World of Goo may ship in a plain-Jane box that makes it look exactly like the usual third-rate dreck that takes up space on a back shelf in your neighborhood department store, but this physics-based puzzler is one of the most innovative and addictive games to hit the PC in years. Independent developer 2D Boy has hit the jackpot, turning what appears to be a simple building game into what could just be the next casual-gaming obsession right up there with classics such as Tetris and Lemmings.
Goo balls and balloons are a winning combination.
Actually, World of Goo's concept owes a big debt to Lemmings, the early '90s sensation that involved guiding suicidal green-haired goons across 2D levels loaded with hazards. The objective here is rather similar, although instead of guiding lemmings to an exit in each level, you're leading globs of goo across similarly dangerous terrain to pipes that suck them up. This rather odd task is accomplished by selecting the cute, gibberish-spouting blobs and turning them into nodules in framework buildings that reach for the sky and stretch across yawning pits like sticky scaffolding. When your wobbly structure is close enough to the level exit pipe, all of the goo balls that haven't been used as makeshift building blocks then roll over their former buddies to freedom.
Well, at least to as much freedom as can ever be offered by getting slurped into PVC plumbing. Each level requires you to "save" a set number of goo balls to succeed and move on, so you have to be economical in the amount of goo used as construction material. If you pass enough goo balls through the exit pipe to the glass beaker waiting at the other end, you win to gather goo another day. If you fall short of the required number, you do it all over again, trying to get your goo to safety in a more ecfficient fashion. Final scores are based both on the number of goo balls rescued and the amount of time you spent in the level.
Real physics and the demands of gravity always have to be taken into account, which makes this one of those easy-to-play, hard-to-master puzzle games that gradually takes over your entire life. Goo towers need to be carefully balanced so they don't become top-heavy and collapse into a pile of slime, whereas bridges have to be carefully reinforced underneath so they don't come tumbling down. At times you even need to use special items such as balloon goo to help compensate for the height or length of a structure and keep it standing. This is a lot harder than it sounds. Considering that you're dealing with, well, goo, buildings in the game are inherently unstable and tend to jiggle pretty much constantly. To compensate for this, you need to build by degrees, carefully balancing one side against the other to prevent the whole wobbly contraption from teetering over. Exit pipes are typically a long way from the beginning point of levels, requiring you to really think before you start erecting ridiculously tall skyscrapers or long, arching bridges. Knowing that your entire building could collapse at any moment adds an incredible amount of tension. The feeling is a lot like building a house of cards or playing Jenga. By the time you get within a few meters of the pipe, you're often a nervous wreck.
Goo placement is extremely tricky to handle, especially as you move farther into the 48 missions that make up the game's four chapters and epilogue. (Goo collected here is also transferred over to the World of Goo Corporation sandbox mode of play, in which you build the tallest structure you can.) Many levels are incredibly devious. Goo-killing giant windmills and machine gears have to be avoided or built around. Froggy swamps await bridges that aren't balanced properly. Spike pits lining the tops and bottoms of levels lie in wait to kill goo balls tumbling from a collapsing structure. Some tasks are quite surreal, such as the one in which you have to help goo escape from a stomach by scaling a throat and then using eyeball balloons to float away. Just about every challenge here is much tougher than it looks. You typically start a level thinking that it won't be that bad, then spend 20 minutes or more figuring out how to get past the various hidden pitfalls without either causing a structure to fall or using up too many goo balls. That said, you can succeed without being perfect. Clicking on the limited number of time bugs that flit around most levels turns back the clock on your last move, giving you a second chance if you want to reverse something disastrous.