For this review I’m going to be looking at something that’s not been given much of a spot in the limelight: World of Goo.
Not only is it an independently released title but it’s also a PC exclusive (though I believe it was first available on WiiWare); something that is rare in an age where console technology feels like it’s leaving NASA’s top experts coughing in it’s advanced cloud of dust.
Developed by a company called 2D Boy (http://www.2dboy.com) World of Goo is a game that is a game. Allow me to elaborate:
Take a look at the vast majority of top releases in your local GAME or Gamestation shop and read the synopsis on the back of the cases. In an industry that has almost surpassed film, games are beginning to take themselves a little too seriously now. Companies are hiring an endless entourage of programmers, an all-star cast of voice actors, entire orchestras, producers and directors. (And yet I can’t get paid work as a games reviewer…)
This may have been considered post-modern at first but it has now become the norm. Games aren’t games anymore, they’re blockbuster interactive films. That is what I mean when I say that World of Goo is a game. It’s nothing more and nothing less. It’s a refreshing lungful of non-pretentiousness when something like this crops up amidst the over-budgeted schlock that merchandises itself ubiquitously.
So what is World of Goo all about then? If one were so inclined one could almost believe me if I said that it started life as a simple flash game available for free download. This is false. But it may give you a quick insight into the kind of thing I’m describing.
It’s essentially a puzzle game. Each level consists of a number of balls of goo; picture them as bouncing spherical ink globs. The object of the game is to attach goo balls to one another to build towers / bridges etc. to reach the end goal. The goo balls act as joints for lines that develop between one ball and another, which in turn forms a structure. And that’s it. No complex storyline. No suave, filmic dialogue to give whatever characters there are depth. The premise of World of Goo is basic enough that it doesn’t give false hope.
So it may not compete with today’s chart toppers but where World of Goo stands out is that it’s simply brimming with personality. Its cartoon-y graphics and comical undertones are evidence of the developer’s willingness to not take themselves seriously and perhaps remind us of an era when games and game-making were fun.
It’s at this point that Megan reminded me about the sign painter. This is essentially an unseen character who leaves painted wooden signs in every level; each of them containing messages which often have veiled hints on how to complete each level. They are always signed “ – The Sign Painter” and with its humorous tone and often anthropomorphic view of the goo balls it leaves a rather lasting impression on the game and gives it that certain charm that is lacking in a lot of other games.
The goo balls themselves often vary as the levels progress and it seems as though the developers have done their utmost to keep subsequent levels challenging yet interesting enough at the same time Goo balls range from regular, to re-attachable ones, to ones that set on fire, to balloons, to ones that can be catapulted and more.
By this alone it soon becomes clear that completing levels is not always achieved by simply building gooey structures. There are occasions when the physics of the environment come into play and it’s at these points where the gamer realises that new ways of thinking may need to be implemented.
I’ll give you an example:
One such level (funnily enough the one I’m currently stuck on) requires the use of the wind in order to carry the goo structures from one side of the level to the other. With the rotating blades of a windmill in your path it’s a challenge that is slowly driving me to (more) drink. Or so I will tell a therapist in later years.
The level designs are lush and smooth with a hint of child-like innocence. Though some of them do have background images and decal of a more twisted and odd look. Perhaps something not far removed from German expressionism (Bad Andy! No filmic comparisons!)
If I absolutely had to compare it to a contemporary counterpart I would probably stick my neck out and say it comes close to Valve’s Portal. The premise of the games obviously don’t stack up but if you look at the bare bones of them – humorous, fun puzzle games – you can see where I’m drawing the comparisons from.
I have to agree with my friend Mike when he says that the game is addictive (I loaded up the game to take a screenshot for this article and became so engrossed in the current level I was playing I completely forgot). It has that general feel of exciting gameplay tactic and skill combined with seething frustration that most puzzle games come with. But what fun is a game if it doesn’t have the challenge factor? And if you’re the sort that doesn’t enjoy a titillating challenge then may I suggest you buy a Wii Fit board and shut yourself away from society for the sake of us actual gamers.
So is it worth getting? At £15 in-store purchase or about the same price on Steam I’d say it’s most definitely worth it. And because of its simplistic (though not necessarily retro) graphics even computers with low-end specifications can drink from the World of Goo bottle.
To be fair, what with most PC games (excluding new releases and charts) being around that price anyway I think World of Goo could benefit from being a few quid cheaper. That might sound petty but with it being a game with such personality, amusement and calibre I would hate for people to pass over it thinking: “Why pay £15 for a game I’ve never heard of when I can pay the same for something that was in the top 10 six months ago?” Man, those people annoy me.
Just to help to tip the boat a little:
system: Windows XP or
Vista (sorry Mac and Linux users)
Processor: 1.0+ GHz
Graphics card: Any 3D graphics card by the look of it. For reference I’m using an on-board SiS 64Mb card and it runs perfect
RAM: 512Mb minimum / 1 GHz recommended
Hard drive space: 100Mb (I have unmentionable video clips bigger than this)