Wednesday, March 20, 2019

World of Goo (PC) - Review

Messy fun.

When finding a game for me and the 5 yo to play, I try to find something that is either whacky (like Worms) or puzzley (like The Room) or even better, both. Like World of Goo.

I got curious about World of Goo after hearing some of the music in one of the umpteen VGM podcasts I listen to. I had heard about the game before and knew it was a puzzle game, and as such I hadn't given it much thought. Personally, I am not fond of puzzling. But with the kid it can be great fun, mostly because he enjoys it so much and quite frankly he is often more clever about it than I am. World of Goo would turn out to be yet another game where he had to tell me what was expected a couple of times.

Simply put, World of Goo is a puzzle game where you stack different kinds of goo to allow them to escape the stage. It starts out with regular building-kind of goo, but soon you'll get to handle not only other types of goo but also several types of goo within a stage. There will be chasms to cross, traps to avoid and most frustratingly of all, gravity to outsmart. The controls are simple enough, simply drag and drop and it rarely took long to figure out what you had to do to finish the level. Executing it was always the tricky bit, just as it should be with a well designed puzzler. Unfortunately World of Goo is hampered by some annoying elements that make you feel like you fail unfairly.

A lot of that unfairness revolves around how the balls handle during the drag-and-dropping. It feels counterintuitive that the balls interact with the surrounding when you hold them, so that you could basically grab a ball and accidentally pull it into a trap without really thinking about it when you were just trying to move it to another part of the screen. I'll admit however that this isn't necessarily bad game design, just game design that didn't click with me. A bigger issue however was how the balls moved around on the grid as you were trying to build with them.

Sometimes there are a lot of balls to handle.

Building with the goo balls requires precision and timing, as whatever you've tried to build will quickly start to sway in the wind or simply under its own weight and finally fall down. It adds an unnecessary element of randomness and frustration then, that your goo balls will move around on your structure as you try to interact with them. Sometimes, when you have several different goo balls to work with and want a specific one, they'll be clustered which doesn't allow you to pick the right one for the job as quickly as you'd like. Other times, they inexplicably choose to gang up at the far end of your structure, requiring you to carry them a great length across the screen to where you need them, wasting precious time during which your structure can collapse. Sometimes you're required to shoot your balls into certain positions, but they just refuse to travel to the right spot on the structure, which is something you have no control over. And the little fire flies that you need to press to backtrack a move are notoriously difficult to target as well. None of these annoyances happen all the time, but every time they do they feel like truly unfair reasons to fail or add duration to a level.

The game presents itself brilliantly. The balls will coo, sputter and make splatty noises that makes you want to poke them just to make them giggle. Coming off having just played Worms together, the balls make coincidentally (?) similar sounds to those murderous little annelids. The music is great too, it is after all what got me interested in the game in the first place and well worth a listen even if you have never played the game or have no intention of doing so. Visually it's both pretty to look at and functional, as all the different tools that you get to work with has its own clear style to distinguish it from another and often also to give a clue as to how it is used. As for the aesthetics of the level design, I really enjoy how they've gone the extra mile in making the stages fun to look at as much as to play, and they often gave my 5 year old plenty of reason to ask questions about what was going on.

Most games try to incorporate some sort of story element, but few do it with such successful tongue-in-cheek and fourth-wall breaking as World of Goo. While the story doesn't make much sense, and in all honesty I think I barely understood what was going on, it does make you smile and chuckle just as much as the cute little goo balls do. It's like the creators were aware of the somewhat ungrateful and maybe unnecessary role of a story in a puzzle game and decided to go all in. The "plot" section on the games Wikipedia page is surprisingly long and even after reading it I found it still made no sense. But as an excuse to provide you with a variety of levels and tools to use it is used very well.

The game is made up of five different stages with several different levels in them. You're allowed to skip levels but overall we found almost all of them were very fun to try to solve even if some required a lot of trial and error. While all of them require you to get your balls from one end of the stage to another, you'll get to use many different techniques to do it and aside from the abovementioned occasional issue with precision they were almost all fun to use and tinker around with. I think I would've been happy even if the whole game was just using the original building-goo and if I'd have any other complaint it would be that you don't get to use most types of balls often enough. Some make very fleeting visits and it would've been fun to get to try more levels with them, or even have an option of choosing what kind of tools you'd like to use on a level yourself. There is a suggestion for a sequel.

Deadpool would be proud of the wall-breaking in this game.

It took me and the kid about seven hours to complete the game, but a lot of that time was spent with him just playing around with the structures and physics of the games. While the game itself was too difficult for him to try to complete on his own, requiring more speed and precision than his five year old self has at the moment, he had loads of fun just trying or sometimes even just doing something completely else within the level. The game does have a sort of "outside" level where you are allowed to build with the excess balls you save from each level (each level has a save quota to be allowed to proceed), and it would've been great to have had all of the different tools you found across the game in that level to just experiment.

World of Goo is a puzzle game that does most things right and the very few things it does wrong you'll forgive it because of its sweet, cheeky and original presentation. Even though I cursed the handling of the balls in some levels, I still came out of this game wishing there had been more of it. When you get someone who doesn't like puzzle games to want to play more of your puzzle game, you can consider yourself a success.

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