World Exclusive: World Of Goo Review

By John Walker on September 29th, 2008 at 12:07 pm.

She's a pretty one.

This is something special. This isn’t just the small matter of being one of the best games of the year, it’s also the emergence of a stellar new talent in gaming. World Of Goo is so stunningly designed, so beautifully illustrated, so precisely programmed, and so completely adorable that any of the greatest development companies in the world would be proud to release it. That this is a tiny indie dev’s first release – it is beyond belief.

Small blobs of Goo, when put near one another, form rigid bonds. Connect enough of them together and you can build towers and bridges along which unconnected Goo can saunter. The goal in the majority of levels is to see particular balls of Goo reach a pipe opening, into which they are satisfactorily sucked. There’s your raw concept. Now apply four hundred million gallons of imagination.

How can we not include a pic of the froggy?

If you played the previously released Chapter One (as part of the pre-order bonus), you’ll have a good idea of the basics. The core puzzles (build a bridge to traverse a gap, climb your way to an overhanging pipe, avoid dangerous spinning cogs to reach an awkward spot, and so on) are the frame on which vast amounts of joy is draped. Building on top of the core – an engaging and engrossing puzzle game – they’ve created something of elegance and elation like little else.

So I thought I knew what the game was about. Both Tower Of Goo – the experimental semi-game that tested out the physics behind this all – and Chapter One gave me an idea what to expect. Well, ten or fifteen ideas. I would have been so delighted with four chapters of the same. But this is more. This is a game that constantly reinvents itself, reimagining the possibilities, evolving and throwing out surprise after surprise.

This is a menu screen. I mean...

The most obvious of these elaborating factors is the art. It is, just beyond belief, beautiful. The cute, fuzzy design is reminiscent of something halfway between Tim Burton and Tim Schafer. Its 2D appearance is deceptive, with multiple layers moving independently to create an organic world that ebbs and swells like a tide. And like so much with the game, if you’ve seen the first chapter, you haven’t seen a quarter of what it’s going to do with its art design. There’s an internal logic to these developments, the game structured around a year of passing time, cycling through four seasons, and four technological ages.

Next most immediate is the music. This is all the work of 2D Boy, and – look, I’m well aware how much this already bulges with mad enthusiasm, but believe me, play it and you’ll understand – it’s just gorgeous. It’s the best in-game music I’ve heard since… I’m struggling here. It might be my favourite game music. (Perhaps if you asked me to pick between this and Samarost 2, I’d be in trouble). Minute-long pieces loop so neatly that the tunes never become repetitive or irritating. On a number of occasions I’ve task-switched out of the game to do other work and left pieces playing.

This is a picture of some audio.

Then comes the rest of the audio. The use of sound is impressively intelligent. There are many different types of Goo Balls encountered throughout, each with distinct properties (some can be plucked from structures and reused, others are rendered inert once used, others might be helium balloons, more still are explosive, and so on), and while visually distinctive, their unique sound effects play a big part in remembering which is which. Clear-white Goo acts as water, forming only one bond, and dangling downward. Move one and it makes the loveliest “pa-lip!” noise. The Goo Balls are chatty too. Babbling mostly nonsense, I’m convinced one cry is “UNATCO” in the strangest tribute to Deus Ex I’ve encountered. But I might be mad. And of course, if you bought the pre-order, you’ll get the package that switches all their cries to swearing – something of which we clearly approve.

I go into all this detail because, well, they did. And it’s important to get a sense of the passion and effort that went into every element, allowing this to be so much more than another cute puzzle game. But obviously what’s most essential is the puzzles. And it’s here that World Of Goo has its best surprises.

Oh blimey.

Of course, puzzle games are loved or lost based on the balance of challenge and infuriation. This is where it becomes most overwhelming that this is 2D Boy’s first game. Each new screen immediately looks daunting, but then quickly reveals its opportunities. The design is consistently smart, putting subtle clues in place, attracting your attention in the right direction. This is a game that nudges you into having a great idea, rather than ever telling you what to do. You get all the glory.

To go into too much detail at this point would be to rob you of the crucial surprises, so let’s be vague. The core concept – forming rigid bonds between Goo Balls – would be enough to entertain you for a long time. But World Of Goo never rests on such laurels. And had it, it might have succumbed to that all-to-easy route so many puzzles games take: to just make it more difficult.

I adore this screenshot. It makes me happy all over.

