Karoshi: Suicide Salaryman
Karoshi has finally made its way into your internet browser! Karoshi: Suicide Salaryman is the first official Flash installment in this popular series by Jesse Venbrux, existential Game Maker auteur extraordinaire. In case you skipped the first three installments, Karoshi is a platform/puzzle game where your goal is the exact opposite of most such entertainments: you have to die.
Throw yourself onto spikes, zap yourself with electricity, smash yourself with a falling safe. It's like an extended version of the cathartic moment when you get finally get sick of Mario's empty-headed cheerleading and just hurl him off a cliff.
Control your blocky businessman with the [arrow] keys. If you find a gun, fire it with the [spacebar]. I know, it sounds like finding a gun should make a game about suicide reeeeally simple; but due to a lack of courage and elbows, your man can only shoot away from himself. You have to find other uses for the gun, if you want to work it into your demise.
Analysis: Karoshi could have been a pretty grim experience, but Venbrux has tackled the topic of self-destruction with humor. The main character's design is simple but perfect. He is a square in every sense of the word, born and bred to inhabit a cubicle. His fixed, wide-set gaze suggests that hope and ambition are distant memories, and his only remaining emotion is brittle determination. You'd want to give him a hug, if he weren't all sharp edges.
Suicide Salaryman is much less ostentatiously goofy than Karoshi 1 or 2, but the puzzles are a little more intricate, with a greater emphasis on exploding blocks and chain reactions.
The mind games are lighter for the Flash crowd, with strange, out-of-place emoticons offering hints, and way fewer levels that require you to think outside of the box. On the other hand, more solutions require split-second timing, and everything seems to be faster anyway. It feels like the twitchiest Karoshi.
I don't think I like the new blood effects. Just because Flash makes it easy to work with vectors, everything doesn't have to look like an exploding ball of crimson yarn. But the classic blocky Karoshi graphics are as charming as ever, and the background music is still the perfect combination of up-beat and off-beat.
This game is mostly about inverting expectations about video games, but it also touches on real-world issues. "Karoshi" is the word for a Japanese phenomenon where businesspeople suddenly drop dead from stress-related illness, due to overwork. It doesn't have anything to do with intentional suicide. Venbrux has twisted the meaning of the word, crafting an indictment of oppressive corporate environments, rather than the social pressures that would drive people to literally work themselves to death. I think it's a less interesting topic, but then, I have the luxury of working in a non-rectangular office. Maybe the point about cubicles killing you just can't be made often enough.