Today marks the release of World of Goo on PC, a game that WiiWare owners have been playing since Monday. WiiWare/PC releases are becoming more and more the norm these days, ranging in quality from Eternity's Child to Strong Bad's Cool Game For Attractive People. That's arguably a pretty enormous difference, though neither game is likely to show up on anyone's top ten best game of 2008 list (even Luc Bernard's). With this standard of quality in mind, I started up World of Goo, expecting to get a moderately fun time waster; something to play after I'd beaten every other game I already own. What I got instead was the closest thing WiiWare has to a title as original, accessible, and amazing as Braid.
Yeah, it's that good.
Hit the jump to find out just why World of Goo is so flippin' fantastic.
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World of Goo (WiiWare [reviewed], PC)
Developed by 2D Boy
Published by Nintendo
Released on WiiWare October 13th, 2008, on PC October 17th, 2008
World of Goo has everything one could ask for in a game: it's got simple, easy to learn controls, beautiful graphics, great music, high re-playability, style, depth, and class. It's a definitively indie game, filled with moments that could have only been devised by artists more concerned with expressing their ideas than turning a buck (especially when compared to similar yet inferior games like Nintendo's own Cubello and EA's Boom Blox). Despite it's flagrant weirdness, World of Goo remains one of the few games I can't imagine anyone hating.
The game puts you in the role of an unseen savior of "the goo", cute little blobs of slime who double as your damsels in distress as well as your primary tools of rescue. These little weirdos exist in basically three states: "sleeping" (unusable to the player), "crawling" (usable by the player) or "placed" in a greater structure (reusable or unusable by the player, depending on the goo's type). The goal of each of the game's levels is to find a way to get your goo in gear so they may make it to an on-screen suction pipe, which whisks them back to the safety of the World of Goo Cooperation. Each level requires you rescue a certain amount of goos before you can move on to the next level. It's like Lemmings, only interesting.
At first you'll just be using the goo to create bridges and towers to get your little blobby children to the escape pipe, but before long you'll be using green goo to create a re-constructible structure to climb out of a pit, red matchstick goo for detonating gigantic explosions, Skull goo to traverse a plain of spikes, digital missile goos; the list goes on and on. The game manages to maintain enough variations on the "rescue the goo" theme that it never once gets old. None of these new goos come off as gimmicky or forced. To think that such a small team devised a game this perfectly coordinated is nothing short of mind blowing.
World of Goo's visuals come off like a cross between the work of Jhonen Vasquez (Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, Invader Zim) and Terry Gilliam's animation on Monty Python's Flying Circus. It's a mix that is equal parts cute and surreal, made more pleasing by the game's high levels of visual polish. World of Goo's graphic design excellence more than makes up for it's lack of polygons or multitudes of frames of animation. More than just about any other game released this year, World of Goo proves that it's not the size of your budget, but the talent of the artists on your team, that leads to a great looking game.
The soundtrack is also quite well done. For the first few levels, it's a little too reminiscent of Danny Elfman (not that there is anything wrong with Danny Elfman), but as the game goes on the game's composer branches into a variety of styles ranging from twangy country to industrial rock. Just as World of Goo's gameplay always remains consistent in toned while offering frequent surprises, it's soundtrack remains unified with itself, yet still able to take the occasional risk.
Beneath the surface of all these niceties is the game's real star; it's physics engine. This is why World of Goo is a game that one needs to play in order to understand. Screenshots and videos can't convey the feeling of interacting with the ever wobbling, squishing, collapsing, and gyrating world of World of Goo. Though it's not terribly realistic, the overly exaggerated gravity, wind, and water effects that the goo must endure all add a level of randomness that makes every game of World of Goo different from the last. There is no thrill quite like seeing your tower of goo start to topple, and quickly balancing it out with the rapid application of goo to the opposite side, to then watch it start to topple again. It really can't be put into words just how tense, amusing, and challenging these moments can be.