While there is definitely a skill curve here, it’s one based on what it’s previously taught you. That’s the joy – each new level says, “Okay, you’ve proven you can do everything up until now. So what if we do this?” This might be removing something you thought was essential, or introducing a new, bemusing obstacle, but it’s more likely to be a completely new Goo Ball type, or entirely original setting for a challenge. You’re more likely to encounter a difference that required the most effort for the developers, resulting in the largest amount of pleasure for you. Why ask if you can make the Goo Balls reach slightly farther than before, when instead it could ask what you might do if the Goo Balls could fly.

This is best captured for me by one particular new Goo in Chapter 4. I won’t say what, obviously, but when I first clicked on it to move it, I genuinely gasped out loud with joy. A real, audible gasp. It was so beautifully tactile, so satisfying to interact with. And I realised, wow, this is another stunningly executed mechanism that could have sustained its own puzzle game.


The other Goo Balls try to avoid eye contact.

Accompanying you along the way, and acting as another prompt if you need a nudge, is the Sign Painter, a constant companion who offers messages in each level from wooden signposts. Messages that are invariably incredibly silly, and one of the sources of the game’s awesome humour. Early on these act as a modest tutorial, letting you know what different Goo types are capable of. But as the game progresses, the signposts become much more about exposition, hinting at the game’s deeply peculiar story.

World Of Goo is funny at every opportunity. From the Windows installation to the closing credits permeates a gleeful silliness. The nonsense barks from the Goo balls, the ten second cut-scenes between some levels, the backgrounds (hi MOM!), the loading messages, and the World Of Goo Corporation all generate beaming smiles.

You'll realise why I don't show any screenshots of inside here when you've finished the game.

The World Of Goo Corporation. Who is behind this mysterious, black-shrouded industry? And what has it to do with sending small blobs into pipes? I’m not telling (because the story is so utterly bizarre that I don’t think I could if I wanted to). It serves to offer betwixt-level entertainment. Each level has a minimum amount of Goo that needs to be recovered, but there’s always many more available. Any extra you might recover appears in the Corporation area, which you use to build a tower. As you do this, you’ll see floating clouds in the sky above you showing the height other players have managed. Ascend beyond, and your cloud will become the target for others to beat.

Which means I’ve been going back to levels, desperate to do better, realising the game’s immediate replayability. Using tricks and techniques I’ve picked up along the way, I can now do a lot better at Chapter One’s challenges, recover more Goo, and build a taller tower (up to 300 balls, where it cuts you off from adding more). In fact, each level has an “OCD” challenge (Obsessive Completion Distinction Criteria) – an additional, optional challenge. Perhaps to collect an exceedingly high number of Goo, or to complete a level in a certain time, or in a certain number of moves. These are frequently stunningly high targets, and I’m entirely bewildered at how some could ever be possible. Until that moment of inspiration appears, and you realise yet another way you could approach a situation.

Come here, you little blighter.

This is unbridled joy. There must be stuff wrong. Well, not really, no. There’s a couple of tweaks that would improve things. The first is the very occasional frustration of not being able to select the Goo you’re after, because of too many others getting in the way. While you get the Whistle in Chapter Two that lets you call Goo toward your cursor, it’s sometimes not enough to clear a gap, and it can occasionally be a pain. A neat way to reach to the back would be a nice addition. And it would be great if the button to restart a level didn’t disappear after you’ve completed it. That might sound odd, but if you’re aiming for an OCD score, you might not know you’ve missed it until the regular target is complete. So to restart you have to go out the level and start it over again with the introductory sequence once more. Exceedingly minor, but it would be a bonus to keep that button.

Me, playing the game, yesterday.

Really, that’s it. Two guys, sat in coffee shops all day long, made the best puzzle game in many years. I’ve given a great deal of thought before saying the following, to be sure I mean it. It’s not a statement to throw around: It’s hard not to think about David Jones at DMA, coming up with Lemmings. There is a fierce intelligence at work here, from a two-man team overflowing with phenomenal talent.

It’s a rare pleasure to find a game like this – one I’ve come back to again and again a week after completing it. 2008 seems to have marked a rise for the remarkable independent developer. Not only is the little guy influencing the megacorps, but he’s making some money out of it too. 2D Boy deserve to be at the front of this pack, their game a thing of astonishing joy. I’ve seen the broadest beams on the faces of colleagues trying to describe it. I’ve beamed throughout myself. Moving through the four seasons of levels has made me feel just so happy. Happy because of its wonderful atmosphere, and happy because it’s just so extraordinarily good. I adore World Of Goo, I want to show it to everyone I know, I want to use it to convince people that gaming is smart, and witty, and brilliantly original. I’ve run out of ways to say this: It’s beautiful.

It all gets a bit deep here, regarding the nature of ugliness and beauty.

