Bright Shiny Things: Karoshi

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Welcome back to another edition of Bright Shiny Things — this week brought to you by Fallout 3 Lead Producer, Gavin Carter….

Death in games is traditionally something to be avoided. Yet I’m sure in moments of weakness and frustration, we’ve all indulged in the urge to purposefully send our ill-behaving digital characters to their doom down some spiky pit or fiery furnace. For those who can’t get enough of such anti-social behavior, I recommend downloading Karoshi and Karoshi 2.0 by 2D Cube (aka Jesse Venbrux), a pair of hilarious puzzle platformers.

“Karoshi” is a Japanese term that translates literally into “death from overwork.” Playing a suit-clad businessman, the object is, quite simply, to kill yourself. Each level is laid out using a variety of very simple elements — blocks, spikes, safes, and a small variety of set dressing pieces. The game controls like a standard platformer, and death can be visited on your character a number of ways. Whether you collide with a set of spikes, fall off the world to your death, or get your head smashed in by a falling safe, you’re rewarded with a cloud of blood and and an explosion of limbs guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

Sending your blocky avatar to his virtual maker is not as easy as it might seem. Each level is a miniature puzzle, with a variety of elements to block your progress. They can be as simple as a wall of blocks that you must climb, or something more insidious like parts that only appear when you’re near, or switches that cause elements in the level to appear and disappear. The further you go, the more ingenious and difficult the puzzles get. Many levels feature extremely simplistic layouts with no obvious way around them, and you can stare at them for minutes without realizing that a solution lies right at your feet. One level in the original features a large letter spelled out in blocks with no obvious way to interact with it. The key to the level is so deceptively simple that the realization and reward of watching your character explode is like attaining a sort of violent zen enlightenment.

The humor is often the best part of Karoshi. The second game opens with a loading screen that includes the text “press any key to skip loading.” Some levels include messages like the one level with the question, “Are you an idiot?” There’s one pit with a switch for “yes” and another pit with a switch for “no.” Sometimes you throw yourself into a pit of spikes only to find the spikes are actually small yellow fuzzy creatures with big smiles and party hats. Also, both games turn things on their head at the end by presenting a send-up of the classic “boss battle” fights. The endings for both games are simply hilarious.

The Karoshi games are both offered completely free, and worth any amount of time you can invest in them. Barring a real mental block over a puzzle, the games seem to take around 30 minutes each. They both are the rare type of games that leave you wanting more after they’re over. If you want to see the game in action, check out some of the videos on YouTube — just be warned, they contain spoilers.

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