One might argue that fate had it in from the start for Mr. Karoshi; the word karōshi translating directly from Japanese as death from overwork, a miserable way to go if you ask me. You wouldn’t name your cat Mr. Roadkill and you certainly wouldn’t name your first-born child Mrs. Measles. And yet here we are in the company of Mr. Karoshi who wants nothing more than to smash his own head in with a brick. It’s almost poetic.
Why? Well he’s chronically overworked; ever overlooked by his boss and as a result he is assuredly miserable. The goal in each of the 50 levels is simple then: expire by any means possible.
So you’ll force old man Karoshi to leap carelessly onto 4-foot spikes, shattering him into a shower of vital fluids and bone shards, you’ll walk him lackadaisically through flames, transforming him into joyful cinders, you’ll electrocute the guy, crush him and guide him through all manner of other crude killing devices. If this sounds terribly morose then take a look at the art, this isn’t a game that takes itself seriously but it’s certainly twisted.
Convincing your vital organs to leave their homes and bask in the sunlight isn’t as easy as you might think though. While the developer likes to believe Karoshi subverts all the rules (it begins by asking you to “tap to skip” the loading screen), it conforms pretty well to genre standards. Karoshi’s goal might not be a rainbow tinted celebratory banner or a doorway into a magical kingdom but it’s a goal nonetheless and the task is always to figure out how to reach it.
So there’s plenty of switch pressing, crate pushing and jumping. Later in the game Mrs. Karoshi and Karoshi’s boss show face with amusing results.
Puzzles are generally a matter of working out in which order to perform these button presses, murders and crate pushes and the game is content leaving you to tinker with the various features of each level rather than butting in with gaudy hints. It can be tough but there’s delight in investigation and creation. And then death.
That said some of the puzzles are absurd. An irritating favourite is to have you restart four or five times before the key component of the brainteaser materializes. Once you’ve dealt with this a few times it becomes natural to hit restart when you find yourself head scratching but it remains an irritating retreat.
There’s also absolutely no difficulty curve. The levels flitter between blithe and uncompromising, never settling in to a steady climb. But then, maybe that’s intentional; this is, after all, the game that begins by telling you to forget everything you know about videogames.
Yet behind the tap-to-skip loading screens and upside down credits Karoshi adheres to and falls back on genre conventions time and time again. Your goal might be death but it’s just another way of rewarding you for solving puzzles. But then, Karoshi is a cracking puzzle game regardless of what it thinks about itself, so sod it.