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Developer: Other Kind Games
Platform: iPhone & iPad
Karma Incarnation 1 is like an extended psychedelic trip sequence from your favorite point-and-click adventure game. It’s a beguilingly strange, frequently beautiful experience that’s a little too divorced from reality for its own good.
Mechanically and tonally it bears some resemblance to the work of Amanita Design. If you’ve played and enjoyed Samarost 3, Machinarium or Botinacula before, there’s a good chance you’ll appreciate what’s on offer here.
At the heart of this wordless side-scrolling adventure is one long item swap chain. You obtain various mystical gewgaws and run errands for a colorful cast of mystical creatures in order to secure progress to the next section.
While those aforementioned Amanita games ground their fantastical fetch quests in logic and keep their non-verbal language clear and relatable, though, Karma Incarnation 1 has no qualms with shooting off at a complete tangent.
The core of the game comes down to determining what each oddball character you meet wants by examining their thought bubbles, which play out as small animated vignettes. Occasionally these will boil what’s needed down into a simple X = Y equation, but often you’ll be none the wiser as to what is required of you.
This doesn’t tend to matter, however, when much of the game comes to resemble an interactive cartoon. Your role is often that of a bemused observer, occasionally prodding screen prompts to gain a random reaction and forward the story. This disconnected feeling is only heightened by some occasionally unresponsive or finicky controls.
It’s not always this uninvolving. One satisfying section sees you rotating a pair of concentric circles to form patterns that transport you to different themed worlds. Another sees you instinctually pulling a frozen creature towards a campfire to thaw them out, via a simple rhythm-based mini-game. But a good number of puzzles make little if any logical sense.
What keeps you playing Karma Incarnation 1 through this confusion is the sheer imagination and artistry of its world. It’s beautiful, vibrant, and packed full of incidental detail. This is a darkly humorous universe where hulking nightmare monsters chomp down on benign creatures, but where there’s often a satisfying karmic sting in the tail.
Indeed, in keeping with the game’s title, there’s a clear theme of doing right by others shot throughout its narrative. Choosing the path of aggression towards non-threatening characters adds another vicious spike to your hungry protagonist, setting you along a darker path.
A special mention should also be made of the game’s evocative music and impeccable sound design, which is easily up to the task of matching the opulent visuals.
As a game, then, Karma Incarnation 1 has some frustrating limitations. But as a mind-frying artistic experience, there’s little on the App Store that can touch it.
- Stunningly rendered world
- Awesome sound
- Imaginative puzzles
- Puzzles often too random
- Occasionally unresponsive controls