That was one of the things I was most pleasantly surprised with in World of Goo. It's hard; not quite Mega Man 9 level of hard, but still no walk in the park. Similar to Zack and Wiki, the need to think outside the box in the game's multi-tiered puzzles will require more than a little head scratching. One particularly tough level involved using the green goo to slowly lower a box full of explosives down a shaft, taking special care to not accidentally drop it into a fire, then build a wick made from matchstick goo, get the matchstick goo into the fire so the explosives will go off, watch the destruction, then use the still dangling green goo to assist in the creation of a chandelier/bridge to get your surviving goo across the still burning flame. It sounds simple, but it took me at least ten tries to figure that all out. The way that World of Goo stacks these eureka moments on top of each other in such a fluid and natural manner is beyond impressive. Newton would be proud.
The game is also pretty long, consisting of over four main chapters that each contain around eleven levels. Some levels will be over fast (especially the ones that need to be completed in a certain amount of time), but others could take over twenty minutes to tackle. Depending on your skill level, you could complete World of Goo in anywhere between five and fifteen hours, but even after you're done, there are bonuses and secrets to unlock. For instance, going above and beyond in a stage by leaving no goo behind will award you the label "OCD". It's just one of the game's many little touches that remind you that it was created by people more concerned with having fun with the creative process then they were with pleasing the lowest common denominator.
This brings me to the game's story, which is told through Earthbound-esque in-game street signs as well as chapter ending cut scenes. Earthbound rip off is actually more like it, as the tone of the writing in these signs are nearly identical to those found in that SNES-era RPG. That's OK though, because they are consistently funny (especially the ones from your Mom), and do well to lighten the usually tense mood. Besides, anything the street signs lack in originality is more than made up for by the game's cut scenes, which are about as unpredictable and bizarre as one could hope for. There is an especially unruly plot twist at the end of Chapter 3 that basically turns the game inside out. I don't want to give too much away, but lets just say the citizens of World of Goo aren't given the chance to choose between the red or the blue pill.
There are a few minor issues with the way the game controls. All cursor movement is controlled by pointing the Wii remote at the screen. Pressing either A or B grabs a goo, letting go of the button drops the goo. It's about as simple as it can get, perfect for everyone from long term gamers to total first timers. Things go wrong when you try to pick up a goo that happens to be crawling directly on top of another goo, which happens frequently as goo loves crawling on more goo (I told you they were weirdos). It's not usually a big deal to just wait a second for the goo that's in the way to crawl on by, but when you need to grab a specific goo in order to save your goo tower from toppling, every second counts.
There are also instances when you need to move a large amount of goos from one side of the screen to another, one at a time, by just picking them up and carrying them. This slows the otherwise fast pace of the game down to a crawl. It only happens every once and a while, but it's still a quirk that could have easily been fixed by allowing the player to select groups of goo en-mass.
None of these control issues are even remotely game breaking, and may not even be noticed by most players. It's not these niggles that prevent me from recommending World of Goo to every human being on the planet. It's the fact that I know a lot of you out there wont play any game that doesn't involve any running, jumping, or killing. World of Goo is totally action packed, but it's not action that involves making the player feel like a bad-ass. It's the Pikmin sort of action where you conduct an army multi-colored, hand-rescued slaves in a battle for their lives; the sort of action where you feel responsible for continued existence of every being in the game's world. It may not be as instantly satisfying as your standard action title, but after just a few minutes of play, World of Goo makes you feel like a genius, a general, and a god all rolled into one.
You know what, just play the demo, and comment below with your thoughts. If any of you actually hate it, I'd love to hear why, as from where I stand, World of Goo is about as close to a universally fun game as you can get.
Score-- 9.5 (Superb (9s are a hallmark of excellence. There may be flaws, but they are negligible and won't cause massive damage to what is a supreme title.)
World of Goo reviewed by Jonathan Holmes
A hallmark of excellence. It may have some flaws, but they are negligible to what is otherwise a supreme title.
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