The gymnasts among you may beg to differ, but I declare Jenga to be the ultimate balancing contest.
No, not playing the actual game, though that can be quite entertaining in its own right. What I'm referring to is something the blocks are perfectly suited for, much more so than the average domino or largish Lego block. I can recall spending hours, just me and the Jenga blocks, carefully balancing single pieces, adjusting counterweights, and fashioning several sets together to create structures of massive proportions. One breath and the whole thing could come crashing down, much to my parents' dismay upon stomping on a lone block on the living room floor.
Aside from the occasional physics sandbox, not many games have succeeded at transposing this fun to the virtual space; the games under the Jenga moniker certainly do not fit the bill. Phun does to an extent, but its complexity just as much hurts as helps it. Every other new flash game seems to be a physics playground, though most of these have goals based around the physics and not built into the physics itself. Even then, it is rare to see one that works building into the mix instead of taking pieces away while trying not to cause a collapse, as in traditional Jenga. Just over the horizon, though, is one that may be a near perfect substitute.
Some of you may be familiar with the much heralded Tower of Goo, which won several awards when it released a couple years back. Based around little oily balls which can be dragged around to fashion a tower, it does as good a job as any game of bringing good old fashioned block stacking to the computer, and its followup is coming quite soon and looking to do just as good, if not better, of a job. Made by the wonderful guys over at 2dBoy, World of Goo takes the same mechanics as its predecessor and wraps them around a series of puzzles, and then those puzzles around a story as charming as in most commercial games, to say nothing of indie masterpieces. While Tower of Goo stopped gameplay elements at its namesake, World of Goo gives those building bits a goal beyond making the highest thing possible.
I noticed RockPaperShotgun's glowing review last week and figured I would drop a preorder to see what all the hype was about, and just the chapter 1 preview they give as a preorder bonus is an amazing piece of work. Looking through the review it looks like later puzzles have other goals, but what I have played so far works pretty similarly to lemmings as far as the ultimate goal is concerned. You have numerous goo blobs which you can connect together, making structures to get all of them to a pipe at the end of the level, but each goo blob you use in the structure subtracts from the total that can possibly escape. Each level has a specific goo blob goal, and additional blobs rescued over this amount go into an extras pile. These can be used in a semi-competitive metagame, called the "World of Goo Corporation," but do not let the name fool you; it's Tower of Goo, but with leaderboards. My Jenga stacking childhood is not only fulfilled, it's also competitive. Such a blast this is, and I see 2dBoy having much success when it comes out on both PC and WiiWare on the 13th. Their preorder bonus does not stop at the preview of chapter 1, though. Those who preordered the game will be receiving download links for the full version starting on the 6th, at least on PC. There will be Linux and OSX builds as well, but those are a bit buggy at the moment and will have to wait until the 13th.
To those like me who preordered, I hope to see you in the gooey World of Goo tomorrow. Everyone else, pick it up with no hesitation when it releases on whatever platform you desire; I guarantee there will be no regrets. Meanwhile, I need to get this tower just a bit higher.