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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.

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