World of Goo is a game I’ve been putting off playing since its initial WiiWare release back in 2008. After having a crack at the Nintendo Switch version I feel a little bad for having done so. If you haven’t played it before, I’d describe it as a physics-based bridge builder of sorts. Bridge builder doesn’t quite do it justice though, as you build more than bridges; more like wobbly, living structures.
The main goal of the game is to get a set number of goo balls from point A to point B, which is a vacuum pipe leading to sweet, sweet freedom for those weird, gooey things. To navigate the world you use the very same goo balls to build a variety of structures for their kin to travel along. This is where basic bridge and tower building skills come in handy. There are a variety of obstacles to get past too. Be it gaping chasms, killer spikes, rotating windmills or even fiery… fire, there’s a whole host of things to stop you getting the goo balls into that liquid-filled vacuum chamber. Sometimes there isn’t even an obstacle besides gravity itself.
Interestingly enough, developers 2D Boy weaved a story into this puzzle game, which could still have been a great game without it. It’s a nice inclusion that sets it apart from many other games within the genre. The story within is complimented by signs posted throughout the levels, written by ‘The Unknown Sign Painter”. At the start of the game, the goo balls are awakened by pipes appearing and sucking them to a place called The World of Goo Corporation. Naturally, the evil corporation wants to use the goo balls for profit, by using them in a manner of different products. As you play you work your way through five different levels, four of them covering a season of the year, each with a different theme, with an epilogue at the end to tidy everything up.
In each level, you are given a limited number of goo balls to use to make a path to the end, whilst keeping in mind you need to have enough left to be sucked up the tube to meet the minimum requirement for completion. Different strategies need to be employed depending on what the challenge is that’s facing you. Sometimes you need to work slow and precise, making a solid structure with a decent foundation to stop the whole thing from toppling over, whilst other times you need to work hard and fast, keeping in mind that as the goo balls travel along the structure, their weight has an effect on the stability of the very thing you are building to save them.
Being that this is on the Switch, naturally, there are three different ways to play. TV mode, handheld mode and tabletop mode. TV mode is my favourite because it lends the big screen to showing off the often dark and drab, yet stylised graphics in all their gooey glory. It kind of reminds me of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. When playing on the TV you use a single Joy-con by pointing it at the screen and using it like a Wii remote. “But wait!” I hear you saying, “How does it work like a Wii remote? Sure, it has an IR sensor in the base of the right Joy-con, but that’s used for other stuff and there isn’t even a sensor bar involved?!?” Well, that’s a good question, and thanks for asking it. The short answer is, not too great. The Longer answer is, it uses the accelerometer built into the Joy-con to tell how you are moving the controller. Imagine using a Wii remote with only the motion plus feature. The biggest problem it faces is that the controller doesn’t constantly know which way you’re facing and seems to not realise that after a minute or two your facing more and more to the left or right. Because of this I constantly found myself holding the controller at a weird angle facing the wall next to me. To recenter the controller it’s as simple as pointing it back to the middle of the screen and pressing the “+” or “-” button, but that does get a little annoying.
In handheld mode, the game looks great on the Switch screen but is still a plagued with minor control issues. When playing on the go you use the touch screen to pick up, drag and place the goo balls. This was a little cumbersome for me, especially on levels with lots of, and different types of goo balls. I would go to grab a green goo ball and end up having a black one sitting there wanting me to add it to the tower made from its brothers and sisters. Not the end of the world as it works pretty well with levels featuring not as many balls of goo, but if I’m playing I prefer it on the big screen, twisted wrist and all. Tabletop mode works like TV mode, just on the smaller screen.
As you continue through the levels you are introduced to new types of goo balls that have their own special abilities. Some are single use, place them and then they are part of the structure forever, and others which can be placed and picked up again at will. It seems once you think you have it all down, another type of goo ball is thrown into the mix. Every level presents a new challenge, which at times can seem impossible. There were multiple times where I fit the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Keep that in mind as you play. Something which worked in one level may not go as well in the next. If you ever feel like you just can’t take it anymore and that you no longer want to face it alone, never fear! Have a friend pick up the other Joy-con and help you out in co-op mode.
Along with the story to play through, there’s also the World of Goo Corporation to visit. At the World of Goo Corporation, you are tasked with making the tallest goo structure you can, using the extra goo balls you collect throughout the main story. Nothing much more to it than that, but it’s a good challenge and great practice for working out structure building strategies.
The soundtrack suits the visuals rather well, giving an evil corporation, industrial vibe. It’s fleshed out too, with quite a few tracks, making it a pleasant change from most puzzle games, which usually have repeating music, droning on and on. Lending this with fresh visuals in each world and often each level, the game feels more fleshed out than most other puzzle games its age. The full soundtrack is also available from the main menu to listen to whenever you want.
World of Goo is a game that has aged pretty well since its original release and the HD graphics go a long way in making it stay a classic puzzle game. The progression is great, with some levels that will make you scream and shout whilst simultaneously pulling out your hair, has a great art style and some pretty funny remarks from The Unknown Sign Painter. It does face some control issues but nothing which is a deal breaker. If you haven’t played World of Goo before, or even if it’s been a few years or more since you last did, it’s certainly worth your time on the Switch.