The 12 Games of Christmas: World of Goo

By RPS on December 25th, 2008 at 12:25 pm.

To quote from the great prophet: IT’S CHRIIIIIIISSSSSSSSTTTTTTMAAAAASSSS!!!! What we really need is a really, really good game. In fact, our game of the year.

For the 12th game of Christmas, my true blog gave to me…


A satirical charming goo-based puzzle gammmmmeeee!

John: We already knew World of Goo was wonderful. Almost a year ago we’d played the first chapter when we pre-ordered it. A collection of a dozen or so beautifully smart, extremely funny, and ludicrously interesting puzzles. Just another three or four chapters in the same vein would have guaranteed greatness. What I don’t think anyone was expecting was the best game of 2008 that we received.

I don’t think anyone was expecting a game that reinvented the rules as it went along. The introduction of new Goo types was perhaps a given. But the way these made it feel like a fresh new puzzle game each time certainly was not. By the time I reached those solid brick Goos in chapter 4 I was giggling like a frighteningly mad person. I didn’t bother with the puzzle. I just played with the blocks, regressing to my infant years and just stacking them, delighted by the clicky-clacky noise they made. I think people were possibly expecting the game to go in a straight line from Chapter 1′s green hills, possibly via an ice world, fire world and then level in the clouds, to eventually reach the Epilogue’s super-hard challenges. Kudos to the person who guessed the green wireframe levels – I think you might be lying.

I don’t think anyone was expecting a game with so much story, so subtly told. It doesn’t matter, it’s not really relevant by the time you’re puzzle solving, but it’s lovely that it’s there. Explained by 2D BOY as being analogous to the experience of games development, that’s possibly not of much use to anyone else who’s playing. But fortunately they chose to be obtuse enough to allow you to weave your own meaning out of the messages of corporate control and the fight for independence. Or to just ignore it entirely.

I don’t think anyone was expecting to feel so elated. Well, perhaps there were hints. That moment when you attach the eye-balloons to the rickety structure of green Goos and see them float away, at the end of Chapter 1, lets you know it’s coming. It’s such a lovely moment, filled with optimism and hope. Which is, of course, quite cruelly dashed by the following levels. But then if you’ve reached the telescope, you know you get your moment. But it was constantly so uplifting. The combination of cuteness, funny noises and really gorgeous cartoons made for a safe, happy place. Then the unending smartness of the puzzle design within that world made it a place that respected your intelligence, and pushed you to do better. Throw in the perfect music and the bizarre sentiment that what you were doing somehow mattered, and the result is a game that has you feeling better about yourself and the universe after you’ve played.

I don’t think anyone was expecting a low budget indie game to be their favourite game of 2008. In a year when a substantial number of games stood out, I know for sure it was mine.

Kieron: I dunno. I’m more shocked that I called my game of the year as early as the first weeks of January. Doing the first preview for Eurogamer, I was reduced to excitedly babbling on blog because no-one else was online. I couldn’t believe that I was playing something so genuinely outstanding this early in the year. I mean… surely it was too early for such feelings?

I was having lunch yesterday with Julian Widdows, Producer over at Swordfish. Conversation turned to a game of his I loved way back in the early days of the 2000s. Hostile Waters. In my review, I dropped the line, “The first great game of the millennium”, not caring that it’d annoy the Millennium-date-fascists, just pleased that I could say something as ludicrously over-hyping as that, and know that it’s not over-hype, to know that you meant every word and you’d face up against anyone who said otherwise.

The best games are good enough to make you unafraid to embarrass yourself. And from those early days in January, I knew I’d found something worth bearing such blows. And, really, what I was amazed at from that preview code wasn’t that it had come so early in the year – what I was amazed at was the sheer joy of it. That undeniable rush of joy of discovery when you suddenly realise you’re experiencing greatness. The realisation that things can be as good as they are.

Sometimes I can’t believe that I’ve been a games writer for as long as I have – the next year will be my fifteenth. And sometimes, when I think back at what I felt at Deus Ex, at Hostile Waters and now at World of Goo, I can’t believe I could imagine doing anything else.

Jim: Last year’s favourite, Portal, and this year’s champion, World Of Goo, seem to have something in common. They might be nothing alike in execution or mechanical process, but they seem to share the same kind of attitude. They’re both essentially puzzle games, making use of our elastic sense of space, and they both reconfirm that the game-as-puzzle of videogames is alive and brighter than it’s ever been. Pure fireworks and car-crashes games are not. It was clear, inventive, and challenging in just the right kind of brain-flex way. There was no moment that you could use to doubt it, or to think that its creators hadn’t invested everything in making it as good to play as it possibly could have been.

