you’re given the drum regardless of your choice, and you’re simply allowed to help him up or arbitrarily leave him to die. That’s how most of the choices in the game feel. At one point you steal a powerful gem from a forest sending its ecosystem into chaos and driving off many of the creatures in it. After you’ve used the gem for your means you have the option to return it to the sole remaining character in the forest, or you can kill that character, for some reason. Seriously you have to be pretty sadistic to go the evil route in this game.
For my playthrough I killed very few people. There was one character that I mentioned above who I encountered after spending ages climbing up a tall tree in the forest who refused to let me proceed. Presumably there was a pacifist way to deal with him but I wasn’t really offered any hints on how to resolve my conflict with the character, and more importantly I didn’t want to sit through all the animations climbing the tree again, so I chose to end his life. This produced an ending that I assume is not the best I could have gotten. I would have been curious to see how my choices would have changed things overall but as I mentioned this game plays so slowly I just couldn’t bear to go back and sit through it again. I did watch another player on YouTube who killed everyone he came into contact with and he managed to get the same ending as me, so take that for what you will.
There are some technical problems as well. The game has some graphical hitches as it transitions from animation to animation, you can notice the stutter a couple times in my video review above. I also encountered a few bugs during play, and because the puzzles can be somewhat abstract it would usually take me much longer to realize that I was in fact encountering a bug and not doing something wrong on my end. The game is also somewhat light on settings, standard expectations like being able to set the resolution or play the game in a windowed mode are notably absent here.
Karma is also rather brief, just clocking in over a couple hours. This isn’t a huge issue, although I do wonder how long the game would be if it was sped up a bit more. On the one hand you could play through it faster, but on the other hand I might have been curious enough to go back and take another look at my choices. Regardless the game is priced relatively reasonably at $8.99 for this single episode. While I don’t think this first entry hit it out of the park, it also didn’t perform so poorly that I wouldn’t check out its second volume. I think there’s some obvious talent and potential underneath the surface here and I think Aura Lab has a great chance of unleashing it with their next release. Having said that, for now all we have is part one, which manages just okay with puzzles, fails to offer an interesting morality system, and ends without any real closure to speak of. I can’t give it an enthusiastic recommendation now, but maybe someday when we can look at all the game’s episodes as a whole.
This game was reviewed on retail code provided to us by the publisher.