Without any doubt, I can state that I have a developed keen eye for games and I can pretty much tell very quickly whether the game is gonna be good or bad and even what’s it gonna be about ‘till the very end. Well, Karma. Incarnation 1 is one of those games where when I saw the main menu, I was immediately like “this game is gonna be amazing!”. And guess what? It totally is.
I was very puzzled by the name of the game and more specifically by the “Incarnation 1” part. Like when I first started the game, I was really interested to find out why it is called that way. Seeing the main menu and experiencing the first introductionary cutscene in the game, it immediately dawned on me. It was further supplemented by that “…to be continued” at the end. The game is called Karma and Incarnation 1 is something equivalent to Chapter 1, which means … yep, you guessed it … there will be more. I certainly hope this more comes soon, but only time will tell.
I really like the themes of this game. It’s filled with Hinduism and Indian themes with bits of other cultural references too (like that Rastafari dude, to whom you give the flower necklace to or the general hippy deal) and we experience this in every aspect of the game – story, world, theme, music, etc. Hell even right from the start of the main menu. It’s simply so awesome, portrays right the charm of Karma with the name and the little menu icons and even the music going in the background. I also really liked the colorful loading bar, but I like everything colorful so yeah.
Okay, so down to its core right away, Karma is a point and click adventure and if I have to be honest, from the very first click, this game reminded me so much of Botanicula, which is a title of the same genre and it even has a similar look and feel. You basically click stuff on your screen, solve puzzles to progress and voila, you have the answer to success. But, I really found so much charm in the game, and it even made me conscious. Now, I did manage to 100% this (achievement-wise), not on the first run, but because Karma is so short, I actually replayed it twice. You can actually do all achievements on one run, besides one, because obviously from its name you have to make choices and one achievement wants you to be good and another to be bad. Now on my first run I did the good one and it was not on purpose. I actually felt this way by going with it and then I went on to go do the evil one and I cringed. I was so sad to kill some of the creatures you have to kill. Okay, but seriously, let’s get down to it in more details.
So, the story. As I mentioned earlier, we don’t experience the full story, since this is only chapter 1, but it is so interesting, that I want more … right now!! The story of Karma is told in a dialogueless manner. Well, there is dialogue, but when our creature speaks to other creatures, a little chat bubble shows and it explains it to us via pictures. I wouldn’t say I had too much trouble understanding what was going on. At the beginning I was so like “wtf” but the game eases you into it pretty quickly. And let’s be real, I’m a sucker for minimalist games and I’ve been playing a lot of them recently, but as I once said in a previous review (don’t really remember the game of which it was) some games benefit greatly from minimalistic features.
Anyways, it all goes down to this. There is this planet and another smaller planet (I don’t know if it’s a planet actually, maybe a star, I don’t really know). So from it are born little spherical creatures, like little white lights with adorable little eyes. Our protagonist is called Pip and he falls in love with a female light. But one day, evil creatures f*ck everything up and corrupt the big planet. But that’s not all. They start eating these little spherical creatures and even get to our love. Then sad little pip, goes to the daddy planet (or mommy planet or whatever it is) and asks for help. And the planet explains how the bigger one is corrupted and these evil creatures stole 3 artefact thingies from it and the only way to save out love is to save the planet and vanquish the evil. Basically Incarnation 1 is out first visit to the world and at the end of our journey we finish the game by collecting the first artifact. Down on the actual planet we incarnate as this black blob thingy … creature and we travel as it, through the world, doing stuff, only to get the first artifact. We were supposed to reincarnate as a dragon in order to fight the evil, but oh well, life doesn’t work that way little pip.
There are actually 2 core mechanics tied to the story. First one is karma. So naturally the game provides us with choices on a couple of occasions and those are straight out good or bad. In most case good choices revolve around helping other creatures, only stunning evil one, not killing them and basically just doing good stuff. The bad karma primarily comes from killing things, whether good or bad, it doesn’t matter. The interesting thing here is that the appearance of our black blob changes the worse his karma is. He starts growing spikes on his back and even grows little devil horns towards the end. Now if we have good karma, creatures will react positive to us, if we have bad karma, they will fear us and this actually changes some game options. When I was doing the evil run of the game, I found out that towards the end of the game, good options became locked to me and I could only stick to the evil ones. I’m not sure whether or not that is a good thing, but I guess it makes sense, but I would have liked to still see good options (I might have a change of heart, you never know). The game also features 2 endings based on our karma nature. So at the end of the game we are sent to … I will call it purgatory. So there we go to this creature, who basically judges souls and sends them either in heaven or hell. On my first run, there was only one creature, beside me there, but that one you kill no matter what. So, I was judged to heaven and the creature also gave me the first artifact and then the game ended. The second ending, I’m not so sure I was happy with it. It’s not because it’s evil or anything, but because, that way the game kind of forces you to be good. You go to purgatory again and we see a very long line of creatures (basically the once we killed) and we wait to be judged. I was actually happy that the souls, which deserved it, got sent to heaven and the bad ones to hell. The game has its rightful judgement, I’ll give it that. But then, when our turn comes, we are sent to hell and the game does not end. It basically chucks us back at the beginning and our little blob creature goes on to reminiscent how bad it was and how it shouldn’t be. It didn’t give us the artifact, so what its saying is “go replay the game and be good this time”. I didn’t like that, because what is the point of a choice system, if at the end you have to be good to complete the game. I’m not really sure how much bad choices you have to make to get the bad ending, but I went all out for the achievement. Also, a nifty little thing is how other creatures react to you, when you’re evil. They’re basically scared and don’t wanna talk to you. D:
The second mechanic related to story (and gameplay actually) is something called astral sight. You get this very early on in the game and it basically activates a little aura around your creature and you can see into the spirit world (you see spirits flying around, you see hidden messages, to help you and it’s the main way to operate our travel device). When astral sight is activated the world becomes so colorful and spirits fly everywhere and it’s just so awesome. Personal opinion here, but I believe astral sight is a bit underdeveloped. It’s a very cool feature, but I didn’t find myself using it enough. As a core and unique mechanic to the game, it gives it personality. However, I didn’t really used it on that many occasions. Most of the time I was activating it just for fun. The main reasons why I used it was first – to operate my travel machine … thingy. It’s actually a really nifty thing, which you have 2 circles to align and images and you align them corresponding to the area, which is portrayed by a little light bulb. Most light bulbs are missing at the beginning, but we collect them in order to progress. The other thing I used astral sight for is to look for the hidden spirits for the achievements. Other than that, it was just to marvel at the colorful spirit world I suppose. I really hope to see more uses for the astral sight in Incarnation 2 or who knows even a new mechanic!