John: Oh, I should let the others say something. What do you guys think?
Kieron: AWESOME!
Jim: AWESOME!
Alec: AWESOME!

Our verdict: SALE!

World Of Goo is out in October, and we think sooner rather than later. You can pre-order it here.

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142 Comments »

  1. Tim E says:

    Sounds rubbish.

    ONLY JOKING.

  2. Switch625 says:

    So, so glad I’ve got this on pre-order. I liked Tower of Goo and adored the first chapter, and this review (a review? on RPS? *gasp*) only makes me more eager to play the whole thing.
    I am, in actual fact, sat here at work practically wriggling with excitement.

  3. Biscuitry says:

    I’m buying it right now. This is your fault, damn you!

  4. noom says:

    Seems I’m feeling impressionable today. Having read about this a few times on here I’ve headed straight on over and pre-ordered maiself a copy. Especially since the last indy game I bought under RPS recommendation, Trials 2, was somewhat delightful.

    I’ll just point out that I’m rank 6 in the world on Trials 2 while I’m here. *smug*

  5. Ed says:

    The problem is, I’d like to have it on Steam… Otherwise I’d preorder… I’m almost tempted to buy it twice…

  6. Sam says:

    Same here, Ed.

    At least they let you pay them without using PayPal directly, though. (Urgh, I hate Paypal with a deep and abiding passion…)

  7. Thiefsie says:

    I’m having a hard time resisting buying this, however 20 bones is a lot for an indy game? Unlike say Trials at half the price?

    How long does it take to complete?

    I was also underwhelmed with Audiosurf – maybe I’m just not the compulsive playing type? I did like tower of goo and such a glowing write up is very tempting. But yeh… just that price. Hmmmm?

  8. John Walker says:

    There’s a good chance this will be on Steam.

  9. Feet says:

    Pre-ordered then.

  10. AbyssUK says:

    OK which of the developers is sleeping with you guys

  11. Thiefsie says:

    Ah I’m being such a tight arse – if I can trust a review it’s from RPS.

    Going to pre-order when I get a moment with my Credit Card.

  12. Kieron Gillen says:

    AbyssUK: I’d happily sleep with them after World of Goo.

    KG

  13. Mort says:

    Right, THAT’S IT. I can’t resist anymore…pre-ordered.

    So many games bought recently, oh so little time.

  14. James G says:

    The biggest problem with world of Goo is that I can’t play it yet.

  15. parm says:

    I just grabbed Tower of Goo for a bit of fun, having not looked at it for years. Is it me, or is there… just a little bit of swearing in there?

  16. Jim Rossignol says:

    Thiefsie: I was underwhelmed by Audiosurf too.

    World Of Goo is shorter than I’d have liked, but only because it is *so* compelling.

  17. Kieron Gillen says:

    I’d say it was better than Audiosurf too – though they’re very different games. Hell, in terms of indie-darling puzzle games, I’d say it’s better than Braid.

    KG

  18. Cataclysm says:

    An odd question, but…

    Does it contain any annoying DRM?

  19. Biggles says:

    Pre ordered too. Hope I actually find the time to play this one.

  20. Dr. Quincy says:

    As soon as its on Steam its mine!

  21. Biggles says:

    Also, is Braid out for PC yet?

  22. dartt says:

    Buy it! Chapter 1 is a gem, absolutely lovely, and it sounds like it only gets better.

  23. Thiefsie says:

    From their blog page: “We’re going to experiment with no DRM for copies purchased from this site. There are many reasons for this, but we like to think people will be good, and we want to give the best user experience possible.”

  24. Heliocentric says:

    That’ll do pig, that’ll do.

  25. Man Raised By Puffins says:

    I’m convinced one cry is “UNATCO” in the strangest tribute to Deus Ex I’ve encountered.

    Thank Christ, I thought I was going crazy when I started hearing that.

    Really liked the preview chapter, which I picked up on the back of the podcast, it’s got a really infectious sense of fun to it.

  26. The_B says:

    Does your Mother contain DRM?

    (Sorry. Couldn’t resist.)

    No it doesn’t.

  27. Kismet says:

    Glad to be reassured by a native English speaker that they’re probably saying “UNATCO”. I thought it was like when I kept understanding “No man” instead of “Nomad” for the whole duration of the Crysis demo (then when I got it right from the beginning in the final game I felt really, really stupid).

    Eagerly waiting for the download link to reach my mail box, shouldn’t take long I guess. I mean, you wouldn’t be so evil to tease us with such an enthusiastic review if the release was still weeks away, would you? Would you? Eh? RPS crew, would you?

