The 12 Games of Christmas: World of Goo

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.


  1. John says:

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

    AHAHA YES, Spore, the multi-million dollar game that was hyped to fucking hell from the moment it was announced (years ago) up until its disastrous and disappointing release, was less hyped than this still-rather-obscure indie game.

    Just [marry me, you beautiful man]

  2. Pags says:

    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).

    …So yes, you’re arguing against the concept of top whatever lists. RPS cannot help what games they enjoyed; it is the same with all top whatever lists. If the consensus at Rolling Stone was that the two best albums of 2008 were Bob Dylan and TV on the Radio (Bob Dylan in a ‘top…’ list in Rolling Stone? Unthinkable!) then you wouldn’t say that it’s no point including the other 48 albums unless you disagree with the concept.

  3. John says:

    Hey, is StenL’s stupid hyperbole more ironic because the lads at 2D Boy used to work at EA?

  4. monchberter says:

    I only wish that the Goo guys go on and make one of their other fiendishly addictive Experimental Gameplay Project efforts into a full game, namely the incredibly sick but satisfying Attack of the Killer Swarm. I am so addicted to this game!

    link to

  5. StenL says:

    OK, so I am now instantly a troll for not liking WoG. Please stop with the butthurt.

    On the subject of lists, I don’t completely disagree with the idea of lists, although recently the Internets has been completely overflowing with lists. In a normal top X list, the fourth place is only a bit lower than the third, but in this list, it goes like first place = WoG, first and a halfth? place = L4D, then like eighth place = King’s Bounty (Should have been number one anyways) and then somewhere way back, like place 30 or something = all other games. This is a completely stupid reason for an argument, tbh, but those types of arguments are always my favourite.

    @ monchberter I think EGP has quite a few more members than just 2D Boy (But Killer Swarm is by the same developer as ToG), but I do wish they made either Killer Swarm, that robot building game or the one where you could reward, punish or love people from a crowd of faces.

    Also, has the EGP started again, because I see games there that I have not noticed there before ?

  6. StenL says:

    By “that robot building game”, I meant Suburban Brawl, which I remembered as being about building robots, but is about building houses and fighting robots.

  7. sana says:

    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.

    I know, I might as well be saying “opinions are wrong”, but it still makes zero sense to call World of Goo a GOTY because it has “genreless appeal”, instead of Left4Dead for the obvious reasons which make it an instant classic. But alas, before the internet police comes in and tags my comments as Angry Internet Man angriness (worst gosh darned meme of the year) I better stop complaining about the decision of the Hivemind!

  8. sana says:

    Also, yeah, it’s interesting how those of RPS’ regulars who zealously defend their favorite games and call everybody a troll who doesn’t share their opinion also are the first to cry ANGRY INTERNET MAN when somebody expresses his dislike of something developer- or game-related. You guys really gotta stop that, it makes the userbase look like a bunch of [people talking on the internet]

  9. StenL says:

    That is exactly why Meer said that he doesn’t really like AIM: the people who were originally the targets of the insult are now the people who use it against people who disagree with them.

  10. Pags says:

    it still makes zero sense to call World of Goo a GOTY because it has “genreless appeal”

    My comment there was in reference to the fact that while, say, Jim might not like King’s Bounty because he’s not into turn-based games (no idea if he is actually into turn-based games or not, this is just for the sake of example) or John might not like WoW: Wrath of the Lich King because he doesn’t like MMORPGs (again, just for the sake of example), WoG would appeal to the entire RPS hivemind because it doesn’t really fit into any preconceived pigeonholes, which must factor in at some point when they’re deciding what game they all love playing the most this year.

  11. StenL says:

    How about if they don’t like puzzle games ? (I don’t have an universal dislike of puzzle games, btw)

  12. Pags says:

    Thing is, because there are no set mechanics to puzzle games, it’s hard to dislike puzzle games as a whole unless you just dislike puzzles – WoG and Portal are both played completely differently, yet they’re both ‘puzzle games’.

    And it’s easy to assume the RPS hivemind do not dislike puzzles because puzzle elements have been a big part of nearly all games since the early ’90s.

  13. StenL says:

    Oooooh, I know, what if the person in question does not like physics games ? That is most definitely the genre that suits WoG best.