The other thing that both World Of Goo and Portal share is an offbeat sense of humour, and a feeling of optimism. They seem to confirm that we want funny, and that we are happy for our funny to come from a strange place. Where Portal was a cute kind of black comedy, World Of Goo is a sort of elegiac cartoon. What is it an elegy to? Funny faces, puzzles, the seasons, lipstick, those green screens on old computers, helium balloons, pollution: a whole gamut of things that games otherwise fleet past. Rather than the dumb, sterile worlds that most games create for us, World Of Goo was rich and healthy. It’s the combination of these many elements that make the game so wonderful to play: the rising, life-affirming music, the wonderful depth the graphical style gives to a 2D plane, the little tricks of sound that trick you into believing the solidity and physicality of the goo structures you are messing with.

In short: it’s fucking wonderful, and we’ve already overstated all that other stuff that makes the game interesting. Let’s ignore them and remember just how satisfying it is to play. 2D Boy, you have done good. We salute you.

Alec: I like the bit where you glue a ball to another ball and make a big stretchy thing.

There was a strange week when both me and my housemate were playing Goo simultaneously, so its eerie-epic music was blaring excitedly from wherever you went in the house. Meantime, my then-young kitten was scampering bufoonishly all over all the place, chirruping like a Goo ball all the while. The place felt like some odd theme park, a wonderland of weird/cute noises. Even ruling out the cat, there are so few games that can create atmosphere beyond what’s happening on the screen. The sound and music adds so much to it, but crucially it works in perfect tandem with the wobbling, ever-changing visuals. There’s something so celebratory about Goo, even when it’s at its darkest, and it’s absolutely infectious. It’s a song of triumph for what games were, are and can be.

Admirably, though it pretty much perfects that Tim Burtonesque feel in the first stage, it doesn’t coast on it. Along with the general drift through new puzzle-types and the total visual shift of the later worlds, it throws hard surprises along the way. The level that stunned me the most was the Red Carpet one. Not because of the challenge, but the disorientating, exhilarating switch in mood.

Again, so much of it is in the sound. The clash of camera flash and cheer of an invisible audience, all overlaid with this pounding, off-kilter orchestral trance track: it’s dreamlike, absolutely pinpointing the mood of some new starlet greeted with the insanity of celebrity for the first time. Pointedly, the puzzle itself hinges on crushing transluscent Goos in the main Beauty Goo’s wake – are they innocent fans steamrollered by their idol’s success, or a legion of lackeys treated like nothing by their diva charge? It’s not, I suspect, trying to make some sneering jab at the nature of celebrity – instead it’s trying to set a scene, a one-off themed vignette that’s got nothing whatsoever to do with whatever it is the main plot chatters about. It punts you off to an entirely different headspace for ten minutes.

There is no reason for it to be there – it’s got nothing at all to do with anything. 2D Boy did it anyway, and it’s treating throwaway concepts so lavishly that makes Goo the most purely celebratory game of the year.

, .

149 Comments »

  1. Matthew says:

    Honestly, I’d love to buy this game but imo its too expensive. It’s US$20, which is NZ$35 over here. This to me is too mcuh for a so called “indie game”, especially one that seems rather short. Were it ever to go US$5 of even $10 cheaper, it’d be an instant buy, but until then I’m gonna have to wait.

  2. Devin says:

    StenL: Use the level skip. It’s not cheating. Really, it isn’t. I think I skipped four levels my first time through, and I think I finished three of those levels within one or two levels of when I skipped them.

    It was just a matter of skipping them because I was frustrated and then realizing a level or two later that I had just figured out the technique I needed to beat the earlier level.

    I’m curious how far you got in the game? Certainly it does have plenty of Bridge Builder DNA, but the gameplay diverges quite far as you go. Suggesting that Chapter 1 is a re-themed Bridge Builder clone is a reasonable, if somewhat churlish, statement. Saying the same of Chapter 3 or 4 is absurd.

    Aside to US commenters: British libel and slander law is very different from US libel and slander law. John is absolutely correct: that statement would constitute libel in a British court, but probably not an American one.

