A review I wrote of the iOS game Karoshi for the website www.square-go.com

We’ve all been there; the daily grind, the annoying boss, the painful monotony that drags you down. Whilst the majority of us deal with this by jumping onto our favourite consoles and unleashing a wave of hot lazer vengeance, some people, like in Karoshi, choose to deal with this by simply ending it all. Topping themselves. Suicide.

This is a concept that doesn’t necessarily fit with video games which are, when you get down to it, all about not dying. As Karoshi starts up, one of the first things it says is that you have to unlearn everything you have learned about video games as your goal in each level is to kill yourself.

Sounds easy. In your average game it would be, but Karoshi presents you with 50 levels of platforming puzzles designed to stop you from killing yourself, the eponymous Mr Karoshi. The game therefore becomes about figuring out each level and finding the solution that will inevitably end in your bloody and brutal demise.

In this respect, the game is a treat. There is some fiendish level design that will require some serious thought; some levels require you to move crates, operate switches and make pinpoint jumps in order to succeed, as it were. The game also throws in Mr Karoshi’s boss and girlfriend. If you walk past your boss you become even more depressed, move slower and can’t jump as high. Alternatively, when you pass your girlfriend you become happy and can jump higher but the normally lethal spikes turn into flowers.

All of this gives the game a lot of complexity but, happily, there is a deranged logic to it that does make some kind of sense. You will often find yourself tearing out chunks of hair but as soon as you discover the solution you feel a fool for not realising something that was staring you in the face. The game also mixes things up by throwing in very simple levels amongst the more complex brain twisters.

As well as the main game, there is another mode that sets you doing lots of small mini games one after another in the style of the Wario Ware games. Most require a single button press or a quick action then it’s on to the next game. The idea is to survive as long as you can to build the highest score. It’s a nice little mode to have once you get through the main levels, as once you’ve done them, there isn’t that much reason to go back through them. There are coins to collect but beyond that, once you’ve clocked the main game that’s pretty much it.

Karoshi is one of those popular PC indie games which is now getting an even wider audience on the App Store. It has a lovely 8bit style and a pick up and play charm that is difficult to resist. It may not last you forever, but it’s a top notch ride while it lasts.

Four stars out of five

Reviewed on iPhone

Originally published on 16th March 2011

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