Hardware: PC
Ports: MAC, WII
Released: OCTOBER 13, 2008
Publisher: 2D BOY
Developer: 2D BOY

By Alex Kierkegaard / May 10, 2009

This review inaugurates a new project of mine: to play and review all the darlings of the indie scene, and expose them for the abortive little attempts at game design that most of them are. Exhibit #1 is World of Goo, a charming action puzzler in which you are tasked with leading a group of slimy creatures to each stage's exit point by using some of them (as few as possible) to erect stage-spanning structures. In sharp contrast to most indie efforts, I can say this much about this one: The game is immediately attractive and demands your full attention: its graphics are stunning, its music is stunning, its atmosphere is stunning, and the physics model powering your bridge-building antics, though simple, is very nuanced within that simplicity and a delight to mess around with.

So then what's wrong with it? Above and beyond all and there's a hell of a lot to that "all", as I will shortly explain the complete and total lack of the slightest, tiniest trace of challenge. Aside from perhaps one or two satisfyingly devious stages near the start, the entire first half of the game would not have been out of place in a tutorial (and, as I am told, the same is true of the second half, though I couldn't be arsed to stick around to confirm this). Who do they make these "games" for anyway?

The clincher however is that, even if they wanted to make a harder game, they probably couldn't have, at least not within the current overall design. You see it's an "action puzzler" in the sense that you need to figure out an appropriate bridge design (the puzzle part), and then implement this design in real-time (the action part). Now the puzzle part is shallow because the stages are small, and consequently also the structures that you must build to cross them. Small structures + small diversity of unique structural elements (the different varieties of goo balls) = low level of complexity. Usually, you'll have figured out a stage within the first couple of minutes, and that's without counting stages with immediately obvious solutions, or those sporting huge pictorial signs telling you exactly what you need to do to solve them.

Then comes the action the implementation part. From an action perspective, stages come in two varieties: those that try to test your reflexes, and those that don't. The first kind is aggravating because the control scheme is inadequate for anything other than the most basic of commands, so that, when two or more varieties of goo balls are milling around a small area, picking a specific kind among them comes mostly down to luck (and there is no hotkey system to mitigate this the kind of system, which, I may add, has been standard fare in this kind of game for decades, but has yet to filter down to the indie scene, I guess). And this, I presume, is why the game hardly ever pushes you in this respect, and why, the one or two times that it does, are the only ones in which the "undo" feature comes in useful (and of course renders the entire exercise pointless). And then you have the second kind of stage, which doesn't attempt to test your reflexes, so... um, what's supposed to be the point of having those?

And that's what it comes down to: what we have here is an action puzzler in which the puzzles are for retards and the action non-existent, so that most of the time you get the worst of both worlds: a stage whose "solution" you figure out in a single glance, but the implementation of which is a chore that takes several tedium-filled minutes. Before long you'll be thankful for the brief pointless gimmick stages in which you pretty much do nothing, and which, compared to the longer ones, will come to feel like a refreshment. And, on top of all that, the pacing is completely shot: there are stages half-way through the game that are easier than the second one. And though in principle additional challenge can be found by replaying stages for improved stats (goo balls used, no. of moves, clear time), this sort of thing only improves already great games in crap games it merely increases the aggravation.

On the positive side I could say a lot about the meticulousness of the presentation: it is clearly where most of the work (and talent) has gone. Most stages look distinct, even within a single chapter, something highly unusual for the genre. Though a few aspects could be criticized (color gradient abuse, for one), the overall atmospheric effect (visuals + sound + music) is often entrancing, and in places even surpasses similar recent Japanese efforts (Loco Roco et al.) Stage 2-3, for example, with the red background and the howling wind effect, is almost unforgettable. Stages like that made me wish they had ditched the half-baked action/puzzle system and went with a pure action design. I would love to see this engine used in a run 'n gun for instance. Not that any Western devs (indie or not) know how to make these games, but just sayin'. Even a subpar run 'n gun (of, say, Alien Hominid quality) would have been preferable to what this game actually is.

Another thing I hated was how the start screen shows you right away all of the game's chapters. Stuff like this is unforgivable: a game is supposed to be an adventure for fuck's sake into the unknown featuring mystery and suspense not a series of chores in which I am ticking off checkboxes until I reach the "Epilogue", whose fuckin' subtitle I am told before I've had a chance to even start the game!

Meh. Indie losers.

And there's more. These so-called "2D Boyz" are also guess what artfags! Who'd 'a thunk it? The entire game has been drenched inside a vat of indie artfag circlejerk Karamazov jizz there's jizz dripping everywhere! Pretentious messages in the start-up loading screen include stuff like "filtering moral", "diagramming fun", and, the clincher, "debating games as art". I mean we already know that game programmers are uneducated, but do we have to be reminded in the loading screen? I guess it's like a sport for them: aerobics, yoga, "debating games as art". That's what they do on weekends. Apart from making indie games at Starbucks, of course, something which the 2D Backstreet Boyz take pride in telling everyone, but that's what happens when you are a Cappuccino-guzzling, coffee-house frequenting, peace-sign flashing faggot.

And then you have cringe-worthy cinematics with the pseudo-ironic-environmental-social-commentary bullshit meter going through the roof. Stages filled with signs which, though initially helpful and with a tastefully understated sense of humor, become increasingly annoying and forced down your throat as you progress. More importantly, they never leave you in peace to figure shit out for yourself (what little shit there is to figure out, that is...) There is even a sign that says some shit I can't remember, and ends with "Just think of the gameplay possibilities!", or something like that. What about the GAME possibilities, retards! Ever think of those?! Needless to say all this just left a rancid taste in my mouth, in addition to the boredom induced by the game proper.

Oh and the "metagame" another selling point, nowadays obligatory for artfags (they abuse the "meta" prefix almost as much as "art" and "abstraction"), in which you use the extra goo balls in your collection to build the highest structure in the world a structure which, if you know some elementary mechanics, you'll quickly realize can only have one of a couple of different possible designs.

To sum up: even ignoring all the artfag idiocy, there's precious little here apart from cool gfx and a neat 2D physics engine. So should the 2D Boyz get a free pass for making a neat little physics engine? But what am I going to do with the physics engine? The park outside my apartment has a physics engine too, but if I can't come up with some sort of a game to play in it all I can do is lie on the grass and soak up the sun. Relaxing for sure, but unless you are 50+ gets old quite fast. Physics engines do not make games game design makes games, and though that often includes a physics engine, it also as the indie hipsters and the artfags would do well to learn includes a whole lot more besides.


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