  3. Mogs says:

    I’ve had a quick go of the first few levels of the demo & unless it gets significantly better, meh.

  4. dhex says:

    i got stuck somewhere in act three (the big ole well-shaped level where you have to blow stuff up at just the right time) and never went back. i should, though.

    puzzle games are hard.

    “but under libel law it is libellous.”

    to be fair under british libel law sneezing is libelous. :)

  5. Real Horrorshow says:

    @ John Walker:

    I simply do not like games like this.

  6. Gap Gen says:

    I refuse to play this game as I hate indie developers, and prefer to give all my money to people who clearly appreciate it and buy nice things for themselves, like that nice Clifford B.

  7. Lou says:

    In fact, our game of the year.

    \o/

    It really is. I am generally more into “serious”, story-driven games, but World of Goo really was my favourite game this year, too. By a distance. It’s so well designed from start to finish, it’s a real miracle. Sent down to Earth by an alien species that has deveoped games for thousands of years, and this was the pinnacle of their creations. That’s how good it is. It can afford to use a brilliant idea other devs would have made three games from in only one level, only to come up with something even better in the next one.

  8. Saflo says:

    I simply do not like games like this.

    Ones that are hilarious and fun to play? Yeah, I hate those.

  9. StenL says:

    I tried so hard to like this game during the first few levels, but by the end of the first world, I was thinking that I would even rather play that Russian truck racing game. I did push on to the middle of world 2, but I just couldn’t stand it any more.

  10. Meat Circus says:

    @Gap Gen:

    Anyone who demands on being known by a juvenile diminutive, and then demands to not be known by it, and then acts in a juvenile and diminutive way that can only be deserving of said juvenile diminutive, is made of win in my book.

    Cliffy B = MAN OF THE YEAR.

  11. Paul B says:

    I only finished one game this year. That game was World of Goo. I actually enjoyed it more then Portal and it’s excellent in my opinion. And if you don’t agree, well… ….I know your mum does.

  12. undead dolphin hacker says:

    I… found absolutely nothing exciting, interesting, or, gasp, “fun” about World of Goo.

    Mindless puzzles, monotonous gameplay, obnoxious writing. But oh, it’s a satirical indie game with a cel-shaded art-school-reject theme. 9.8/10, A++++!!!!!!!1111“`~

  13. Real Horrorshow says:

    @ Saflo

    2D puzzle games, silly.

  14. john t says:

    I don’t understand all the people that found it too hard. I got through the whole thing in a couple of hours, I only needed to look at a youtube video for one level to get past it.

    And I usually suck at puzzle games.

    Did you want to be able to solve all of them the first time through? It’s meant to be trial and error.

  15. Lh'owon says:

    @A-Scale

    I am reminded of Dawkins, who calls teaching children religion “child abuse”.

    Which he has never said, so your claim is technically libellous. :)

  16. cyrenic says:

    Blustery Day.

    That is all.

  17. JerkFace says:

    I got WoG today via WiiWare and my girlfriend and I played it for hours. It’s so great.

  18. Muzman says:

    Lh’owon says:
    @A-Scale

    I am reminded of Dawkins, who calls teaching children religion “child abuse”.

    Which he has never said, so your claim is technically libellous. :)

    (tedius off-topic boxingday nitpick time)
    Are you sure about that?
    I suppose if you really want to split hairs he’d probably not say ‘teaching religion’ is child abuse as such, as it’s possible to teach children about religion without the ‘abuse’ bit. But this is largely academic as childhood religious instruction (and religious instruction in general) generally presupposes that religious mythology is true.
    (and for the record I don’t think his claim is all that hyperbolic and worth thinking about)

  19. woppin says:

    I haven’t played world of goo so this is just a guess, but maybe the frustrating difficulty is somewhat akin to the difficulty of the monkey island games. Some people found the unintuitive solutions to ridiculous problems tedious and were easily stumped, whereas some enjoyed it and got through without too much trouble.

  20. Forceflow says:

    If it wasn’t for RPS, I would never have played World of Goo. Thanks guys!

  21. Lou says:

    Mindless puzzles, monotonous gameplay, obnoxious writing. But oh, it’s a satirical indie game with a cel-shaded art-school-reject theme. 9.8/10, A++++!!!!!!!1111“`~

    Oh, a hobby cynic trying to tell others why they liked it. How amusing. Less hyperbole would be more convincing though – “obnoxious” writing? Better luck next time!

