When it comes to puzzle games, the majority are either rehashes of Tetris or involve gameplay that has a player matching colored orbs or blocks. So it's extremely refreshing to see a title like World of Goo come out, for more than one reason. This WiiWare release by former EA alums 2D Boy breathes new life into the genre and proves that there's more than one way to piece together a puzzle game.
The concept behind World of Goo, like most great puzzle games is simple but complex. Using a cursor, the player is given an array of goo balls in order to make it across a level into an ending pipe, with a certain remaining number of goo balls being required to finish the level successfully (as in Lemmings). For the most part, it isn't necessary to use all or even most of the goo balls that are given if players think smart. Each ball can form a straight line and will connect to other goo lines; as more are connected, structures are built and weight is added to the building to be. In early levels, connecting enough goo balls to get to the end pipe and to get enough unconnected goo into said pipe isn't too hard. In later levels however, it can get to be monstrously difficult unless players know exactly what they are doing. In a way, it's similar to both Jenga and Tinkertoys with the weight and connection issues feeling similar to both.
Later stages also feature traps, different pipe placements and new variables on goo. Green and striped goo for example allows you to connect and disconnect the green goo at will. Others include pink goo which acts similar to helium balloons, flammable matchstick goo, clear 'drool' goo and many more. Using each brand of goo successfully both on their own and in combination with other types requires deep understanding of the game's physics and of the level design. It can be easier than one might think to send a structure of goo balls tumbling down, yet thankfully the game allows players to redo moves a certain number of times depending on how much progress they've made. Once players manage to find their way to a level's end, the amount of satisfaction is unmatched, despite earlier head scratching. It is especially impressive that the game's level of variety remains consistent throughout, so later stages aren't just more difficult varieties of earlier ideas.
Equally surprising, World of Goo also features a fairly good story. It is difficult to get into story specifics, but this isn't due to spoilers. Both the story itself and the way in which it is presented are somewhat esoteric and confusing, but overall World of Goo has a strong anti-corporate and pro-environmental message. This is especially evident when the game makes it clear that the goo balls are actual living creatures that the player is sucking up for use in products like beauty creams. In the first few stages players might think that they're helping the goo balls, only to discover that they aren't. Eventually however, the player has the chance to make right what they have wronged in a spectacular endgame that parodies corporate inefficiency and computer operating systems. Of special note is the player's 'mentor' throughout the game, an enigmatic figure named simply 'The Sign Painter'. Though occasionally he gives you hints, the never visible Sign Painter is more akin to the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland, leaving you somewhat nonsensical yet profound statements, usually having to do with the background story.
The graphics are more stylistic than realistic and they fit the game very well. The style feels like what would happen if Tim Burton made a 2D animated film about environmental issues, and evokes the Rareware style of humorously adding googly eyes to what would normally be inanimate objects. Each goo ball is beautifully ugly, and the game's primitive art style complements the dark humor. The animation especially helps in this regard, with things like the blowing windmill in the second world feeling like they could easily be put into an animated film.
The instrumental soundtrack works extremely well to complement the story and art, with each game's world getting distinct themes. The first world for example, in which the goo balls set off on an 'Incredible Journey' style adventure through the wilderness sounds appropriately epic. Likewise, the levels set in factories sound moody and cold, and the more dangerous levels sounding precarious and dark. Though there isn't a huge variety in the soundtrack, the music is at least extremely memorable and well made, which is something very few games of this generation can boast. The sound effects are very fun and they also fit the overall game well. Little squeals and giggles of the goo balls help endear you to the little buggers, and additional effects like a gasp of delight from an invisible crowd when you finish a level or a balloon being filled with helium for the pink goo balls sound terrific.
So, World of Goo is definitely a game worth any player's time, but is it only on WiiWare? Well, no, and to be honest, this reviewer personally believes that the computer and iOS versions are better. Not only are these versions at least five dollars less than the 1500 Wii points needed for the WiiWare version, but this reviewer prefers playing with a mouse to the Wii's difficult to maneuver remote. The PC, Mac and Linux versions also feature the ability for players to create their own levels and upload them onto the company website for anyone to enjoy. If you prefer the Wii remote, then you should go for the WiiWare version. If it doesn't matter that much, then it is a better deal to buy the game via a service like Steam or the App Store.
Overall, World of Goo is not only a great puzzle game, but one of the few truly amazing games available on WiiWare. With 48 levels spread out across five chapters, it's a great deal for console only players. While the computer versions are overall a better deal, World of Goo is still a great game no matter what platform it is played on.
Review by Andrew Gray