When you first start playing Karoshi, the following words appear on the screen: ‘Forget everything you know about video games.’ You’d do well to listen. Karoshi specializes in taking familiar gameplay ideas and turning them on their head.
‘Karoshi’ is a Japanese word meaning ‘death from overwork,’ and that’s exactly the story this game tells. You play as Mr. Karoshi, a lowly employee of the evil Yoyo Corporation, a company that assigns more work than anyone could possibly finish. Everyone is expected to work overtime. As they say, ‘all work and no play drives everyone to suicide’… or something like that.
Suicide: it’s harder than you think.
Unlike most other games in existence, the goal of each level in Karoshi is to kill yourself. You can do this by hopping into spikes, letting boxes fall on your head, setting yourself on fire, or subjecting yourself to a high voltage current. But when they said to forget everything you know about videogames, they weren’t just talking about the game’s premise.
Karoshi invokes many old-school videogame tropes, like spikes, invisible blocks, switches, and goomba-like creatures, but oftentimes they’re used in unfamiliar ways. For instance, the goomba enemies don’t hurt you. You can bounce on their heads, but if you stand in their way, they’ll just walk though you. Sometimes spikes turn into flowers, or you lose jumping height, or spikes act like blocks and vice versa. Each level is a single-screen puzzle that makes suicide increasingly difficult.
Overall the game is extremely well made, but we have two problems with Karoshi. The first is that it ends quickly. The game has 50 levels, but many of them can be completed in just a handful of seconds. Also, the game stumbles into one of the pitfalls common with tricky puzzle games like this: you can’t skip levels. If you can’t figure out how to beat one, you’re stuck until you solve it. This doesn’t ruin the game by a long shot, but it does cause some undue frustration.
Some levels have yen coins placed in hard-to-reach spots. If you collect ten of these, you unlock a Karoshi Ware mode that’s reminiscent of the quick-draw microgames in the Wario Ware series. In each one you have five seconds to follow the direction it gives you– survive, kill yourself, or stand still– all while you’re supposed to collect yen coins to get a high score. This mode is a lot of fun, but it’s also more stressful than the regular campaign.
Karoshi delivers the goods every step of the way. It has tricky puzzles, 8-bit presentation, two game modes, loads of creativity, and a ton of humor. For fans of retro-style gaming, Karoshi is one of the best you’ll find on the App Store.