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Review – World of Goo

posted on November 11th, 2008 by chris

Do you like puzzle games? Do you enjoy gooey things? If so, you should try World of Goo. This blob-based puzzler is one of the latest indie games to be released via Steam (or Wiiware, for the console-inclined). It’s filled with brain-twisting, goo-placing goodness.

Puzzles in World of Goo generally revolve around building structures out of blobs. Each level has a pipe you are trying to reach; once you have reached it, the goo-blobs remaining on your structure shuffle their way into the pipe. There is a simple goal (say, 4 blobs) to complete the level, and a more difficult “OCD” goal (save a lot of goo, complete the level quickly or in very few moves). Any extra blobs you get go into a pool to be used in the tower-building “free” game.

Most gameplay is similar to other physics-based puzzlers, such as Bridge Builder. In some ways it is more akin to Lemmings, since you want to save as many of the adorable little suckers as possible. Comparisons to The Incredible Machine have been made, but WoG tends to be more freeform and most stages involve only a few types of blobs. Stages have a variety of different goals, pitfalls, and traps, which makes it the best overall “building” puzzle game I’ve seen. It is certainly amazing how much variety 2DBoy managed to pack into a system which consists entirely of very simple parts.

Simplicity is simultaneously WoG’s strength and its weakness. It is a game where simple rules combine to create a physics-based challenge. This makes it very accessible, but at the same time most puzzles don’t have a whole lot of depth. Even though overall, there is a large set of different challenges, each one is individually pretty simple – the longest puzzle is around 15 minutes. This makes WoG great in some ways because it’s a game that’s easy to pick up or set down. There’s no artificial complexity (your Goos don’t level up just for the hell of it, or anything), but at the same time it’s a little disappointing when you’re done, since so many puzzles are built on that accessibility.

Some puzzles do require quick reflexes on the part of the player, and this may be a bit of a turn-off for some. I generally expect to have time to think in a puzzle game, but when your tower of goo-blobs starts to sway in the wrong direction you have to act quickly if you hope to save it. The more critical goo wavering situations often lead to a chain reaction of counter-balancing back and forth until your tower collapses. WoG does have a system whereby you can go back and “re-do” a move, but by the time things are falling apart, there is not much that can save your structure, and you’ll likely have to start over. Thankfully, most stages are relatively short so this is not a huge impediment to gameplay.

Still, for those who are less obsessed with the puzzle genre, World of Goo does hold out a gooey hand of welcome. Most of the puzzles are not particularly hard, and you can accumulate “skips” to pass by the hardest ones. Skips are given out pretty generously, so WoG is quite accessible for those who are more interested in beating the game than finishing the most frustrating levels. It is a puzzle game at heart, and at times a quite difficult one, but there are enough stop-gaps in there to make it enjoyable for anyone.

World of Goo manages to pack a surprising amount of narrative into a puzzle game, though this obviously plays second fiddle to the gameplay itself. The genre is not known for its plot development, but World of Goo’s reflects its atmosphere – simple things make up a world of surprising breadth, though there is not much depth given to any particular aspect. WoG has some really cool parts, but much of the text in the game (via the omnipresent Sign Painter) is in the form of hints or general ideas – only towards the end of each chapter does more of a narrative emerge. There are, naturally, tons of goo-filled puns. In fact, the game is positively oozing (ha ha) atmosphere from start to end.

I’d recommend World of Goo to anyone who isn’t disgusted by either the puzzle genre or bad puns. It’s relatively simple, not terribly long, and easy to put down or pick back up. There may not be hundreds of hours of gameplay here, but World of Goo alternates between relaxing and frantic in a way that feels like a natural fit for the genre.

3 Comments

  1. Ergo said on November 12, 2008:

    Bravo! Very good review (mirrors most of my thoughs on it, though I wasn’t as fond as you seem to be) and thank god for not bestowing upon it ‘best game ever’ and/or ‘best Wii game ever’ accolades upon it.

  2. jay said on November 12, 2008:

    I am here to disagree! The mechanics themselves are pretty good but for me the care taken in making the game – the art, sound, writing, sound effects, structure – really makes World of Goo something special. Notice how I stuck four pics in to this review 😉

    I did come to the conclusion that the Wii version is more difficult because the controls are a little looser after comparing my experience with Chris’. This may mean you want the PC version though that one may actually be too easy.

  3. pat said on November 12, 2008:

    i am in the middle of the third world in this game and it is very good, just somewhat overrated. the gameplay is good, but not light years ahead of other physics puzzlers.

    the game’s greatest strength is in the “feel.” not only is the music outstanding, but it is dark where most puzzle games are sterile. we have discussed on here before whether games like this need anything other than gameplay, and i definitely see the argument that they don’t. however, in this specific case, the fact that someone clever cared a lot about world of goo shows, and i think the game benefits from that.

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