Reading Jorge's post on Monday inspired me to make it a double review week here at Experience Points! As Jorge wrote, we are trying to present a different kind of review than what can be found on the more mainstream sites. We strive for transparency and clarity in our reviews, and we try to focus on the aspects, features, or themes that make a game important to discuss. Obviously, we welcome your thoughts, so jump in via comments, email, twitter, carrier pigeon, etc.
I played World of Goo on the Nintendo Wii. I completed every stage of the game, most multiple times, and spent a sizable amount of time playing cooperatively. I also played the demo on my laptop running MacOS 10.4.
World of Goo is one of those games you won't see advertised on the sides of buses. You won't see a Hollywood-inspired trailer during the final minutes of Monday Night football. You won't see an ad on the inside cover of EGM and you won't see IGN load up with a World of Goo site skin.
Usually, I decry most of the marketing hype that accompanies games, but in this case, I wish World of Goo had that kind of red carpet roll out. Anything that could potentially increase this game's audience would be a Good Thing, as it is a game that everyone should play. In terms of gameplay, narrative and culture, I believe World of Goo to be this year's most significant game.
To put it simply, it is a game about forming connections.
Connecting the Player to the Game
In World of Goo, the goo balls act as nodes and form links with other goo balls that can be used to build structures. The player uses these structures to reach a pipe at the end of a level. Like many great games, World of Goo has fundamentally simple rules and mechanics that are built upon as the game progresses. Of course, these mechanics are expanded throughout play, but the basic rules remain familiar to that has ever dealt with the three laws of Newtonian Physics. That is to say, everyone who lives in our dimension.
World of Goo connects with players because the game is easy to grasp but difficult to master. My preferred experience is playing the game on the Wii, as the Wiimote and TV gave me an almost tactile sensation while playing. Additionally, there is something special about being able to sit on the couch with another person and simultaneously work through a level. Likely there are others in the room as well, watching and shouting out advice as the towers of goo sway precariously in the breeze. This game is about building community as well as structures. It is welcoming for both gaming veterans and newcomers while also bringing innovative gameplay to the experience.
Connecting the Narrative to the Game
World of Goo may be my all time favorite video game story because of its narrative style and its themes. I am not even sure I completely understand it yet, but that is part of the allure.
It is very popular to talk about narrative, and there are some great conversations on the topic going on right now. Most often these discussion revolve around huge, epic games like Metal Gear Solid, Bioshock, or Fallout. It may be the curmudgeon in me, but I often feel that the ludic quality of these games is lessened by their narrative. The story is designed to be experienced in a certain way, even if there are branching narratives, the games must be played in specific ways to achieve them. And even if the gameplay is uninhibited, having an overarching story often means having to sit through long stretches of passive viewing, something that I believe runs against the fundamental nature of videogames.
World of Goo does not force the player to care about the story. Barring a few cutscenes, the story is fleshed out by completely optional (and hilarious) dialogue. More importantly, if a player does care about the story, they will have to work for it. So often do we find ourselves being hit over the head with themes in video game stories. Even in games with player choice, decisions are usually "good and evil," "salvation or destruction," etc. World of Goo is a game about industrialization, alienation in the modern world, post-modern commentaries on consumer culture, and the downfall of technologically advanced societies. It is all there for those who want it and it demands interpretation, but for those not interested, it is not mandatory. For me, World of Goo best exemplifies video games' potential to provide a linear story without crudely aping film or literature.
Connecting the Culture to the Game
The culture of gaming is quickly shaping up as one of this site's main topics, and games like World of Goo provide a wealth of conversation topics. The game was created in large part by only two people: Kyle Gabler and Ron Carmel, who seem to be extremely interesting people. They are clearly aware of the complexity of game development and the uneasy relationship between art, money, and audience. Their decision to engage in questioning the status quo of the industry is bravely represented in the subtext of their game and in their "real life" decisions. For example, World of Goo on the PC is Windows, Mac, and Linux compatible and is without DRM.
Michael Abbott was absolutely correct when he called World of Goo "a truly wonderful and quietly subversive game." It is one of the rare titles that can engage gaming enthusiasts and people who never touch a controller. It contains a deeper story than most blockbuster titles that challenges the player while not forcing itself on them. It levies some harsh criticisms on video games as a medium and an industry while simultaneously reveling in its own existence.
This game is a quietly subversive joy, and I hope that with enough exposure, the subversion will spread.