World of Goo was born out of a simple Flash construction game in which hundreds of malleable balls swarm across the screen, each one capable of being dragged by your cursor to form a strut in an ever-growing player-designed structure; think Meccano, but with metal supports starting out as gelatinous blobs. The aim was to build as high as possible, although, being inherently gooey, structural design had to be careful, as careless weight distribution would cause the bonds between Goo Balls to buckle and the tower to come crashing down.
Taking these simple rules of construction from a well received tech demo, 2D Boy have created a lovingly polished puzzle game, with each level requiring the player to deliver a set number of Goo Balls to a pipe in order to progress. Rather than just continually build larger and grander towers to reach your goal (although there is still scope for that), they take the core concept and come up with dozens of intelligent and surprising ways to vary the experience. All still rest on the core principle of stringing Goo Balls together, but chasms must be crossed, packages carried, explosives triggered and giant robots thwarted. The versatility of Goo has to be admired.
Early stages break you in very gently, the first even displaying a giant sign telling you exactly how to build the required shape to reach the pipe. They introduce the core concepts of linking Goo to form structures that will hold you in good stead for the rest of the game, demonstrating towers, bridge building and the principle that everything you build must have solid foundations. As an example, the fourth level requires the player to build a structure that not only supports itself around an inclined corner, but also avoids swaying into the spinning blades of death on its apex; even those who may not have dabbled with Lego or Meccano as a child will soon acquire some basic civil engineering fundamentals before they leave the first world.
A variety of Goo Balls are also unveiled later in the game, from the reusable Green to the watery White that dangles limply by a single thread from any they come into contact with. Each has a behavioural twist from the standard one-shot, sturdy Black and all offer their own set of challenges. A favourite Green level of mine involves utilising a handful of balls to scale a tight gorge; initially you’ll span the chasm and brace against the edges, then slowly recycle the lower tiers to advance the structure upwards, pressing against the walls until they effectively walk themselves up and out. There are wobbles aplenty along the way as the green mesh looks distinctly precarious, but a great sense of satisfaction once you’ve successfully bent the Goo Balls to your will.
Overcoming these seemingly impossible odds with your extremely jelly-like building material is something that just keeps on giving. Many initial stabs at a level will take a trial and error approach, and then all of a sudden a spark of understanding forms as to just how you tackle the challenge. Even then there may be the pain of seeing an almost flawless plan collapse under an unbalanced load, but never once did I feel that the game was to blame over my mismanagement of the Goo.
Where World of Goo shines is demonstrating very simple principles that are expanded on throughout the experience. The initial world is all about reaching your target but each further scenario iterates and tweaks, giving you a different focus from the last. Particularly satisfying are a series of levels where the Goo Balls need to not only reach their pipe but also carry a significantly larger ball up with them; towers start needing a different level of attention when a misplaced strand can unexpectedly propel the cargo out of your grasp. Just when you feel you’ve played with that mechanic enough, they’ll switch it out for explosives or projectiles or wind or a multitude of other tiny changes that make a sizable difference to the challenge.
For an immediate comparison I should probably stand World of Goo next to Plants vs Zombies, as that was a game that had a great concept but failed to iterate on it; you felt as though you’d seen all there was to see very early on. Here, however, is a game that continually throws new challenges at you and constantly makes you want to discover what surprises lurk in the next level.
World of Goo’s enjoyment boils down to building things against a set of extenuating circumstances. The simplicity of the concept drew me in and the challenge, irreverent humour and continual reinvention kept me firmly ensconced in 2D Boy’s world, always wondering what fiendish task they had for me next.