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World of Goo (PC) artwork

World of Goo (PC) review

"If World of Goo were developed and published by Nintendo -- which it absolutely could be, given the phenomenal fusion of style and substance on display here -- not one person would have a problem with its being released as a full-price title. At this super-budget rate, it's simply incredible."

Here is a list of things that are brilliant:

World of Goo

Steam and WiiWare, not to mention a couple of ex-EA creative geniuses, are the portals through which astonishing, unlikely masterpieces from small-time independents become possible. It's the future of videogames development: no stringent mandates to follow, no big-time publishers to work for, no reliance on high-cost distribution deals. If you need any convincing that such methods are the greatest thing to happen to the industry in years, stop being so cynical, and spend a measly $20 (that's ten quid, UK readers) on World of Goo.

If World of Goo were developed and published by Nintendo -- which it absolutely could be, given the phenomenal fusion of style and substance on display here -- not one person would have a problem with its being released as a full-price title. At this super-budget rate, it's simply incredible.

Like relevant fellow physics-puzzler Portal, World of Goo starts with a simple premise, and builds it into something exciting, compelling and utterly remarkable. In this case, the basic principle is lifted from an experimental project one of the developers at 2D Boy undertook a few years ago. It's called Tower of Goo, it's free, and you can get it here. The concept: use stretchy goo creatures as the structural building blocks for inordinately odd engineering designs. World of Goo extends this already delectable prospect by adding a goal and, to its eternal credit, a wonderfully daft and oddly gripping plot.

If, from looking at the screenshots, you think I've lost the plot, then have a go on Tower of Goo before you dust off your wallet for this. Even better, play the demo (also available through Steam). It should become quickly apparent just how mesmerising this oddest of oddball ideas actually is.

The pacey and directed plot is "narrated" by the omnipresent but unseen Sign Painter, who leaves tips and hints regarding both the gameplay and the narrative scattered around the world. It's developed even more by a series of fantastically weird, strangely politically-charged cut-scenes, all charmingly rendered in this most wonderful of 2D engines. It's amusing, bizarre and captivating in equal measures -- a feat which even few big-name titles manage to pull off with the same effortless panache as World of Goo.

The polish of the whole think is remarkable. It's nuanced with the sort of minor details that add hugely to the experience without actually drawing any attention to themselves. The expressions of the goo creatures are particularly noteworthy. The fact that the physics stem beyond just the structural engineering, to the point where falling, bouncing, colliding and spinning goos respond with eerie accuracy is astonishing in its pointless brilliance. The aesthetic creativity is mindblowing, from the versatile charm of the environments to the gorgeous soundtrack. The difficulty curve is superb: challenging, occasionally to the point of brain-scatching frustration; but always fair, and always rewarding upon completion of a level. The design of the areas is particularly adept as well, nudging the player towards the best solution in an ever-so-subtle way. There were times when my structure collapsed five, six or seven times in a row. I swore and threw a strop each time, but never felt like packing it in -- and even if it does get that bad, you're allowed three 'passes' per chapter.

World of Goo's final trick is a basic yet inspired online mode, which basically involves a high-score race to build the tallest goo tower. During the single-player game, any goo creatures 'saved' at the end of each level are deposited at the World of Goo Corporation, where all this additional fun takes place. In a brilliant move, instead of being able to see opponents' structures in all their glory, others' creations are represented by named clouds floating around the sky. As such, you've always a glimpse of something better, but never a way to nick the ideas of other players. The result is likely to be many long nights returning to the single player game, attempting to save more goos to use in your lifelong quest for skyline domination. It's cripplingly addictive, and equally fabulous.

And even though it's over in a flash, those few hours spent with the game rank among the most adorable, creative and wonderful on the market today. What on paper may look like a blast from the past proves itself to actually be a remarkable leap forward, and a thrilling look at what's possible in this new, exciting era of videogames development.

Lewis's avatar
Freelance review by Lewis Denby (October 24, 2008)

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