Image: Devolver Digital

We didn't really know what to make of KarmaZoo when it was first revealed in this year's Wholesome Direct. The co-op platformer from Devolver Digital and Pastagames looked sweet, for sure, but pretty pixel-art platforming is hardly a rare species in the jungle that is the Switch eShop. What was going to be the hook to separate this one from the rest of the pack? The answer: Sharing the love.

Of course, helping your teammates get to the goal should be the objective of any team-based platforming (we say, as our mind furiously flashes back to memories of being thrown off cliffs in New Super Mario Bros. U), but Karmazoo takes things up to another level where helping your teammates — and racking up some good karma in the process — is the name of the game.

The result is a co-op platformer that is genuinely heart-warming. This might not be the most ground-breaking side-scroller that you play this year, but after playing through a couple of rounds with the NL team just prior to and following the game's launch, we struggle to think of one that is more wholesome.

So, what is it all about? When you first plop into Karmazoo, you are nothing more than a blob surrounded by a field of energy. A whistle-stop tutorial introduces you to the jumping and singing mechanics that will be crucial to your time in the game and you quickly learn that the only way to survive 'The Zoo' is by sticking close to your teammates — your bubble of energy is strong when you move as one, but will pop if you stray too far from the heard.

just a few games in and paired with total strangers online, we felt like part of the team

With the simple two-button controls under our belts, we leapt (because yes, it turns out the blobs can jump) into our first Loop — a series of five platforming stages for up to ten online players. What was immediately apparent was that our blob was the odd one out. Instead of being greeted by a group of nine pea-shaped pixel sprites, we were surrounded by a host of lions, seals, flames, music boxes, and kettles, each one bringing its own unique team-boosting skill to the table.

A Bulldog could sing in all directions, Wolves boosted the voices of the teammates in its vicinity, Lamps lit up the darkness of the level to reveal the items hidden within. As a blob, there wasn't a lot that we could bring to the table apart from sticking helpful, traversable tombstones on spikes after a failed crossing and singing at our comparatively meagre volume.

Nonetheless, KarmaZoo still found a way to make us feel useful. With each teammate that we assisted (be that through standing on switches, singing to open doors, or marking a path through spiked pits), we watched as a heart floated from the helped player to our blob-like sprite and was tallied up with a satisfying pop upon impact. At the end of the Loop, these hearts are collected together as your 'Team Karma', with each player taking a share away with them — it turns out that teamwork really does make the dream work.

Clutching onto our newly collected Karma, we returned to The Zoo and found it to be adorned with animal statues, each of which could be unlocked for a varying number of hearts. We splashed the cash pretty freely at first, possessing every statue that we could afford and gaining its unique skill in the process.

Heading back into another online game, the newfound skills of our selected avatar spoke for themselves. We racked up Karma like nobody's business by blaring music for our teammates to follow as a Music Box and smashing glass floors for a quick workaround as a Seal. We found a particular affinity for the Frog (the cutest little guy out there, if you ask us), whose triple jump made collecting items a breeze, but importantly, just a few games in and paired with total strangers online, we felt like part of the team.

Whenever someone got separated from the pack, there was always a teammate to dash back and make sure their bubble didn't burst while a handful of others would do everything they could to bring them back up to speed. In a year of online shooters, brawlers, and racers, it's nice to pass the time in an online game all about helping others.

There are Loop-creating options for those who want to play with only a select group of friends, and a different game mode for some couch co-op, but we had a perfectly good time running with a random team online and establishing each player's skillset in the process.

We are still only a couple of games into KarmaZoo at the time of writing and with 50 characters to unlock each with its own unique abilities and upgrades, we can see that there is still a lot of love to be shared. The levels aren't the most complex that we have seen in 2023, so if you are looking for a game that will draw you in and absolutely not let you go, then you better look elsewhere.

But if you are after something to bring you a smile and maybe just restore your faith in humanity a little bit in the process, then it can't hurt to go a few rounds in The Zoo.

KarmaZoo is now available to purchase on the Switch eShop for £7.19 / $7.99 which includes a 20% discount for the launch period until 28th November.

Have you already headed to the Zoo for some pretty pixel platforming? Sing your thoughts in the comments below.