  14. Premium User Badge

    Gnarl says:

    Personally, I liked the 12 games of Christmas beacause 12 is a Christmassy number. I mean, really, catch up guys. But WoG (which I hated) and L4D (which I appreciated but didn’t enjoy) seemed to me to just be the games which none of them disliked. Or they all played. Which means they are the ones with the longest uninterupted praise.
    Plus, the thing is when people love something, they will just go on about how great they are. And most of them seem to love these, as do most of the people they come in to contact with do. I think this is why they seem to have the critical (in both ways) gap above all the other games on the list.
    It doesn’t invalidate the idea of the list, as is said above, which were just the games they most liked of the year. Just ’cause they liked a couple more than the rest doesn’t mean anything really. Even if they’re wrong (which they are).

    Too return to a different point, I found this polishing of the bridge-building mechanics to be more alike to Bioshock’s ‘polishing’ of SS2 than Half-life’s ‘polishing’ of Wolf 3D; ie. iritatingly destroying the point that was there in the first place and replacing it with a bit of prettiness instead. Without the pretty.

  15. Alec Meer says:

    Heavens, we leave you alone for five minutes and look what happens… Can you lot please stop getting so cross that not everyone’s favourite videogames are the same and go have a happy post-Christmas?

  16. StenL says:

    Maybe a pre-New Year ?

  17. sana says:

    What’s wrong, Mr. Meer? I don’t see any tension around here. Maybe your ways of thinking puzzle me, but I’m not exactly filled with rage, if that’s how you read my posts!

    And the second place is not enough, Goo is NOTHING COMPARED TO LEFT FOR DEAD! etc. to reach my annual quota of in-jokes quoted.

  18. The Hammer says:

    Well, I haven’t played World of Goo, and even with the high praise its received, I don’t think it’s my kinda thing – HOWEVER, it’s clear to see from the article itself that the RPS writers have endless enthusiasm for it, and considering RPS is their site, and not, y’know, the readers, I say all the power to ’em. If the other games chosen for the Twelve Games list were not seen as “good”, then I doubt RPS would spend 1000+ word articles of positive critique on them, eh?

    And, congratulations to World of Goo! Merry Late Christmas, as well!

  19. StenL says:

    But how many Peggles is it ?

  20. Makhleb says:

    Come on people, the RPS peons have been baiting you long enough for you to realise this is how they get their jollies and promote ‘interaction’. Just ignore them and they’ll go back to diligently writing articles for us to review.

  21. Nick says:

    @sana considering how many hits the site gets, I think its pretty short sighted to say that one or two people make the whole userbase look like dicks. Otherwise you might be making the userbase look like snide dicks.

  22. Alec Meer says:

    Sana – sample phrases edited out of various folks’ contributions to this thread include “fucking troll” and “elitist dicks”. You may recognise the latter. All a bit much for a post that’s simply celebrating a game the guys who run this site really dig. CHRISTMAS.

    And belatedly, StenL: “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” You win The Official RPS Big Silly Of 2008 Award for that. 12 means 12, chap. And someone dismissing the thousands of words, tens of hours and gallons of passion we poured into the entire 12 Games series like that cos they disagree with a couple of entries makes me the saddest man in all of sadland.

    Now – back to fun’n’clever games chat please, youse guys. CHRISTMAS.

  23. Graham says:

    Clearly Rock Paper Shotgun’s game of the year should have been Bubsy 3D: Furbitten Planet. Although released in 1996 on the PlayStation, Bubsy is far superior to this indie claptrap, which is probably just a rip-off of the Amiga platform game Putty and that thing you can do where you build a house out of playing cards.

    Bubsy, while far less hyped this year than World of Goo, also has the far superior cat-themed subtitle.

  24. StenL says:

    Bubsy 3D was awesome.

    I did not mean anything personal with that comment. I just [don’t believe in the number 12.]

  25. Mister Hands says:

    The way I see it, World of Goo is far less likely than, say, Left 4 Dead or Fallout 3 to make it to number one on most gaming website’s end-of-year lists, simply because there’s a wider base to cover with consoles and such. The RPS guys have their own lovingly-crafted, PC-specific platform to sing WoG’s praises, and even if some see their enthusiasm as misplaced or hyperbolic, I can still only see it as a Good Thing for gaming.