    Wrong anyway. It’s all about the gameplay.

  22. Premium User Badge Gnarl says:

    This game had some beautiful sound. The music, the effects were spot on and I hope 2D Boy goes on to work the audio of other games.

  23. SuperNashwan says:

    I haven’t played world of goo so this is just a guess, but maybe the frustrating difficulty is somewhat akin to the difficulty of the monkey island games. Some people found the unintuitive solutions to ridiculous problems tedious and were easily stumped, whereas some enjoyed it and got through without too much trouble.
    Only speaking for myself but it’s the exact opposite. The solutions are great and the game constantly throws new things at you to reinvent and build on the puzzles, which in itself is quite incredible. What royally pissed me off was that even when you can see the exact solution, the execution has such a degree of randomness thrown in with stuff wobbling about out of your control that you can still regularly fail. For me, in a puzzle game that’s absolutely fatal, so I didn’t buy it. I get why people enjoy it and I have enormous respect for the sheer quality of everything else in the game, but it’s not for me.

  24. Lou says:

    What royally pissed me off was that even when you can see the exact solution, the execution has such a degree of randomness thrown in with stuff wobbling about out of your control that you can still regularly fail.

    It’s not really random, though – it’s the physics that makes things wobble. If it wobbles too muc, it’s your fault. :)

    I didn’t find the game hard at all – much like Portal, it can be finished in one sitting.

  25. Kodaz says:

    I found world of goo to be quite amazing, but the hype was so goddamn big that I didn’t know exactly what should I feel. (Yes, I’m a monster who needs guidelines of how to feel. Or a poser, you can say.) I mean, I liked but I didn’t find it to be a marvelous game, just a really good one by a really good developer and I’m happy it all worked out for them, but I did not find the game so satisfying as I had expected I would, its hard to express this feeling.

  26. Larington says:

    A lot of the whole responding to wobbling structures thing is simply observation though, for instance if you’ve been building a structure straight up, well then look down and look for either of these – A central stress point where the wobbling is most pronounced (When a structure collapses, its this point usually which folds in on itself) or insufficient support at the base of the structure (As in, on the very left or right, the solution being to put an extra goo link touching the floor when you place it).

  27. theanorak says:

    @Kodaz

    I think I know how you feel, sort of.

    I thought World of Goo was amazing, and it’s one of the few games I’ve ever played which made me smile and laugh with simple delight. Truly wonderful.

    The problem is if you haven’t played it before the hype-tornado rolls in and the GOTY accolades are applied, then there’s a nagging part of you that might sit there and think “overhyped!”.

  28. dhex says:

    “Did you want to be able to solve all of them the first time through? It’s meant to be trial and error.”

    my trials were heavily filled with errors, sadly.

    i’ll take a look at it later today, if only because the presentation is so delightful.

  29. A-Scale says:

    Which he has never said, so your claim is technically libellous. :)

    It’s in the God Delusion chapter 9. Go look it up.

  30. Gap Gen says:

    It’s an interesting question, though. Child raising is one of the most important things you can do in life, and yet anyone with a working willy or lady-bits can do. By comparison, anyone who has ever been convicted of a crime in the US cannot do simple things like vote, even if they have fulfilled their sentence. Of course, preventing people from having children by force would probably be morally repugnant, and probably would raise other questions of brain-washing, etc.

  31. sana says:

    Calling an indie game which is only different from others by being more polished and which you can finish in 2 days the Game Of The Year, as opposed to grand releases like Left 4 Dead or even, say, Fallout 3 or Clear Sky or something?

    Seriously?

  32. Thomas Lawrence says:

    Ok, this is actually irritating me now:

    World of Goo is not merely a “more polished” version of other physics-based bridge-builiding games, in the same way that Half-Life isn’t just a more polished Wolfenstein 3D. Yes, the fundamental mechanics are still “click-drag-build” (or “point-click-shoot”) but there’s more to a game than just boiling it down to its bare-bones components.

  33. Lilliput King says:

    Fallout 3 is hardly life affirming, fun but dull. Clear Sky is wank. Left 4 Dead is fantastic, but it doesn’t really give you that warm fuzzy feeling.

  34. Eonwe says:

    Clear Sky? Seriously?

    As some might say, it’s not the length that matters, it’s what you do with it.

  35. StenL says:

    I wonder why people call Spore overhyped shit, while this game was hyped much more by the gaming press, yet was even worse.

