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World of Goo (PC) artwork

World of Goo (PC) review

"In this day and age, marking a game as “casual” is usually a kiss of death, forever putting it into the same genre as non-games like Brain Age, Wii Fit, and Wii Music and killing off any hope of being bought by a core gamer audience. In the eyes of many, casual “games” only sell to two types of people: clueless parents that buy them for their kids, and clueless non-gamers who will buy anything that’s popular. For the longest time, this has been the truth – any game that calls itself casual will ..."

In this day and age, marking a game as “casual” is usually a kiss of death, forever putting it into the same genre as non-games like Brain Age, Wii Fit, and Wii Music and killing off any hope of being bought by a core gamer audience. In the eyes of many, casual “games” only sell to two types of people: clueless parents that buy them for their kids, and clueless non-gamers who will buy anything that’s popular. For the longest time, this has been the truth – any game that calls itself casual will suck. By all existing evidence, World of Goo should have sucked – after all, it brands itself as “casual” right out of the box. To some extent, you could say that World of Goo really isn’t a casual game, and only markets itself that way to sell. In reality, World of Goo IS a casual game, even though it has enough meat on it to attract a core audience.

World of Goo’s concept is very simple. You’re given a formidable terrain obstacle, anything from giant bottomless pits to walls of spinning death blades. Your objective: to bypass the obstacle using “gooballs”, orbs of living liquid that can connect together to form basic structures. Like in real life, liquid does not have a very high tensile strength – in other words, your structures cannot go very far without some kind of support. Gooballs can only be attached to an existing structure which is provided at the beginning of each challenge. While this may sound like it does not offer a high degree of creativity or variation on levels, it actually does. There are several different types of gooballs, each with their own physics and quirks. Regular black gooballs are one-time-use: attach them to a structure and they can never be moved again. Ivy gooballs have a higher strength and can be moved once they’ve been attached to something. Matchstick gooballs will instantly burn if they go anywhere near a fire, causing your entire structure to burn to ashes before your eyes. These aren’t the only types, either – you’ll run into plenty of others. At the same time, you have to balance your structure to account for the weight of sometimes hundreds of gooballs moving around on it. You can’t control the gooballs movement until partway through World 2, and even then controlling them won’t help you much in terms of weight on your structure.

The level design is actually quite well-done. Each level requires you to move a certain number of free gooballs (that is to say, gooballs that aren’t part of a structure) to a massive pipe, where they’re put into a jar and shipped out. Doing the basic objective is never that hard – even the most casual of players can probably complete the game meeting only the basic requirements. Then you have each level’s OCD (Obsessive Completion Distinction) criteria, which can be anything from getting more gooballs to the pipe to completing the level in a certain number of moves to completing the level within an extremely short time limit. Casual players will probably not bother with these, and even hardcore gamers will have difficulty completing them all. Meeting the OCD challenges requires a high amount of creativity. Take one of the later levels, titled “Infesty The Worm”. Infesty is actually a giant rectangular goo structure with a few balloons attached to it balancing between two giant unstable rock pillars. The level requires you to collect a mere four gooballs, which actually proves to be a bit of a challenge due to having to move a gigantic structure between large, unstable pillars of rock for some distance. The OCD, however, requires you to collect 15 balls. Doing this the casual way will not get you fifteen balls. Instead, you can put all the balloons on Infesty (so that one side floats in the air) and then toss a gooball at the pillar it rests on to knock it off the side and off the bottom of the screen – causing most of the structure to collapse and the gooballs forming it to die. What remains is a much lighter square that can be easily floated to the pipe with balloons, allowing you to pick up the rest of the sleeping gooballs in the stage and bring them to the pipe, giving you at least fifteen gooballs.

There’s also an “endless” level, where all of the excess goo you collect is sent after each level. The endless level allows you to build essentially as high as 200+ gooballs will allow. At the same time, you can see other players’ buildings, represented by clouds. While I never really took the time to mess with it too much, it was clear that plenty of other people were – at one point I saw close to fifty clouds on the bottom of the area.

I should also probably mention World of Goo’s unique art direction. The game itself looks something like a cross between a Tim Burton movie and a Rube Goldberg cartoon. Completely nonsensical cutscenes abound. The way the worlds were designed look almost exactly like something out of The Nightmare Before Christmas, including one titled “The Information Super-Highway” that looks like an artist’s rendition of the Internet from the early 90s. While the whole thing is quite nice to look at the first time, it gets rapidly annoying when, say, you’re trying to OCD a level (there’s a retry button, but it disappears the second you hit the goal number of gooballs) that has a long cutscene immediately after it. There’s no way to skip cutscenes, so you’re forced to watch them every time you complete certain levels.

The other problem I had with World of Goo were the controls. The entire thing is mouse-driven, simply clicking to select a gooball and dragging to attach it to a structure. What gets particularly annoying is when you have 100+ gooballs on a structure and you want to select one particular ball (say, a balloon that’s necessary to hold your structure up) and can’t because of gooballs constantly passing over it. The same thing happens with the ivy gooballs – you’re trying to move one and you can’t because there’s a bunch of free balls obscuring it from view. The other issue I had was with attaching gooballs to a structure. Sure, you have “timebugs” that you can click to go back by one move – but that isn’t the issue. The issue is in the way you attach them. Once you have a gooball attached to your cursor, you move it over the spot you want to attach it to, and little lines show up to show you exactly where the ball will be attached and how long the lines attaching it will be. Normally, gooballs can only stretch about 1 in-game meter, but there’s a trick that allows you to stretch them anywhere from 1.1 to 1.3 meters, by exploiting the fact that the gooballs can attach themselves to a structure slightly outside the area that the lines show. The game never really tells you this, and you’d probably never realize it unless you knew it was there. This “stretching” technique is a requirement to OCD a bunch of different stages.

As flawed as the control scheme is, and even though it’s permanently marred with the scarlet letter C, World of Goo is a solid game that even hardcore players can enjoy. I should probably also mention it’s extremely pirate-friendly (70MB download, no DRM), should you decide that it’s not worth $20 on Steam (not that I would ever advocate piracy). Final score: 8/10.

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Community review by timrod (November 09, 2008)

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