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Review – World of Goo

posted on February 26th, 2009 by bruce

What a strange and intriguing little beast this is. I’m hesitant to call it a game. It most certainly is a game in the sense that it places a series of challenges before you, with rewards meted out along the way, and then a credit sequence plays. But in some ways that are intangible, and other that are, it doesn’t quite feel like a game. Before I go off on some bizarre experiential recollection of my time spent with it, I will give you a more straightforward recounting of what I felt about the game. I believe in times past they were called “reviews”.

There is a lot to like about World of Goo.

I’m going to get the look and feel out of the way first, because it’s pretty much perfect. Stories of the game’s creators subsisting on cat food for years to bring their vision to life are probably apocryphal but probably not entirely inaccurate. This is what passionate and driven young people are willing to do for their art. And what this really means is that they were free. Free to pursue a surreal vision that is, if not entirely original, at least rarely brought to life so well in a videogame.

If you’ve ever enjoyed a Tim Burton movie or a musical score by Danny Elfman, you will enjoy this game. Early bleak levels feature machinery gone mad, gobbling up the titular balls of goo in service of the profit motive. Things shift in later levels to a cybernetic locale which hints at gaming’s bygone days, but everywhere is a pervasive sense of a desire for escape.

The gameplay left me of two minds.

From a purely creative standpoint, it features some of the most innovative and interesting gameplay I’ve seen in a while. Just performing the basic mechanic of the game, glomming little balls of goo together to build towers and bridges, is a fun nugget of interactivity that will keep builders and tinkerers engaged. But it manages to go far beyond just joining virtual tinkertoys together. Several different types of goo balls are introduced which mix up the physical forces acting on your constructions and manage to keep things fresh to the end. Several of the puzzles require an aHa! moment that evokes a smile when you realize there’s a way to use the basic building blocks in a way you hadn’t previously considered.

I have heard complaints that the Wii version makes it hard to select the desired type of goo ball when there are dozens of them roaming around your structure, but I personally did not experience this problem. The physics which drive the game react quite fluidly to everything that happens. Whether your constructions are floating and bobbing in a tank of fluid or swaying in a persistent breeze, the physics lend a kind of gracefulness to the whole affair.

But, for having all of these fun and interesting things to do, the game doesn’t seem to do much with them. I was surprised at just how easy the game ultimately was. It wound up feeling less like a puzzle game and more like a straightforward, point A to point B adventure and it seemed it was over almost as quickly as it started. Several levels took a short time to sort out the answer to, but none of them were really taxing from a difficulty standpoint.

This could be a response to games’ recent trend to include those looking for casual entertainment, I’m not sure. And its abbreviated length could be due to its need to be downloadable. I’d have certainly enjoyed some more puzzles that required more serious head scratching to solve.

Oddly enough, the game is actually about something.

The different areas of the game do try to speak to different themes, from environmental degradation to the shallowness of beauty to the “opt-in” spying networks we find ourselves more increasingly sucked into. But it doesn’t really have much to say about any of those things beyond a mere mention. What the game is really about is escape. Specifically, escape upward. Ascension. It’s about finding yourself mired in, literally, a world of goo while keeping your eyes turned up in the hopes of finding beauty or truth or whatever you seek somewhere out there.

The last level isn’t a game level so much as a cutscene calling out to our desire to break free. The art style, music and gameplay all swirl together in the last couple of minutes of this simple downloadable game, making a cohesive experience more moving and memorable than most huge blockbuster games can manage. Color me impressed.

So while as a game it’s not the greatest as a game experience it’s actually compelling. I’m really hopeful that 2D Boy is able to revisit the goo filled world they’ve made.

7 Comments

  1. John said on February 26, 2009:

    If you like World of Goo you should probably watch this, it’s really interesting and insightful. http://blog.wolfire.com/2008/11/world-of-goo-design-tour/

  2. christian said on February 26, 2009:

    Just wanted to pop in and say every screenshot of this game looks like a dream.

  3. Bruce said on February 27, 2009:

    That design tour is very interesting. There were probably themes hidden in the game I failed to catch because I was too busy playing it. I’m thinking of the windmill level where the windmills, which a sign points out were meant to bring clean energy to the island, are deadly to the goo balls. That could have been a statement on the debate over the effects of wind turbines on bird populations. Oh well, catching allusions has never been my strong point. But the overall “feeling” the game left me with wasn’t really caused by the summation of overt statements it had made. There was just an overall -sense- of ascension to the whole affair that was somewhat explicit but strongly underpinned by the aesthetics of the game. For me at least, someone else could experience it entirely differently.

  4. Bruce said on February 27, 2009:

    One more thing, re the game looking like a dream. Playing it does have a dreamy quality, and it looks to me like at least part of that was directly due to the creators having to work within the space limitations of a downloadable game. I’ve seen artists who do their best work precisely because technical limitations force them to focus on their vision, and cut out all the fluff that doesn’t directly support it. It looks like that might have been the case for this game.

    And I hope nobody reads this and thinks I was down on the gamePLAY, quite the opposite. My biggest complaint was just that the game didn’t seem to explore the intriguing mechanics it introduced. Thus my statement about hoping for a sequel.

    And I never even mentioned how great the soundtrack is! (I’ve got to stop writing while drunk) The music behind the second trailer alone was almost reason enough to make me buy the game. I just wanted to hear more music like it. If upcoming video game “awards” ceremonies don’t nominate this game for soundtrack of the year, I will personally firebomb them.

  5. jay said on February 27, 2009:

    Bruce, I actually thought that nearly each stage introduced a new mechanic or new take on an old one. It was kind of Braid-esque in that many of the puzzles were similar but almost all were different. The consequence of having nearly no filler in a game is a two hour game, unfortunately.

    And a sequel just seems to be against the spirit of a game like this.

  6. Bruce said on February 27, 2009:

    But I wouldn’t have minded a bit of filler in a game that’s this much fun. Working in space constraints probably necessitated a much leaner approach though, I imagine the designers spent lots of time in the virtual cutting room, arguing over which levels couldn’t make the final package.

  7. John said on March 2, 2009:

    If I remember correctly they were planning on making a sequel/expansion that would just be more levels and continue the story of the goo balls once they go to space in the final cut scene (sorry if I spoiled that for anyone). I haven’t heard anything about it lately though so I’m not sure if it’s still in the works.

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