From Zapak Digital Entertainment Limited out of India comes Karma, a unique game of rebirth that features simple gameplay and yet offers a reflection upon certain aspects of life and philosophy. To play, simply drag the little running man from the edge of the screen to the fire at the center, thus completing one life cycle. Your path will remain on the screen, and your future paths must not cross your past lives. Along the way to the fire, try to collect the little potted-plant-shaped objects. Successfully reaching the fire after doing so will cleanse you of one of the seven deadly sins that you have apparently built up. Win the game by cleansing all seven.
At first, it seems like Karma will be easy to beat. Then, as you realize that it is sometimes impossible to reach the fire and wipe away a sin, it seems like it will be very difficult and totally luck-based. However, there are two facts which are not included in the game instructions which put the difficulty somewhere in between, right where it ought to be for a game like this. First, there is no penalty for not collecting a sin on your way to the fire. Second, only the five most recent paths remain on the screen.
This means that the best strategy for finishing the game is simply to go directly from the edge to the center, collecting a sin only if it is on your path or a very short way off of it. This keeps the screen uncluttered and minimizes the possibility that you are going to end up unable to squeeze between two paths. By letting the player come to this realization on their own, the game itself becomes a symbol of karmic philosophy. To try and bend fortune to your favor at the beginning by taking winding, indirect paths will come back later and make things much more difficult. Instead, you should just keep moving forward, and luck will eventually even itself out.
Scoring is also an interesting facet of Karma. The instructions invite you to try for the lowest number of lives, but the in-game scoring system rewards you for each successful path to the fire. Trying to minimize your lives spent is more in line with Western thought, in that it encourages maximizing your returns with minimal resources, and careful micromanagement and optimization of your paths. In contrast, the high-score strategy more resembles maintaining an Eastern meditative state: you repeat the same simple motions over and over until you get into a groove, and you begin to do them instinctually rather than consciously.
I thought the ambient crackling of the fire was a great touch, and the tribal-themed visuals were also superb. I did, however, find the people dancing around the fire a bit distracting, as they made it difficult sometimes to judge whether or not I was going to cross my past path. Besides that, the only problems I had were with the motion and collision detection; too often I found myself dying right away or dying when I accidentally went one pixel back during a slow and careful maneuver. It is also possible—if you are careful—to sneak around the back of one of your past lives. Making it to the fire also seemed to be a touchy enterprise. If you come in too fast, you can overshoot the fire, either blocking off access for future paths or in extreme cases emerging on the other side and having to loop back.
The authors should be lauded for making Karma not only a game that is fun to play, but one that reaches people on a more spiritual level and still manages to incorporate the "replay" theme nicely. We hope to see more from Zapak in the future!
Jonah - Karma is certainly a pleaser in the audio-visual sector. The game really has a great atmosphere. And it has morality! This game teaches players (intentionally?) that you must have patience to wash away your sins. Isn't it great when a game teaches a life lesson through its gameplay? Speaking of gameplay... At first, I got frustrated because I thought the game was impossible. Then I realized (thanks to comments) that you don't have to get the conch every time. Still, I didn't get the point. I started drawing giant doom spirals that would eventually backfire on me. Only now as I replay the game do I realize how to win - draw straight lines to the center and only get a conch if it's in the way. Too bad I still can't do it. I keep respawning on top of a line or accidentally doubling back on myself. My one criticism has to be the controls. Just a tad too touchy.