When most games try to “wow” a player, they do so by virtue of the actions themselves. “Look at those graphics,” you might say, as you hide from a cavalry of hostile aliens in Gears of War. “Look at that processing power,” you may enthuse, while staring out onto a mall full of zombies in Dead Rising. Rarer is that moment where you look at what you’ve done after the fact, and gasp in amazement.
But this is World of Goo, a WiiWare title that tasks players with constructing gelatinous masses of … something. We’re never told what the goo is, exactly, or why we want these creatures to find freedom through 47 levels worth of drainage pipes. The important thing here is to use them to build towers, bridges, platforms, and ladders to get from point A, your base tower, to point B, the aforementioned pipe. Any excess goo balls that are hanging around your constructions get sucked in, and each level requires the collection of a certain number of them to clear it.
Every little goo ball plucked from your base is an opportunity to build upwards, downwards, or sideways through two points of contact, forming a triangle that protrudes from your existing tower. Pretty soon you’re building upwards while adding cantilevers to stabilize the base, and counterweights to correct flaws in your design. The pace can become frantic as your tower starts to wobble from its own height, and you’ll pray to reach that drainage pipe before the whole thing comes crashing down.
There’s never a dull moment in the World of Goo. You’ll learn that the goo balls are a lazy lot, with some of them sleeping on distant platforms until you build a tower close enough to grab their attention. Only then will they cling to your construction, adding more raw materials. There are different types of goo balls as well. Some of them can be removed once they’re set in place. Some explode. Others catch on fire. There are also balloons that buoy your constructions, required at one point in the game to flip a massive tower end over end, bridging the gap between faraway platforms.
When all this is finished, you’ll likely stare in awe at your wobbling, towering solution to the puzzle. “I did that,” you think to yourself, suddenly rabid for the next challenge.
Behind all of this is a most abstract plot. The power is out in the World of Goo, and a mysterious entity called the World of Goo Corporation looms. The closest this game gets to a character is the “Sign Painter,” who leaves tips at every level on small, wooden panels. He (or she) is a clever companion, addressing you directly, joking about your surroundings, and pushing you to pursue the next goal. While the desire to complete each puzzle motivates the player initially, a natural curiosity about what mystery lies around the bend takes form later in the game.
Players will get answers to most of the questions this storyline raises, but there’s rarely any hint of a narrative. Instead, you’ll get meditations on the nature of the Internet and the ever-persistent theme of climbing higher and higher. Between levels players are free to visit the World of Goo Corporation campus, where they can build endless towers from the spare goo balls they’ve sucked up. As you build, the Wii’s WiFi connection snags data from other players around the world, comparing their towers to your own. Even when the main game is over it’s still suggested that something is up there. You’ll want to build higher and higher just to find out what it is, and just like that you’re part of the story.
There’s this sense of wonderment that World of Goo encapsulates. The mysterious Sign Painter; this strange world that channels Dr. Seuss in its art; the music, gentle at times and ferocious at others; these little goo balls that happily squeak when you build with them. It seems everything is working for a greater cause. In building the tower, so too is the player.