  28. Owen says:

    Agh I can’t take it anymore!! Ok, I’ve pre-ordered it! Jeez. It’s just gotten too infuriating reading Mr Walker go on about it every day.

    I suspect this is all part of his plan. In which case, well done sir, you have bested me.

  29. Theoban says:

    I got through the first chapter last night (after staying up waaay too late) and now I’m bursting for more. Every moment of this game screamed (well, whispered because it’s not a type of ‘WOW IN YOUR FACE’ type of game) joy at me. It’s not often games’ll make me smile, and this had me beaming for every moment, even the difficult bits.

  30. itsallcrap says:

    I pre-ordered this after hearing you rave about it on the ‘podcast’.

    I do realise that it literally was a podcast, but somehow those inverted commas still seem justified.

  31. Steve says:

    Preordered this in March, finally it’s coming! Can’t wait. Looks bloody fantastic.

  32. edward blake says:

    John eulogised about this on the podcast so I tried Tower of Goo and on the strength of that and this glowing review you’ve convinced me more than ever to pre-order this.

    Did I miss the release date though? October is mentioned but does anyone know a specific date?

  33. Adam Hepton says:

    I am absolutely terrible at this game, but still, I want more. Can’t wait for its release. I am glad that games can still give me a feeling of joy – I thought that since Katamari, things had been all a bit, well, serious, but this, Spore, and Smash Bros Brawl have all given me a lot of audible “Oh yes”s this year.

  34. nabeel says:

    Nice review, I’m really looking forward to this.

    nabeel

  35. Muzman says:

    I haven’t paid any attention to this until the podcast, but Tower of Goo does nothing but crash for me :(

  36. Jim Rossignol says:

    No specific date for the downloaded version. “October” is all we have so far. Our version seems pretty damned finished, though.

  37. Andrew says:

    I am going to be all over this when it’s finally released.

    Is it released yet, daddy?

  38. The_B says:

    “I am going to be all over this when it’s finally released.”

    Giving a whole new meaning to Tower of Goo then?

    The_B: Bringing Down the Tone Since 1872.

  39. suchchoices says:

    unanimous rps robo thumbs up + availability on steam => +1 sale

  40. Mythrilfan says:

    My bank and 2D Boy are battling it out right now. I want to pre-order this, if only for the profanity pack (what?), and I should receive my pseudo-credit card any day now. However, October’s here any day now as well. Also, I know I’m getting ripped off if this is going to reach Steam – they always have awesome deals at launch. Will I even be able to add it? I would hope so.

    Still… advertising bastards as you are, you’ve apparently succeeded. The question now is whether you would care to buy a cheap bridge in return?

  41. Rick_of_racy says:

    Wow, I played the flash version quite a lot, this looks just sweet. Thanks for the incredible writeup.

  42. Kismet says:

    The game went gold around three weeks ago for what regards the North American retail release (first week of November should be the date) and last week it was submitted to Nintendo for the Wiiware edition so if it’s “only” a matter of completion status, online release shouldn’t be too far (and I hear pre-orders will get the game a bit earlier than the official online release date).

    Totally unrelated: The_B, have you been playing Mutliwinia as simply ‘B’ lately perhaps? :)

  43. AbyssUK says:

    Can we please not call it a podcast… I hate that word.. can we call it a weekly mp3 or audio blog ? or anything other than podcast…

  44. Kieron Gillen says:

    It’s the electronic wireless show!

    KG

  45. G says:

    I’m going to get this for my mum for Christmas (I’ve already pre ordered it and played through the first chapter – I assume that there’s no hedgehog rape or gynophobia in the later chapters)

  46. GothikX says:

    Yup, preordered too and starting it now. I’m starting to really trust RPS, which is clearly a step forward for your world domination plan (how are the numbers on Horace now by the way?).

  47. dartt says:

    I’m convinced one cry is “UNATCO” in the strangest tribute to Deus Ex I’ve encountered.

    No, Savage.

  48. Cowpoke says:

    Wow. So, GOTY potential?
    Why does RPS have an exclusive review? I know you’re genuinely enthusiastic but it still raises the question of you being hand-picked as the most positive potential review outlet.

  49. Kieron Gillen says:

    Because we’re quick and clever, like foxes. Everyone has the code – Walker just wrote the review first. I believe EG’s goes up on Wednesday.

    KG

  50. PleasingFungus says:

    Just pre-ordered it yesterday, for no particular reason. Had a blast playing through Chapter 1. The big red button in World of Goo Corporation is great fun just in its own right.

    And thank God, I’m not the only one who heard them saying “UNATCO”!