An amusing and artistic adventure, but one cycle was enough
I’m sure that most of you out there who have been playing video games for a while have heard someone say something along the lines of “video games are art”. While that phrase can have some semblance of an actual meaning, it’s generally only thrown out when someone is taking about a game that has some sort of posh, obscure, artsy-fartsy meaning to it. And those can be fine sometimes. But that’s not what we’re taking a look at when it comes to Karma. Incarnation 1.
No, Karma. Incarnation 1 literally felt like a high-tech, interactive art project. And I mean that in a (mostly) good way. Like, the visuals are the main reason that you’d want to play this game; they’re great. But visuals aren’t everything. Even if a game looks amazing, that doesn’t mean much if it plays poorly. And that’s the main issue that I had with this game. Okay, to be fair it didn’t actually “play poorly”, but it wasn’t a riveting gameplay experience either.
An Out-of-Body Experience… Except the Opposite
Karma. Incarnation 1 begins in a world above a world — a spirit world if you will — full of laughter and merriment, where disembodied spirits live and a god-like creator watches over them. While most of the spirits are happily playing, Pip, the protagonist (and the only named character that I’m aware of), is busy making googly eyes and smoochy faces at his soul mate (hah!). All’s going well until the barrier around their world breaks, letting a horde of evil shadowy creatures in.
These creatures immediately begin wreaking havoc, eating the spirits and attacking the world below. Pip and his beloved frantically make a break for it in hopes of reaching their creator but, right before they make it, Pip’s companion is eaten. Upon reaching his creator, Pip is informed that the reason that the barrier around their world has vanished is due to a monster attacking the shrines in the world below. These three shrines — and the artifacts inside of them — are what keep the evil away from their world, and the only way to bring peace back is for Pip to travel to the physical realm, inhabit the body of a powerful, unborn creature, and attack the shadowy evil himself.
Make Due With What You Have
So Pip was supposed to inhabit the body of a powerful creature, but instead he got stuck with… Actually, I’m not really sure what it is. He’s basically just a blob with a big mouth, a long tongue, and a gullet with some serious hammer space. Needless to say, he isn’t going to be fighting any big battles any time soon. Now this might be a problem if Karma. Incarnation 1 was some sort of fighter or action RPG, but seeing as how this is a point-and-click adventure things work out rather nicely.
Your goal in is to get back the first of the three missing stones and, believe it or not, die so you can bring it back with you to the spirit realm. Initially, this sounded like a pretty tough task. That stone could be anywhere in the entire world and, as a newly born creature, I’m sure that our protagonist has very little knowledge of how things work. So what’s a baby Pip to do? Well, it turns out not that much. …No, I take that back. Pip does quite a bit. It’s you the player who doesn’t do a whole lot.
Karma. Incarnation 1 is definitely the kind of game that I could see someone saying “you don’t play it, you experience it!” That might sound kind of mean, but I really don’t intend for it to be. Not entirely, at least. It’s just that, throughout the entire adventure, I felt as though I was playing more of a passive role. I wasn’t necessarily feeling the “adventure” part of “point and click adventure”. That’s not to say that there wasn’t an adventure. There definitely was. It’s just that a good chunk of it was very hands-off. Most of the gameplay involved clicking the direction you wanted to go, and clicking on the item that you wanted to interact with. Pip pretty much took care of the rest of it himself.
The game wasn’t completely devoid of player engagement, however. There were several parts of the game that had you traveling back and forth between locations in order to procure items for later use in puzzles — as well as the puzzle-solving sections themselves. And it did these things well. A little bit of fetch quest-iness is all but inevitable with this genre, but it was never to the point of being overbearing. Karma. Incarnation 1 didn’t artificially inflate gameplay with pixel-sized, easy-to-miss items, or vague puzzles. Everything that you needed to do was obvious. And that was part of why things were so easy. While I appreciated the fact that none of its puzzles were obscure to the point of being maddening, Karma. Incarnation 1 could have used some more challenge.
Yin and Yang
Considering that Karma. Incarnation 1 has the word “karma” in it, it would be kind of weird if this game didn’t have some sort of moral choice mechanic that balanced you between light and darkness. And it does! Many of the actions that you do in this game will shift your karma either toward good or evil. When your karma is good, nothing really happens. The other creatures of the world will treat you nicely, or at the very least ignore you, and are willing to listen to you should you decide to talk to them.
Bad deeds will not only shift your karma toward the evil side, but it will alter your appearance as well. As you perform evil deeds, spikes will begin to grow out of Pip. The more evil that you do, the more spikes will appear. Being evil has a much more noticeable effect on the game. Many creatures will run away from you or refuse to talk to you, and this often can impede player progress.
Karma. Incarnation 1 approaches the concept of karma in a way that I can appreciate objectively, but find somewhat annoying in terms of gameplay mechanics. I won’t ruin the story for you, but the gist of it is that one does not have to be shackled by the sins of their past. Just because you did wrong before doesn’t mean that you can’t do right presently. The concept of redeeming oneself is always one that I can appreciate, and I feel as though Karma. Incarnation 1 approached it quite well. Unfortunately, the game’s moral choices are obvious, and very black-and-white. “Killing is bad, not killing is good.” Stuff like that. Seeing as how morality’s the game’s main focus, that kind of transparency is disappointing.
An Artistic Adventure
Alright, so I know that I kind of poked fun at the whole video games being art thing, but Karma. Incarnation 1 really is a great example of an objectively good artsy video game. Not only are all of the graphics hand-drawn, but they’re very lively. Each of the game’s areas has a number of wacky creatures to meet as well, all of whom are brimming with personality.
There’s also plenty to interact with in each area. You can easily spend a decent amount of time clicking around in wherever you may be, just to see what kinds of things will happen. The forest area was especially good about this. I probably spent a good 10 – 15 minutes just clicking on things and seeing how they would react. The amount of flavor content was impressive, honestly
The Cycle Continues…
Karma. Incarnation 1 was a nice game, and I appreciated it for its artistic value, but it isn’t really an adventure that I’d want to take more than once. There was minimal interaction, the adventure itself was somewhat confusing, and certain mechanics, such as Pip’s Astral Sight, were underused to the point that there were times that I literally forgot that they were there.
But it was nice for what it’s worth. I know that there are plenty of people out there who are interested in highly artistic games, and if you’re one of those people then you might want to check this game out. Even if you end up not liking it (which I can guarantee you will if you appreciate hand-drawn graphics), spending $2.99 isn’t that big of a deal.
Final Verdict: 3/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed), Android ; Publisher: Other Kind Games ; Developer: AuraLab ; Players: 1 ; Released: October 9, 2016 ; ESRB: N/A ; MSRP: $2.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Karma. Incarnation 1 given to Hey Poor Player by the Publisher