Written by  :  plumifrons (98)
Written on  :  Oct 11, 2008
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars

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If there is hope, it lies in the indies

The Good

Once upon a time, there was a hill where cute little balls of goo lived. One day, they found a mysterious pipe. Where can it only lead? They decided to find out.

World of Goo is a physics-driven puzzle game, which is probably best described as an unlikely combination of Bridge Builder and Lemmings. The basic game mechanic is very simple – balls of goo can be attached to other balls of goo, creating different structures. Your task is to build this structure to a pipe which, once you reach it, starts sucking. All unattached goo balls crawling over the structure get sucked in and you can move to the next level. Sounds like another boring puzzle game, doesn't it? But it's not “just another puzzle game”. Oh no, not at all.

World of Goo, a game created by an independent studio – just two guys, actually! – takes the somewhat stale genre of puzzle games, looks at it carefully, learns what is wrong and then goes its own way, jumping over all the pitfalls with extraordinary grace, charm and skill – and a somersault or two just for the fun of it. The game, you see, is not just a series of levels, it is a wild torrent of imagination let loose.

There aren't two levels alike in World of Goo. There is no filler. Each and every level is hand-crafted with precision. Each and every level somehow manages to have its own distinctive look – they are beautiful and they are memorable. And each and every level, most importantly, brings something new to the game, something you haven't seen before and something you probably did not expect.

Your goo balls often stumble upon various mechanisms and your task is to figure out what exactly they do and how to use them to your advantage. The game's physics engine is vastly more sophisticated than you would think and allows the level designers to create pretty much anything they can think of. There is, for example, a level that rotates. A level that takes place atop a see-saw. Or one in which your task is to unroll a red carpet for a very special guest. And that's one of the least bizarre levels in the game.

Another source of innovation are different types of goo – there is not only standard black goo, but also green vine goo (which can be removed from the structure and reattached) or albino goo (can connect to more goo balls than black) and many, many more, including such gems as balloon goo, flammable goo, beautiful goo, dead goo and even shy yellow goo balls with commitment anxiety.

And still there is so much more – I could write pages and pages describing the delights of individual levels, but I couldn't bear spoiling the fun of discovering them for anyone. You will have to trust me – the fourth chapter alone is so wonderfully innovative you really have to experience it yourself. The game's levels are also linked through signs written by a peculiar Sign Painter, who provides hints (sometimes) and takes you through the game's story. I think.

Once you double-click the game's setup icon, you are sucked into the game's world. A fairly bizarre world where the friendly, yet somehow sinister World of Goo Corporation manufactures and distributes its goo products. The game's undeniable charm is the result of its incredible attention to detail. Pretty much everything in the game is guaranteed to put a smile on your face or make you chuckle from the moment it starts loading (the list of things the game apparently does while initializing, by the way, includes “homogenizing goo”, “swapping time and space”, “testing ozone” and “debating games as art”). The whole setting, art, cutscenes and the unpredictable story they tell (which somehow revolves around consumerism, beauty pageants, electricity, digestive tracts and spam) as well as the Sign Painter's messages all have the same quirky quality and charm which I am at a loss to describe.

The game's artwork is simply beautiful, full of amusing details and overall extremely cute-if-somewhat-bizarre. The music (created by the same insanely talented person) is also fantastic – so rich, so textured and so unpredictable I would swear most of the time it is not just a one-minute loop I am listening to. And it is. Really. Do yourself a favour, visit 2D Boy's website and watch the trailers, they really are worth a few thousand words.

So how about length and replayability? There are four chapters and an epilogue (so far; a “moon chapter” is apparently in progress). The game's difficulty is set to a just perfect level, neither too easy nor too hard – you should never get stuck for more than a couple of minutes, as there are many subtle hints to guide you if you aren't sure what to do.

Going through the game doesn't actually take very long, just a couple hours (of first class entertainment, though!); replayability, however, is cleverly boosted in two ways: each level has a minimum number of goo balls you have to save to be able to continue to the next level and every extra ball you collect over this limit is sent to the World of Goo Corporation. In the Corporation, you can build a tower from those extra balls – and if you are connected to the internet, you can see the heights of other people's towers as clouds floating around your own and try to beat them by building a higher tower. Addictive, simple and fun.

Each level also has a set OCD criterion (as in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), which is typically a number of goo balls to be saved, or, less often, a maximum number of moves or maximum time in which you must finish the level. If you meet the OCD criterion, the level is marked with a flag on the level selection screen and you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, because the OCD criteria are often diabolical. Sometimes you only need to perfect the particular goo-building skill of that level; often, though, reaching the OCD involves some clever trickery (and I am not referring to cheating) and outside the box thinking – some of the criteria actually seem utterly impossible at a first glance, but aren't; the a-ha moment when you finally figure it out is priceless. Collecting OCD flags quickly becomes an addictive business that is certain to make you sleep deprived for at least a week.

The Bad

Nothing, really. The game is just perfect as it is. Nitpickers could point out that the interface, flawless during normal gameplay, can occasionally be a little annoying for the OCD hunter, but don't listen to those addicts. There is nothing wrong with World of Goo.

The Bottom Line

There is no other way to say it: World of Goo is a charming, utterly fantastic, original, daring, funny, addictive and extremely enjoyable little game. Considering this is a first release of an independent studio, it sets the bar for indie developers insanely high (and kicks the large corporation's arses in the process). World of Goo justly deserves to become a smash hit and a classic fondly remembered for many years to come. I take my hat off to you, 2D Boy.