World of Goo
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Mmm, goo...

The Metacritic list of 2008’s top-rated games contains some rather obvious entries.  Super Smash Brothers, GTA 4, Metal Gear Solid 4 - frankly, you could wrap a turd in a box and write any of these names on the front, and it would still guarantee some high review scores.  However, number seven on the list is a peculiar one indeed.  World of Goo, a WiiWare title with an average score of 94.

Designers 2D Boy consist of just two former EA employees, who describe their office as “whichever free wi-fi coffee shop” they end up in on a given day.  However, first impressions of World of Goo don’t suggest an amateur effort.  The graphics, while simple, are bright and colourful and bear a resemblance to the cartoony Worms games.  Sound too is impressive, with a plethora of cute noises mixing well with the rousing music.

The game consists of five worlds, broken down into a number of levels which are tackled in order (apart from one or two branching paths, reminiscent of Super Mario Bros).  Each level is a puzzle, where you must direct a group of blobs to an exit pipe.  You do this by using the blobs themselves, which can be picked up and linked together to form gooey structures.  Pipe high in the sky?  Join together the blobs to form a tower.  Across a gorge?  Build yourself a bridge.  The controls are as simple as can be - click, drag, release.  Even a spider monkey could do it.

The levels themselves are fairly varied and entertaining.  Just when you’re getting bored with building towers and bridges, they throw in a level that’s constantly moving or plagued by dangerous gales.  A number of new blobs are also gradually introduced to keep things interesting, each with different properties that add a new level of strategy to proceedings.  However, be warned that the difficulty level is a little uneven, with some particularly tricky puzzles thrown at you early on.  Level four of the first world almost drove me to insanity, and it took all my resolve not to throw my Wii remote at the cat.

My main problem is that the goo wobbles about all over the bloody place when your construction extends beyond just a few metres.  This is particularly frustrating when you’re just learning the game mechanics.  There’s nothing more frustrating than being a measly foot away from the exit when your immense blobby tower folds in on itself.  A couple of simple design ideas have been included to lessen the frustration, such as time bugs - one click of these hovering insects and your previous move is undone.  If everything goes completely pear-shaped you will likely have to restart the level, but at least they’re generally pretty short, and if you’re totally stuck you have the option of skipping a level entirely (although you can only do this a limited number of times).

There are a few other criticisms that can be levelled at World of Goo.  For example, the blobs have a tendency to cluster, which can make selecting individual ones a total pain.  And sometimes the little blighters blend into the background, making it difficult to work out what the hell you’re doing.  Still, if you have the patience to overlook these issues, World of Goo is a rewarding game that can be enjoyed in ten-minute bursts, or two-hour marathon sessions.  Is it the seventh best game of 2008?  Not a chance.  But it only costs 1500 Wii points (at time of release), and if you’re in the mood for a simple puzzle game you could do a lot worse.  World of Goo is also available to download for the PC via Steam.