Like I said, the world of Karma, what we’ve seen so far is awesome. There are quite the amount of different zones. Like you got a snowy area, a jungle, a mechanical graveyard, purgatory (why it looks a lot like heaven lol). From the bad ending, I figure that starting dark red area is hell, though I don’t know why I start in hell in the first place. Maybe because of what I was incarnated as. Also, as I mentioned, the world changes a bit from the astral sight – becomes more colorful and you see a lot of spirits, just flying around. The thing I like about Karma’s world is how interactable it is. I mean, I’m not talking about the clicking for the objectives, oh no no, I mean the amount of little interactable objects/creatures, which you can click just because. And Karma is full of those. I mentioned in my Wuppo review, that I love when a game pays attention to such small details, because that way it boosts its personality and charm, etc. But in general, speaking about art style only, I believe Karma is very unique and it has a lot of flaws in its art, but that’s the way it’s intended to be and that’s what makes it super adorable and awesome.
Then we have the music. Oh, pure earcandy. I loved every bit of it. The music is heavily Indian themed and I mean those old Indian tunes, not modern Bollywood style and it has this calm and enchanting vibe to it. I mean everything goes so well together – the name (karma), the themes (indian, gurus, karma as a statistic, hindu, etc.) and the music. I really hope to see a soundtrack release soon, because I’m so down to the music. Also the different sounds in the game bring so much life to it. The quiet and calm winter area, the luscious, filled with different sounds jungle, the grim and platonic robot graveyard, hell even that area with the party going on! Like I always say, and here it’s proven as well again – games are not the same without their soundtrack and sounds.
Puzzles. Our adventure is driven forward by puzzles and as a person, who sucks at logic and puzzles, I have to say that the game passed smoothly for me. Like usually I would get stuck a lot and have to go cheat, because I get frustrated – well here, I didn’t really get stuck at all. There was this one leaf puzzle only, which gave me a hard time and after a good 30 minutes just hole-ing around I cheated, but I don’t know if that was a bug or not, but the first time I was completing the game I didn’t get the little hint from my character about the leaf puzzle (basically the little blob creature gives you helpful advice here and there about how to solve stuff and here he told me to go into astral vision mode and see how the dots connect and pay attention to their colors). So, in the first playghtrough, I didn’t get this hint, while in the second I got it, hence why I didn’t struggle at all with it. Other than that, puzzles are quite straightforward. Go to location A, to retrieve item B for the NPC and he will give you item C in return, which you give to someone else and there you have it – the chain of itemgiving. But overall, it was pretty interesting to follow.
Last thing I’m gonna mention is the saving system. Karma features a … okay from one point of view I don’t like it, but from another I do. So, in the game your every move is saved. Like the only things, which don’t trigger a save is when you move around or click the pointless little interactions. Other than that every story related click saves the game for you. Now, why is this good? Obviously, Karma plays safe and if the game crashes for example, everything you have done up to date will be saved. Why I don’t like it? Because if I fuck up a choice, I wanna be able to go back, not having to restart the whole level. But really, I can’t complain about this, it effed me up on one occasion where I missed a creature to kill and had to restart the whole jungle area for the “evil guru” achievement but oh well. Speaking of restarting the whole level, Karma also saves the beginning of each area and you can go back at any time if you need to. But if you do, the only thing you have to remember is that your progress further ahead is lost, when you progress with an area you have gone back to.
All right, so final verdict. I believe Karma, as it is now can score a pretty solid 8/10. The game brings such an amazing atmosphere that I can most definitely recommend it to everyone, like go try it out, it’s a unique little gem. Hopefully we’ll get chapter 2 of this adventure soon because I am actually eager. Alas, some stuff a holding it back a bit. Like I said, the moral choice system seems a bit pointless towards the end of the game and as shaped as it is by the actual endings. Also, I would have liked to see more uses of the astral sight and maybe a bit more varied puzzles, than the standard “let’s exchange items” deal. But as a whole, Karma is pretty solid. Buy it. Try it, and I’m sure you’ll be waiting for the next one. The game is also pretty short. I have about 4 hours playtime total of which almost 2 are like me leaving the game open and watching TV. I’d say a full run is an hour and a half tops. But I am considering the fact that the game is split into chapters so I do put that into consideration too.