Thursday, November 10, 2016

Review: Karma Incarnation 1

Karma Incarnation 1
Developer: AuraLab
Publisher: Other Kind Games

It's undeniable that Karma Incarnation 1 is what many would call, "Gamer Art" but what does that mean exactly? Is that just a fancy term for grandly illustrated/unique art? Does that mean lack of depth to gameplay? That there is a deeper message embedded in the game? Well, just like real art it is all of these things, but at the same time none of them. I know, that is a very Yoda like answer, but if you'll humor me lets break it down for you.

Let's start with facts, Karma is a point and click adventure style game. When I think of comparable games to Karma, titles like The Journey Down 1&2, Armikrog, Violett, Tormentum-Dark Sorrow, and the much beloved, Grim Fandango. Point and click games are a very prolific genre with all sorts of different styles, animation, stories, themes and gameplay elements. Karma is no different, with its captivating animation and psychedelic use of color. The control scheme is universal and just about anybody could play these games.

Karma is a love letter to Tim Burton, one can see hints of Beetlejuice and Edward Scissor Hands during their twisted trip though the worlds of Karma Incarnation. Personally I also see bits of one my favorite shows from the early 90's called, Aaahh!!! Real Monsters. There are grotesque smiles and our hero devours items, and sometimes characters whole. There are monsters and nightmares around every corner. At the same time, there is sort of an innocence to it all and something that is truly unique and beautiful.

The games main selling point is the art, you can't take your eyes off of it, and why would you?

Fans of the genre will see all the typical tropes of the point and click style game. There are puzzles; some abstract and others pretty straight forward. For the most part Karma takes a much easier path when it comes to puzzle design. I never really had to stop and think all that much and I always knew more or less what I was doing. Keeping you on track has been handled masterfully, despite the fact that the game has no dialogue by describing the entire story or what to do in comic book bubbles. This kept me on the path I needed to go, but I didn't exactly always understand why I was going there. I will touch upon this in a bit.

The things that Karma uses to differentiate itself from the heap of point and click offerings out there with are its moral choices and Astral sight. The sight, upon activation creates this bubble of funky colors and lets you peer into the spirit world. This helps you accomplish a few puzzles, and gather some achievements. While very neat looking, I wish this element had been played up more as this ability ends up being rarely used. There are only two times its use is integral to the story and the first is when you actually get the ability. It just seems like more could've and should've been done with this idea.

Other areas either could've been more explained or mechanics thrown in. At one point you receive a strange vessel/phone booth from Bill and Ted's Excellent adventure that takes you to other worlds. Upon using you zap yourself into another world, you pick up an old blind guy and drop him off. Why? I have no idea. This is just one of the random weird things this game just kinda throws at you and basically leaves you with more questions than answers.

The story itself isn't anything too complicated, evil spirit takes your pink spirit girlfriend. You, good white spirit boyfriend must find a way to restore balance, defeat evil and save pink spirit girlfriend.

It's simple but at the same time lacks definition in character development. I had no idea who anybody was. I know that the experience is more important in this instance but felt that I would've cared way more if the slightest effort to let me in on things was attempted.

There is an inventory system in the game but it currently doesn't play any integral part in the game. Items are automatically combined for you and the game lets you know when you are missing something to advance the plot. You can click on items and see a comic bubble of its possible uses. This was helpful at times, but personally I never used it.

The difficulty of the game is something I think will divide people, as it borders on being too easy. This isn't always a bad thing though. I have had to pull my hair out when playing games like Grim Fandango.

As you move through the story you are presented with "moral decisions" and are usually given one of two choices. These decisions pretty much always end up being kill or be nice. There are occasionally moments you growl or incapacitate someone but it took me a bit to figure out that these don't affect your morality. If you are inclined to pointless murder that is really the only thing that is going to change anything. What does it change exactly? You grow spikes, and people react to you differently, ect.  The story certainly learns toward goodness, as it is constantly giving you moments to redeem yourself and lose spikes. As this is the first of three parts of the story, I will warn you that story wise, there is no clear difference in destination by taking the evil path. You are rewarded with some end scene differences, but to actually "win" the game you need to play with a good alignment.

Another thing to note is Karma Incarnation 1 has that it has "1" at the end for a reason. The game ends on a "To be continued" and fades to black. This is hardly a problem for me as other amazing games like The Journey Down have taken similar approaches. Art, music, and game design all take money and plenty of time. They are worth the wait. Just something to keep in mind for factual reasons.

Other areas such as replay and innovation are not necessarily the focus. You can play the game twice, as a little meanie and as a hero, but you are going to get a maximum of six hours of  gameplay. As mentioned before just keep in mind what you get for playing the games morality to its darker side. The true innovation here is bringing such vivid animations to life. One area I personally would've love to seen a bit more improvement on would be transitions. The game tends to hang or re-adjust your character during moments of interactivity. You can especially see these from transitioning from one area to another in the same world.

I can say this a thousand times over, and the game has the awards to back it up, Karma is a beautiful game.

Musically the game is playful, its use of tones and rhythm are as intregal its use of color. I didn't regret spending any time with Karma Incarnation, I wouldn't of played through the game twice just for kicks. There are enormous amounts of detail in every single world you visit. Little interactions that serve no purpose to the story, make you feel that this universe is strange and full of wonder.
It is no small feat to take ones imagination, so vibrant and strange, and translate it with such skill and fluidity.

That is why people are drawn to these types of games, they are gateways into other peoples mind. Some other games can boast of having all sorts of intricate features and complex stories but sometimes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Karma Incarnation 1 bathes in these types of moments, where you just can't look away. Ultimately, your mileage is going to vary with this title, but that stands true for most point and click games. There is a fervor when it comes to these types of games, people still sing praises of Monkey Island, the hotly debated Broken Age, the recent revived Kings Quest.

Simply put, there is something that speaks to people when it comes to these types of artistic point and click games. Karma Incarnation is no different. It has its faults, but so do the other titles mentioned in this review. I personally cannot wait to see what wicked worlds we will get to grace in the next part.

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