Review by El Pinguino

"Charming, fun and fiendishly addictive"

Several miles behind XBLA and PSN in terms of content, Nintendo's half-arsed Wiiware platform is a home for two kinds of downloadable game. One the one hand, you've got flash-quality minigames thrown together in an hour in the hope of making a quick buck off the kind of people who bought Big Carnival Games. On the other hand, you've got painfully short games released by well-known developers at inflated prices as a way of finding out what gamers will put up with. And amongst it all, floating in that sea of cynical mediocrity, is World of Goo, from two-man development team 2D Boy. Go and buy it.

Weighted companion goo

World of Goo's premise is as simple as they come: on each level, you're given a fixed number of building blocks - balls of goo, which attach to one another with girder-like appendages - and have to build from your starting point to the level exit, with the rules of physics and various environmental hazards standing in your way. It's a proven concept, but not a terribly exciting one, and it's one that the game shares with any number of freeware Flash efforts. Like many of the best games, though, the elevator pitch doesn't do it justice – the devil is in the detail, and 2D Boy have implemented the detail in a loving and deeply thoughtful way.

The physics underpinning the game are rock solid. This gives the game an essentially fair and consistent set of fundamentals, and means that you never feel too frustrated at having to retry a level multiple times. And retry you will, just to see what they've come up with for the next level. The game's four basic rules – gravity, friction, momentum and, um, fire – are used to create some genuinely surprising scenarios, through a combination of ingenious level design and a range of types of goo with different physical properties. The sense of achievement from figuring out how to complete a level, paired with the excitement of finding out what's next, make the game terrifically addictive.

That feeling of compulsion is compounded by the game's scoring system. At the end of each level, it scores you on time taken, moves made and, crucially, how many goo balls you had left over, which, much like the Lemmings games, encourages you to have another go to see if you can complete the level using fewer goo balls. For the most dedicated players, each level has Obsessive Completion Distinction criteria, which set out a maximum time or number of moves or goo balls used. But World of Goo goes one step further, by rounding up all your unused goo balls from every level and taking them to what the game calls the World Of Goo Corporation – a big factory floor where you can build a tower out of your spare goo. In a stroke of genius, the game shows you not only the height of your tower, but also – using the Wii's online capability – the heights of towers built by other people around the world, giving the whole thing a competitive slant and providing yet another reason to return to each level and try to rescue even more goo balls.

In an otherwise expertly designed game, there are a few little niggles. Firstly, the Wii remote sometimes gets confused when the cursor's near the edge of the screen, which can make scrolling a bit hit-and-miss at times. It's the fault of the Wii technology rather than 2D boy (scrolling works fine on the PC), but can get annoying. Secondly, since your unused goo balls swarm around the structure you've built, it's hard to pick the one you want if you have a lot of spares. Similarly, since Time Bugs – little white flies which serve as the game's undo button – follow the cursor around, it's easy to click one accidentally, which is hugely frustrating if you just pulled off a difficult move. Mapping the undo function to a different button would have avoided the problem completely. Finally, the game is a little on the short side, even at a price of 1500 Wii Points, although the OCD criteria and World of Goo Corporation give it a decent replay value. None of these issues is nearly big enough to detract from the huge positives I've described above, but they're nevertheless worth noting.

Looking goo

Simple, chunky cartoon visuals and twee sound effects give the game a similar presentational feel to Worms Armageddon. It's pleasant enough, but nothing extraordinary. As with the gameplay, the insight is in how it develops its basic ideas.

The animation is superb. Physics games tend to limit the developer's freedom to exaggerate movements, because the game can become unpredictable (and therefore frustrating) if the animation is over the top, but World of Goo strikes a careful balance, giving animation which matches the cartoon graphics without compromising or interfering with your ability to plan and build your goo structures. For example, the goo balls themselves feel like a mixture of rubber and steel, giving towers and bridges which teeter and wobble and warp radically without ever betraying the basic rules on which the game is built.

World of Goo is punctuated with little cartoon cut-scenes and signposts which give the game a completely unnecessary and totally charming story about the goo balls trying to reach the end of the world. “It's an awfully large place for a single Goo to explore,” says one signpost, “but we're all this together!” That idea is repeated throughout the game, and has a strangely compelling effect. You feel bad when you have to sacrifice a goo ball to a level's hazards, or when the goo balls in a tower blink cheerfully and unaccusingly at you as your spare goo balls climb to the level exit. Needless to say, as well as giving the game an utterly unexpected emotional depth, it gives the player yet another reason to try and rescue as many goo balls as possible.

All goo things…

World of Goo is a demonstration of how the skilful development a single, simple concept can result in deep and coherent game. It's a lesson in how to deliver top-notch presentation without spending huge amounts of money on cutting-edge graphics and voice acting. It's the perfect example of what independent games are good at. And it's easily the best thing available on Wiiware.


PS. A demo of the PC version of World of Goo is available at the 2D Boy website. I haven't provided a link, as URLs aren't allowed in GameFAQs reviews, but it's well worth trying the demo even if you're skeptical about the game.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 06/26/09

Game Release: World of Goo (EU, 12/19/08)

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