Ok, ok, I know I’m late to the party – but I’ve been hearing from both friends and internet strangers alike for the longest time, about how good World of Goo is. So when I saw it was in the recent Steam sale I grabbed it and resolved to make time to give it a try. Despite having had dozens of recommendations to play this game, I actually had no idea what kind of game it was, beyond being a physics based puzzler, so I went into it without any expectations. And oh boy, that just made it even sweeter to discover that this really is one of the most delightful, well thought out games I’ve played in a long time. It’s funny, it’s cute, the gameplay is slick and the graphics and music are fantastic… and the fact that it was the first release of 2d Boy, a two man indie development company? Astonishing.
The aim of the game is to get your little goo balls from their starting positions, to the exit pipe which sucks them into a big tank. To do this you’ll need to use your balls to build towers, bridges and other structures, avoiding obstacles such as spikes and defying gravity as you do so. When I was first getting my head around the gameplay, I couldn’t help but think back to my school days, and remember my technology teacher Mr Solomon explaining to the class the concept of struts and ties… he’d have had a much easier time explaining it with a quick demo of World of Goo. The little goo balls which you haven’t used to build the structures themselves, will shimmy along on its rigid rails towards the exit pipe. A simple enough concept, but 2d Boy have injected their game with so much imagination and creativity that the concept never gets old, or even predictable.
As well as using various different concepts such as wind, fire and water to keep things fresh in terms of the level design itself, there are also different types of goo ball that are introduced gradually as you progress through the different levels of the game. Little green guys that can be removed and reattached; red match stick looking chaps that are flammable; clear, water goo balls that form a single bond rather than the normal two and much more beyond these that I don’t want to spoil. These two aspects together make it feel like you are constantly doing something new rather than rehashing old puzzles. That’s part of world of Goo’s real beauty. Rather than simply making each new level harder, it instead builds upon what you’ve learnt before and gives you a completely different challenge, not a harder version of the same thing you’ve just done.
When you begin a new level, you often get that feeling with which puzzle gamers are all too familiar – “How the hell am I ever going to manage this?” But the design is so clever; if you just look at the level; your attention is drawn to the graphical clues. The solution is never hidden – there’s just that perfect balance between “WTF?” and “Ah, of course!”. You’re also guided through the levels by the Sign Painter, who, if you choose to read the signs (do, even if you don’t need the hint – they’re often hilarious and tell more of the story) will subtly draw your attention to what you need to try to do, without throwing it in your face like so many “hint” systems.
World of Goo’s story structure is around a year of time passing, and each new chapter is a new season with new advances. I won’t go into detail about why the World of Goo Corporation needs to collect so much goo and spoil the story – to be perfectly honest this is partly because I’m not entirely sure I could explain it coherently if I wanted to – it’s bizarre… surreal even… in a good way. But each level of the game requires you to collect a certain number of goo balls, and the extra balls you collect along the way go towards the World of Goo Corporation meta game which allows you to attempt to build the largest structure possible with the extra balls you’ve gathered. 2d Boy cleverly integrated a competitive element to this by automatically showing you little clouds with the details of other players’ towers – the dizzy heights they’ve scaled with how many balls.
They have also, in a very clever twist on the usual achievement type system, created what they call Obsessive Completion Distinction criteria for every level. These are exceedingly difficult criteria which range from completing a level in a certain number of moves, or rescuing a certain number of goo balls over and above the normal completion amount required – but like so much else in this game if you come back to earlier levels after learning a few new tricks in later chapters the methods you need to employ to see that wonderful little flag go up on the overview screen will become more obvious – and this really keeps you coming back to the game for more. Especially because the extra goo balls go into the pool for your meta game mega tower. A slight annoyance for those who strive towards OCD completion though is the disappearance of the “retry” button when you achieve the normal criteria for level completion – having to go back to the overview screen and watch the intro over again to try again for OCD wastes a fair bit of time.
Having said that, the production overall is pretty much flawless, the graphics are charming and so fitting to the gameplay. Despite being cartoon style graphics which are relatively simple by today’s graphical standards, the way your adorable little gooballs move and your structures wobble in an attempt to fend off the pull of gravity – it’s simply delightful. The short cut scenes between some of the levels really add to the overall high production quality of the game and never fail to raise a smile. The music is catchy and fits the levels perfectly – in a level with high winds making your structure fly in one direction with a feeling of high paced action , the music speeds to a gallop and really carries you away with the mood. It’s well written and never annoying (quite the reverse) despite the fact that it is minute long loops. The sound effects too are very fitting – the goo balls chatter to themselves and make satisfying noises when you use them.
In terms of UI/gameplay, the mouse only control keeps it really simple. My only slight gripe is that sometimes you have so many goo balls on your little structure that you can’t pick out the precise one you want, particularly if that one is already part of the structure. There’s a bias towards letting you select the free goo balls (for obvious reasons) but this means that if you do want to release one it can be a real kerfuffle. You do get a whistle in chapter two which draws the goo balls towards wherever you click it which helps a little, but it’s more of a speed helper than being useful in terms of getting to covered goo balls. Maybe an additional control to let you select structural balls only would have been helpful without overly complicating the controls.
World of Goo really is an absolute delight from start to finish, and the additional gameplay that you can reap from trying to attain OCD and the World of Goo Corporation meta game really add to the replayability/value for money. Even for those who don’t enjoy trying to achieve such accolades, the wonderful experience of the main game itself more than justifies shelling out a few bucks. In short, if you’re a fan of puzzles there is absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t play this game. It really is glorious.