    Oooh… I’m feeling all moderate and good-natured tonight, apparently. I’m sure it’ll pass.

  26. qrter says:

    You win The Official RPS Big Silly Of 2008 Award for that. 12 means 12, chap.

    Oh, well, that’s just GREAT isn’t it. I’ve been working my STINKING ARSE off ALL year to win that Award and then StenL WALKS away with it, just like THAT.


  27. Jim Rossignol 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.

    Janek has a large brain and uses it well.

  28. Kieron Gillen says:

    “Personally, I liked the 12 games of Christmas beacause 12 is a Christmassy number.”

    Amen. And God Bless All Of Us.


  29. Meat Circus says:

    I like the number twelve because it has lots of prime factors.

    On the bad side, this did mean that World of Warcraft somehow found its way into the final twelve. I suspect foul play (=Alec Meer).

    Still, World of Goo, King’s Bounty, L4D, YHTBTR… A great lineup.

  30. Larington says:

    What amuses me here is the sense of denial being demonstrated by certain people. That a game said people don’t like somehow making it to the top of a top 10/12/whatever list somehow meaning that obviously there must be some shenanigans or something going on.

    RPS liked the game, and you didn’t. The rest is academic.

  31. Kodaz says:

    First thing I hear when someone says World of Goo Goty is: CONSPIRACY. Clearly RPS guys are just trying to boost up 2D Boy Sales.

  32. DigitalSignalX says:

    While I really enjoyed playing Clear Sky (when it worked), it doesn’t merit time on a top 10 list this year imho because of the many highly irritating show-stopping, game crashing, quest breaking bugs. As well, it was an almost identical rehashing of the previous maps/backdrops within a new story. Other pc games, even those not on the list, far out shined it unfortunately.

  33. Larington says:

    I’ve been hearing rumours (Not really), that the next Deus Ex has a sub story about how games journalists are being given ‘favours’ to talk at length about indie games released by 2D Boy, whilst ignoring the first person shooters that are obviously so much more deserving of accolades.

    I jest, of course, but it did surprise me how much of a big deal this choice of top 12 has been for some folks.
    Personally, I’ve found it quite refreshing to see all of these first & third person shooters/action adventures and so on get pipped at the post by a 2D puzzle game. It kind of restores my faith in the underdog principle in many ways, the one that says someone, somewhere, must therefor be able to make an MMO better and more successful than World of Warcraft.

  34. StenL says:

    I like the fact that my entire last post was re-edited.
    Anyways, I am willing to drop this argument, because it has become pointless. WoG is still a horrible game, though.

  35. Nick says:

    Horribly good.

    Ah HA!

  36. Hmm-hmm. says:

    I wanted to like World of Goo.. but I got stuck at one level (and yeah, me being one of those people who just doesn’t skip or watches cheat-videos easily).. and after trying it for the seventh time or so I just left it to gather digital dust on my hard drive. Oh, it looks nice, and the gameplay is interesting.

    And once again, merry christmas to all of you. Even the grumpy yous. ;)

  37. Gap Gen says:

    “I like the fact that my entire last post was re-edited.”

    PC Gamer UK’s forum was run like that at one point. It was amazing.

  38. The Hammer says:

    “On the bad side, this did mean that World of Warcraft somehow found its way into the final twelve. I suspect foul play (=Alec Meer).”

    Could have been worse. Could have been Warhammer.



  39. Tei says:

    I own both games, Spore and Wog, and I have to say that World of Gog reinvent itself in every level, and is all fun. Spore has not much gameplay, and is linear. You can’t really play Spore, is like a toy with 4 buttons. “Activity center” is more accurate descriptiong. It gains bonus points for the creature editor, but to me is not a good game. A game has to have.. gameplay, and Spore has like just the absolutelly minimal, and somewhat less than the minimal. The bones of a game. Sorry, because it as good production, good art, and a good engine. But feels that way, like a empty and dull toy.

  40. Lilliput King says:

    Um. That comment I made ages ago, with the Pixar film and the hentai? I can see how that would cause problems. I’ll try and be clearer.

    The Spore Cell stage is merely functional – It succeeds at conveying a simple idea in a manner that, while not groundbreaking, is at least not boring. Its fun, but you won’t remember it when you’re not playing it.

