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. Arsewisely says:

    So what do you get with the pre-order? Is it a physical release or download? I’d like a box with lots of lovely art work so I’m going to wait if it’s only a digital copy.

  2. Hypocee says:

    Oh, one thing I’ve forgotten to mention before – I originally ordered Goo.W a day or two after it became possible. Anticipating the full release on Valentine’s Day in a couple of weeks, I wasn’t too bothered about the preview chapter and didn’t notice an email snafu that kept me from getting my access key. Later, when 2Dboy’s signing onto WiiWare scuppered that release, I decided I wanted to play my preview, discovered my missing key, and fired off a request for help to 2DBoy. Much to my surprise within hours, on a Sunday, Ron Carmel had personally responded and sorted out my key. Obviously I’m not going to make promises on their behalf, but I was delighted at the service I received from 2DBoy in a situation that was entirely my own fault.

  3. Hypocee says:

    The preorder bonus is the first chapter of the game, which is fairly irrelevant now with release so close, and a Profanity Pack for making the Goos swear in their cute little voices. Both are downloads.

  4. Ludo says:

    Heya John, I remember when you were talking about this on Friday night at the Showdown, your enthusiasm for it was completely infectious. Let nobody doubt John Walker’s love of World of Goo!

    Will definitely be playing this one.

  5. Cowpoke says:

    Excellent. Skepticism disengaged.

  6. Ben says:

    Where can I find the Profanity Pack?

  7. Chris Evans says:

    My god I can’t wait for this gem of a game :D

    I pre-ordered it before Valentine’s and I loved the first chapter, really loved it. Now I just can’t wait for the full game :D

  8. Meat Circus says:

    We get Braid and World of Goo in one year?

    We don’t deserve it. These people are spoiling us.

    Dear indie devs: be more shit thx.

  9. teo says:

    How much will it cost if you don’t preorder? I’d rather have it on Steam

    Also, how do you get it if you preorder it? Do they ship it to you? Do they have hosting good enough for lots of people to download it?

  10. Nero says:

    I pre-ordered this some weeks ago and it is pretty amazing from just the first chapter. The last level was fantastic. At first I didn’t know what to do, but once figured out and it ended I was amazed.

  11. The Shed says:

    @KG: Don’t compare this to Braid! Let them both exist in harmony! We need so many more games like this!

  12. Meat Circus says:

    @The Shed:

    I think it’s perfectly reasonable to compare World of Goo with Braid: they are both remarkable, beautiful, inventive puzzlers that reinvent themselves by constantly changing their rules of engagement from underneath you. They surprise and delight in equal measures.

    Jonathan Blow has written at length on his theories of game design. Whether 2D Boy have read any of his writings, I don’t know, but they certainly seem to have taken his ideas to heart.

  13. Someone says:

    The only reason I wouldn’t buy this one steam is the existence of a Linux/Mac port.

    So Linux/Mac support? (The official site is blocked for me)

  14. Hypocee says:

    Initial release is Wii/PC only. Mac and Linux are promised eventually, estimated early next year. At last report you’re welcome to contribute any ideas for good ways to distribute a game on Linux.

  15. Dave says:

    One other minor nitpick: if you restart, you should be able to skip the few seconds of panning around looking at the scene. And the beta chapter 1 did crash on me once during the World Of Goo Corporation stuff.

    But otherwise… yes, it’s fantastic and lovely, and I can’t wait for the release. :)

  16. Shadrach says:

    Preordered. I really like the design of this, and music is great, are you sure it’s not Danny Elfman who made it? At least the trailer is totally him :)

  17. Phil says:

    Glad to hear this game is about to be released, at long last.

    On the subject of long-awaited indie games that did well at the 2008 Independent Games Festival, does anyone know when Crayon Physics Deluxe is going to be released?

  18. Weylund says:

    Played this, pretty much all weekend, by myself and with my oldest son. It’s such a happy, beautiful game. I described it to my wife as “uplifting” and felt not the least bit silly. I hope I can get her to play it.

  19. M.P. says:

    The Lemmings comparison is very apt. I thought the same thing even before reading the review when I played Tower of Goo.

  20. caramelcarrot says:

    I’m now doubly glad that I preordered it when RPS said it was available.

    Phil: That’s another indy game I want to see – there have been some copies floating out there, but none with a proper game behind them.

  21. araczynski says:

    purdy pictures, sorry to be crass but ‘demo or gtfo’
    (i didn’t see one on their site, could’ve missed it though.)

  22. Hypocee says:

    Sorry to be crass, but you play it by dragging things with a Goddamned mouse. Here we are again – a video playthrough of the entire preview chapter of the game. If you don’t like it that’s another matter, but what can you people not tell from this?

    http://www.vimeo.com/717779

  23. Ian says:

    So basically it’s another simmering puddle of brown mediocrity?

    ;)

  24. Scandalon says:

    So…how much is the wiiware version going to cost? I think it might be a bit easier for the wife to play if it’s on the Wii. (Not that it stopped her from getting completely addicted to Peggle…)

  25. VelvetFistIronGlove says:

    Not sure whether it’s saying “Unatco” or not, but one sound is someone saying “Speed this up really fast”, sped up really fast until it’s unrecognisable (res\balls\_generic\glee11.ogg, if you want to know).

    Most of the other sounds are gibberish sped up really fast.

  26. John Walker says:

    The Wii version is going to have 4-player co-op. Which makes me achingly jealous (or indeed very likely to buy it for my Wii). Last night TIGjam were broadcasting a live feed of people playing it, and… it’s World Of Goo but playing with your friends. I can’t imagine a more lovely thing.

