One of the best things about downloadable games that reach home consoles via the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade is the opportunity for players to experience more quirky, unique games than they normally might. Nintendo fans won’t be missing out on any of that originality when WiiWare rolls out thanks to World of Goo, a delightfully bizarre game we got to check out at last week’s media summit in San Francisco. Developed by 2D Boy, an indie studio made up of precisely two people, this game is all about physics and geometry as you frantically build polygonal structures out of interlocking droplets of goo.
Behind everything that happens in the game lies a twisted story, courtesy of the titular World of Goo Corporation. Each level has a suspicious suction pipe acting as a goal. Your job is to take the swarm of cutesy goo droplets and build your way to the pipe, which is done through the droplets’ ability to interlock with one another to form a series of bracketed triangles. You use the Wii Remote to target any of the free-roaming droplets, pick them up with the A button, and snap them to any of the droplets that are already attached to the structure you’ve built. Once you’ve achieved a structure that can reach a pipe, all droplets that weren’t used for the construction process will roam down the structure and get sucked away into the pipe. The more leftover droplets you have, the more points you get. Unfortunately for those droplets, these pipes lead to a manufacturing plant for the World of Goo Corporation, where they’ll eventually be turned into various cleaning and beauty products.
That level of unexpectedness seems to be a prevalent theme throughout the game. Despite a cartoony appearance that looks like it could very well have come from an online Flash game, under the hood is a sophisticated physics engine that controls the structural integrity of the various ladders and bridges you create. One of the levels we had the chance to play was called Tower of Goo. As the name suggests, we had to build a fairly straightforward tower to reach a pipe fixed way up in the sky. It starts out simply enough: The beginning of the level is a flat, grassy floor with a massive pile of black goo droplets. You’re provided a square made up of four conjoined triangles of goo to get things started. Eager to reach the pipe as quickly as possible, we quickly built straight up in our first attempt. It didn’t take long for the narrow tower to start swaying side to side. We desperately attempted to right the ship by adding a droplet to the left side any time it would sway to the right, and vice versa. This worked for a few seconds, but the swaying grew more and more violent until it just toppled over.
For our second attempt, we took the opposite approach by building a massive foundation of droplets on the bottom of the level and then tapered it upward like a pyramid. But having used so many droplets at the base of our structure, we ran out of easily accessible goo balls before we could get to the pipe. The free-roaming droplets tend to swarm and meander quite a bit, so actually picking one up can be tricky when there are few left. With this second structure, we spent so much time trying to find leftover droplets that our tower once again succumbed to the gentle breeze and came crashing down.
Later levels build upon this formula by adding new types of goo droplets, construction pieces, and level hazards. One level is a giant, rotating wheel where you build your structure out of green goo droplets (droplets that can be removed from the others once they’ve already been fixed together). The rotation forces you to work quickly as your object continually falls onto its side. Another level has you building a bridge lengthwise across a swamp of mysterious black liquid, which acts as deadly acid. You need to make sure your bridge doesn’t bend downward into the muck by attaching balloons to keep it floating until it reaches the other side. The twist here is that the ceiling of the level has spikes, so too many balloons will lift your bridge up, pop the balloons, and send the bridge plummeting into the deadly liquid. You’ll also find yourself moving into a new season of the year with every chapter you unlock, so there are shifting weather elements to deal with as well.
Although the challenging physics and shifting environments should keep players on their toes, the presentation and simplified controls look as though they’ll keep things somewhat lighthearted. As we mentioned before, World of Goo uses simplified, cartoony visuals to set the scene for the game. Though the general presentation is fairly basic, it still has a nice charm to it with an overall look and sound that can be described as Invader Zim meets Worms. The controls should help keep the barrier of entry low, thanks to the fact that you’re simply using the Wii Remote to point and drag bits of goo.
Finally, you’ll also be able to go through the entire game in co-op mode. Though the game’s two designers, Kyle Gabler and Ron Carmel, hinted at the possibility of four players interacting at once, they were only able to confirm two-player co-op. In a style befitting the game’s twisted sense of humor, Gabler was quick to point out that co-op doesn’t necessarily imply teamwork–you can also use the second Wii Remote to completely mess with the other player by picking away at his or her structure. Whether being cooperative or causing grief is your style of choice, you can expect World of Goo to arrive on WiiWare later this year.