OK, so this review is a few months late. I’ve…been busy?
World of Goo
Imagine that you are in charge of a major game studio. Under pressure to meet this year’s budget, you have a choice: take a risk on a brand new IP that may fall flat or churn out the eleventh installment in a franchise that will make a guaranteed buck?
If you chose the guaranteed buck, you’re not alone. We see the results of that decision on store shelves every day, as the studio bosses milk third and fourth sequels out of every reliable cow in their gaming barns. Innovation has stagnated as the gaming industry has grown to look more and more like its Hollywood cousin. Are we doomed to a fate of perpetual sequels?
We might have been, if not for an opposing industry movement that also happens to mimic the evolution of Hollywood: the rise of the independent developer. Compact budgets and streamlined development teams allow these upstarts to take chances on original game ideas that the major studios wouldn’t dare touch. World of Goo is the product of this environment, and with its release, developer 2D Boy has given us a promising representation of the capabilities of these small independent studios. It also happens to be one of the best games of the year.
World of Goo is so simple to understand that it doesn’t even come with an instruction manual. When you boot it up and find your way to the first stage, you will be greeted by a wooden sign that reads, “Drag ‘n’ drop to build to the pipe.” That’s it. You now know how to play the game! OK, almost.
What you will drag and drop throughout your World of Goo adventure are friendly goo balls. They have no minds of their own, beyond happily crawling all over the structures that you will use them to build. You see, the goo balls are actually slimy building blocks good for constructing towers, bridges, ropes and more, all in the name of reaching the stage’s goal: a single pipe. Any goo balls that you don’t use as structural elements will climb their way into the pipe and count toward your captured goo total. Use too many, and you won’t be able to meet the stage’s requirement for captured goo. See the balancing act?
The challenge of the game lies less in goo ball conservation however, and more in simply reaching the pipe at all. You will gain a new respect for architects as you struggle to build swaying skyscrapers that won’t collapse and carefully weighted bridges to span monumental chasms. You will become frustrated with your own inability to reach certain pipes that seem barely out of reach, but rarely with the game itself: the physics engine is pitch-perfect, and it’s immensely satisfying to observe everything in the goo world behaving just like it should. Even more satisfying is finally completing a tricky level by learning to use the world’s physics to your own advantage.
One edge the big studios typically hold over the little guys lies in video and audio production value. Not so here. 2D Boy went with a distinctive art style that hearkens to Tim Burton, but stands on its own so well that were you to see this artwork totally out of context, you would immediately know exactly what game it belonged to. Talk about branding. This game is colorful, mischievous, and knows how to laugh at itself. I particularly enjoyed reading the scattered messages left behind by the mysterious Sign Painter, which often break the fourth wall between game and player.
The music deserves its own recognition. In great circumstances, a game’s music perfectly complements the on-screen action, creating a full sensory experience. So what do you call it when the music brings the game to an entirely new level? The pace of frantic levels is heightened by song choice, and particularly devilish challenges are raised to epic proportions by music that may as well have come straight out of The Lord of the Rings. All of the sound effects exceed expectations, including the goo ball screams that are as funny the hundredth time as they are the first. To give you an idea of the sound quality at work, my fiancée played only a few levels of the game, but is now addicted to the soundtrack we downloaded from the game’s official website.
Buy this game if you like any of the following: puzzles, architecture, physics, symphonies, Tim Burton, rooting for the little guy, raging against the machine, fun.
For knowing exactly what it wants to be and achieving its vision with flair, I give World of Goo a 10/10.