  27. Heliocentric says:

    Just hit pay now, Woo!

    4 player eh, i prefer to play with my goo alone.

  28. Carra says:

    The trailer reminds me of bridge builder.

  29. The Shed says:

    @Meat Circus: It’s an excellent comparison, but I just feel these games shouldn’t be compared critically, just loved for their own unique traits. Having a total hippy moment here.

  30. Heliocentric says:

    eh… 7kbps download.

    Faster!

  31. Gpig says:

    I think I’ll wait till I hear some positive reviews before I get the game. Tepid reviews like this RPS one worry me that it isn’t that good.

  32. Ryan says:

    I pre-ordered this months ago, I played the totally awesome first chapter… but I want the game… when’s it coming out?!? I’ve been waiting so long… *cries*

  33. Kanakotka says:

    You should have added ”and i like it” in the very end of the article, for humor content.

  34. The Unshaven says:

    I’d been looking at this for a while, and I preordered it this morning based on the article.

    Awesome stuff. And THEN I discover there’s no DRM for stuff purchased from their site. Delicious bonuses are delicious.

    One thing I’m not sure about: Will Episode 1 automatically update to the full version, or do I need to download the full game when it releases? If so, how does the Magic Code enter into things?

    (I suppose I should ask someone at 2D Boy, but I’m lazy and you folks are right here…)

  35. Devan says:

    Lately, indie games have impressed me much more than mainstream titles. No DRM + Linux version + good review = +1 preorder

  36. Hank (USA) says:

    I pre-ordered World of Goo sometime mid/late 2007 and absolutely loved it; so much potential to follow up the very-engaging Chapter One, and I am glad to hear that the potential has been realized (though I didn’t really have any doubts, just patience). I have been spreading the word ever since I first played it.

  37. John Walker says:

    I’ve no idea how the game will update – you’d have to ask 2D Boy.

  38. ron carmel says:

    @The Unshaven
    when the game releases you’ll need to download the full version, there is no auto-update. since you pre-ordered, you’ll get an email with a download link ahead of the official release date

  39. TheUnshaven says:

    Beyootiful, thanks.

    *Cough* To be honest, I expected to be roundly bollocked for being lazy in seeking information, but I have been instead treated far better than I realistically deserve.

    Thanks folks. GROUP HUG!

  40. MetalCircus says:

    So is there a way of playing this without purchasing it? i.e. a demo?

  41. malkav11 says:

    I keep hearing about this game and how awesome it is, but like Spore I remain unsold. Everyone seems more rapturous about how rapturous it is than anything solid I can take and go “okay, that’s cool”.

    Which is okay, really. I’ll get ’round to em sooner or later.

  42. Weylund says:

    When practically everyone who’s played it says it’s bacon covered in butter wrapped around a gold bar, do you really need to question?

    I did — question it, that is. It looked silly, and I’m not a big fan of puzzle games. But then I played it, and I couldn’t stop having fun, and laughing out loud, and going back to replay levels, which I don’t normally do. If you enjoy enjoying yourself, smiling, and generally having a good time I think you’ll be well-compensated for your purchase.

  43. Cauton says:

    I bought this and downloaded the trial all on RPS’ recommendation, and what I need to ask is this:

    How can you score this game so highly when it fails the first of the Ten Commandments in such a spectacular way?

    Just kidding! The game is awesome, but the poorly implemented (or non-existant) alt-tab support does irk me a little bit.

  44. Rey says:

    The first episode was built way back in early 2008. The alt-tab support was one of the bugs the early gamers complained about, and is supposed to be fixed in the final game.

  45. Dolphan says:

    Jon Blyth only gave it 9/10 on Eurogamer, despite a glowing review. If it was a popular console franchise (naming no names) there would be angry hordes.

    This is the game to make me care about review scores, and I’ve only played the first chapter. Phew.

  46. AbyssUK says:

    Preordered and can’t wait to be alt-tabbing my heart out in Ubuntu.. screw you windows.

    Oh and playgreenhouse.com does linux game online distribution.. (the penny arcade one)

  47. Fire_Storm says:

    Purchased. Loved every second. Top notch. I remember taking a chance on Armadillo Run some time back and being rewarded and now World of Goo is evoking all the same giggly physics based emotions…

    Happy Days.

  48. Ian Kiigan says:

    Like the rest of you, I’m really really excited about World of Goo and I can’t wait to play it. At the same time, I can’t help but think John got slightly carried away here :) I’m not having a go, I love the enthusiasm and I enjoyed the review – it has only made me more keen to play the game. So, thanks. However I’ve seen other games writers used phrases like “precisely programmed” in the past and it does grate a little bit. “World Of Goo is … so precisely programmed” – well there simply isn’t any way for you to know that. I think games writers are better off commenting on the end product – the game and how much fun it is – rather than hypothesizing out loud about how the game was made.

    Furthermore, all the comments about this little indie team who had never made a game before, how incredible that is, how these guys sat around in coffee shops and came up with a great game… I appreciate the romance of it all, but the truth is that both of the guys in 2DBoy currently work / have worked as professional game developers. That certainly doesn’t detract from their achievement with World of Goo in any way, so I don’t know why that never gets mentioned. But it isn’t exactly true to say that this is the first time they’ve made a game.

  49. Marius Poenar says:

    Not touching it until it arrives on Steam.
    Also, shame on you for reminding me of the Samorost series, now i’m annoyed that it’s not on Steam either…

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