    World of Goo has a great deal more going on. Its beautiful, clever, charming. If you give it a chance and appreciate everything it offers, you will remember it long after playing it. It does far more than fulfill a function but provides a rich and personal experience.

    Sorry for the confusion.

  41. vinraith says:

    I find the difficulty complaints confusing, I thought that on the whole the game was pretty easy and kept waiting for it to get harder and really make me use what I’d learned. I finally got that difficulty spike in the last few levels, but I’d have enjoyed more levels at that challenge tier.

    Still, I adore the game. Like Portal, it’s too short, but like Portal, it more than makes up for it by being among the most entertaining few hours I’ve spent gaming.

  42. malkav11 says:

    World of Goo did appear on Wii, currently the most popular console in the entire world (at least among non-gamers). That doesn’t really make it an shiny PC-only exclusive.

    Not that that diminishes the qualities it does have.

  43. GothikX says:

    Great pick, excellent game – just had to add myself to the list; it’s great reading shiny RPS words that manage to mirror what I felt and still feel about the game.

  44. Roadshow says:

    Whole-heartedly agree that WoG is a worthy game of the year. The preview level generated so much excitement and the full release exceeded expectations. My only complaint being that I wanted more.
    Fallout3 and Left4dead would be my runners up but they are just very very good games. World Of Goo is a landmark, perhaps the first in the puzzle genre sent Lemmings were strutting their stuff. It will be remembered fondly long after the others are gathering dust.

  45. Jochen Scheisse says:

    I would never use AIM as an insult, I wear it like an honor badge! …uh, you basts!

  46. Sunjammer says:

    Wow, a lot of really strange commentary on this one. I don’t understand why people are so desperate for equilibrium that they must compare perceived fact with perceived fact and get down to crunching numbers and charts and all that heartless yawnface horror, when what it should really come down to is following your heart. Entertainment is not an exact science, as much as some people want to convince us of that.

    I only just picked up WoG on the Wii, and it’s been the game i’ve been playing for two days now. Coming off from the really ghastly Prince of Persia on the 360, and sort of being done with the Fallout 3 honeymoon, WoG just bowls me over.

    I think perhaps i’ll give it more points for being what it is on the Wii; WiiWare has been generally dreadful so far. It’s a platform i associate with whimsy, whereas PCs are still where i go to for truly hard core experiences, such as OpenTT or Sins of a solar empire. Are PC gamers so colored by the “harshness” of the platform that the appearance of something whimsical, silly and lightweight becomes jarring?

    I’m trying to think of ways to better WoG, and aside from a couple of levels that are frankly a chore to play (world 4 in particular has some doozies), i just can’t imagine what would make it truly better. Perhaps longer music loops? The soundtrack is just really powerful stuff, equal parts Arvo Pärt, Vangelis, Jeremy Soule and Danny Elfman. Who else doing music for games these days cook up a bolero? Just dazzling stuff.

    Hard, however, this game is not. Which might be why i love it so much. I don’t want puzzle games to aggrevate me. I want them to be problems that i can conceivably solve without assistance. I’ve played through 4 worlds at a leisurely pace and i’ve been frustrated exactly once. I don’t know if WoG is challenging so much as it asks you to simply appreciate the idiosyncracies of each individual puzzle. It’s rarely anything worse than “oh, the skull goo can form support struts. I simply have to use them as such”. Saying WoG is a seriously difficult game makes me wonder if you perhaps lack some fundamental knowledge of physics, or simply don’t have the patience for it, the latter of which is completely fair.

    What little story there is is wonderfully ambiguous. I particularly love the notion of a beauty-driven powerplant.

    No point in arguing this really. My game of the year is still Bionic Commando Rearmed (for sentimental reasons mostly, that game blows me the fuck away), but WoG is just pure joy. It makes me happy to play it, and it deserves all the thanks it can get.

  47. Sunjammer says:

    Bloody hell, that turned into a novelette. Sorry guys.

  48. Ian says:

    Blustery Day is splendiferous.

    That is all.

  49. paul-w says:

    JUst picked up WOG on the Wii, a great game that actualy gives the grey matter some stimulation, just spectacular.