  36. Gap Gen says:

    Because:
    a) Spore had DRM, which was the main cause of the outcries
    b) WoG was much cheaper
    c) The only people who played this are people who like indie games.
    d) There was no clear preconception as to what WoG was, and it was more inventive than people thought. Spore, by contrast, was cut back a lot from what avid gamers imagined it would be.

  37. sana says:

    If a deluxe version of Tower of Goo with some cool graphics and, uh, witty text becomes a GOTY, why doesn’t Spore get a similar award for the Cell stage alone? After all it’s not only a polished version of the indie game flOw; it also has a bunch of other games attached to it!

    And yeah, FO3 and Clear Sky probably wouldn’t deserve the title either, but seriously, there’s much more work and thought put into those games and they’re only about double the price for gazillion the enjoyment.

  38. Lilliput King says:

    Opinions opinions. I didn’t enjoy FO3 or Clear Sky one bit. WoG made me smile. I guess I don’t know what you’re looking for from your games.

    There is a big clue, though, when you compare World of Goo with the Spore cell stage. Its like comparing a Pixar film to some dodgy hentai because they are both cartoons. You clearly have no soul.

  39. Gap Gen says:

    So, Spore is Pixar because it’s made by a well-funded studio with a lot of creative talent funded by a big company, and WoG is the hentai because it’s made by a couple of guys on laptops?

  40. StenL says:

    I actually think he meant that WoG is the Pixar film and Spore is the hentai. Don’t know what he meant with the comparison though.

  41. sana says:

    Fallout Boy Triple, Spore and Clear Sky aside I can’t possibly wrap my head around how Left 4 Dead is not everybody’s “game of the year”. It’s not only mindshatteringly brilliant in every aspect such as concept, execution, mechanics, detail, graphics, feeling, replayability, newbie guidance, griefer protection et cetera, but is also a game that changed the world of multiplayer gaming and will have people playing it for an even longer time than this one year.

    Perhaps if Left 4 Dead’s creators added some weird artistic statements to the game, people would praise it much further into the skies?

  42. Premium User Badge dhex says:

    sana: if you don’t want to rely on other people to play games, left 4 dead leaves you kinda cold.

  43. Gap Gen says:

    StenL: Yeah, I figured that, but the comparison as I made it fits better, I think. Like you say, though, there could be a better analogy.

  44. Pags says:

    And yeah, FO3 and Clear Sky probably wouldn’t deserve the title either, but seriously, there’s much more work and thought put into those games and they’re only about double the price for gazillion the enjoyment.

    You cannot measure how good a game is based on the amount of work/man-hours put into it; if that were the case, then you wonder what the point of making independent games is.

    Also, everyone seems to be very confused; this is RPS’ game of the year. They’re not saying it should be yours too. Lrn2opinion.

  45. StenL says:

    But it seems to be the consensus among the purveyors of this fine website that the 2 only good games this year have been WoG and L4D.

  46. Pags says:

    If by purveyors you mean the RPS Hivemind (KJA&J) then you’ve completely failed to notice the other ten articles about the games they’ve enjoyed most this year.

  47. StenL says:

    I meant that those are the only 2 games that have even been considered for GOTY. Neither of them has even received the smallest bit of criticism, and all this 12 Days of Xmas has just been a big build-up with the other 10 games being there just to pad it out, that might just as well have been randomly picked from a list of games released this year.

  48. Janek says:

    I suspect that’s a consensus thing – all four clearly loved WoG and L4D, whereas most other things are probably a bit more devisive, or simply not played by all four.

  49. Pags says:

    and all this 12 Days of Xmas has just been a big build-up with the other 10 games being there just to pad it out

    Your argument then is with the concept of top 10/12/whatever lists then, rather than what’s been chosen.

    Again, I point out that these are the games that they’ve said they’ve enjoyed most; ‘they’ being the entire group of them, rather than the games each individual enjoyed the most. In that sense it’s no surprise to see L4D and WoG topping their list: L4D for obvious reasons and WoG because of it’s genreless appeal.

  50. StenL says:

    My problem is that it is not a top 12 or 10 or whatever list, it is an post saying that WoG and L4D are the only good games, but if you have time, you can try King’s Bounty, and maybe these other games. The list has no point, they just as well could have made The 1 game of Xmas and had both L4D and WoG tied in the spot, because the others aren’t and have never been reasonable contenders to the top spot(s).