With the rush of highly anticipated titles being released this fall, it would be a true shame if World of Goo got lost in the shuffle. While lacking the advertising budget of many of this season’s megahits, World of Goo has been championed by enthusiastic gaming press, indie game developers and PC gaming apologists. Add my voice to the chorus, because World of Goo is a terrific achievement that overflows with creativity and humor.
The crux of the game involves building fantastic functional constructs out of titular goo. The player must drag and drop the goo adjacent to two other goo ball vertices, which will snap new edges into place between them. These connections can bend and eventually snap, as you might expect a viscous material would.
The puzzles in World of Goo involve transporting the goo to a distant pipe. This is accomplished by building a structure towards it with as few goo balls as possible. The game begins with fairly straightforward puzzles: build a tower, bridge a gap, circumvent an obstacle. While the solutions require creativity, flexibility and lateral thinking, there is typically only one correct strategy for each puzzle. The only written instructions consist of cryptic clues from the enigmatic Sign Painter. The player is therefore required to discover the fundamentals of goo construction on their own. For better or worse, it’s impossible to proceed without learning things the hard way. Fortunately, the rules that govern World of Goo are logical and consistent.
Once the player has a firm grasp of the fundamentals, the creativity of the game really begins to shine through. The game introduces a menagerie of goo varieties. Bamboo-like green goo can be repositioned, pink goo balloons float, red goo is flammable, and many more. These new species build seamlessly on the existing mechanics, and introduce fascinating new challenges. Best of all, while the fundamentals always carry over, there is very little strategic overlap between levels. The player must constantly adapt, reevaluating old ideas and developing new ones.
The strong mechanics and puzzles are backed by beautiful cartoon-like art direction. Backgrounds are painted with broad strokes while people and objects have exaggerated proportions, not entirely unlike a Dr. Seuss book. There is a fair variety in the music, but every tune had a “magical factory” vibe to it that was actually rather grating after a while.
The game has a loose story told via short cartoon cut-scenes between levels. It’s cute and has nice anti-corporation and anti-consumerism themes, but is ultimately forgettable. Much stronger is the writing presented within the levels themselves. The messages from the mysterious Sign Painter are both humorous and helpful, reminding me quite a bit of the notes left behind by Dungeon Man in Earthbound. There are also some fantastically nerdy inside jokes hidden in the level names and descriptions, especially in the final world.
It’s tempting to let indie games off the hook sometimes due to their constrained development conditions. With World of Goo no such disclaimer is required; it’s a truly accessible, brilliant, and innovative game. Furthermore, 2D Boy went the extra mile in customer service by releasing the game on all three major operating systems (Windows, OSX, Linux) and completely DRM free. World of Goo is without a doubt one of the must-play titles of this fall.
Plays Like: The Incredible Machine
Pros: Challenging creative puzzles, accessible gameplay, innovative goo physics, delightful cartoon graphics, strong humorous writing
Cons: Music can be grating, learning gameplay fundamentals by trial and error requires persistence
ESRB: E for everyone; with no violence whatsoever, this is less offensive than a Disney game or movie