While there are a lot of music-infused games, the genre of ‘heavy metal rock opera video game’ is not exactly an over-saturated field, so props to the folks at Basecamp games for trying something new and different. Karmaflow just isn’t a game with a riff-driven soundtrack, but a puzzle/platform/adventure in which – in true operatic fashion – all the dialogue is sung, and there are significant songs (opera folks would call them arias) that present great swaths of exposition and drive the narrative.
The music itself is quite well done, with over a dozen talented singers from European metal bands like Dragonforce, Cradle Of Filth, and Epica (don’t feel bad, I’ve never heard of them, either) providing vocals, and symphonic instrumentals by the Dutch Metropole Orkest. Stylistically, the music recalls the somewhat overblown classical crossover concept albums so popular in the Art Rock era. A fully staged, costumed live version of the music was recently premiered in the Netherlands as a full-blown theatrical experience.
Within the game itself, there is an “adaptive music system” in which the tone and pacing of the music vary with player actions and choices. All these are hopeful indicators that at some point, music and games will come together in a truly spectacular way.
Unfortunately, strip away the musical elements, and Karmaflow is a fairly muddled, mundane, and often confusing platform/puzzle game. You play as a Karmakeeper, whose task is to explore the world, absorbing and distributing karma – a kind of elemental life-force – which shapes the environment, brings plants and animals to life, and assists the Guardians of each world. Listening to the Guardians and other NPCs sing, the player learns of conflicts or other situations that need attention, and there is some freedom of choice in how and who to assist. There really isn’t much in the way of exciting action or gameplay generated drama, as much as the music suggests there should be.
Stylistically, the game recalls Journey, with abstracted character models and colorful fantasy environments that manage to be detailed and non-realistic in equal measure. Moving through the world can be frustrating, with little indication about where to go or which jumps are possible. At launch, there were a lot of bugs, perhaps not surprising in a game from a very small development team. Additionally, only the first Act of the game is currently available, with the next arriving sometime in April.
Conceptually, a game that really plays out like theatrical, operatic experience is an intriguing conceit, one that Karmaflow doesn’t quite manage to pull off. It’s clear that the developers love and understand music, but the game itself is not terribly well made and its systems are under-rehearsed and full of wrong notes. Additional Acts and patches may smooth out the wrinkles and add depth and content, but as it stands, Karmaflow may be destined for a pretty short run on the stage.
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Reviewer statement: A copy of the game was provided by the publisher.