It's hard to believe it's been nearly a decade since World of Goo first glopped its way onto the then-new WiiWare service. A smart, squishy puzzle adventure from indie developers 2D Boy — with some of that team now known as Tomorrow Corporation — it raised the bar on downloadable Wii games and ran off with the hearts of puzzle gamers, ourselves included. Now, two Nintendo consoles later, World of Goo has returned on the Switch, taking full advantage of the platform to feature portability and pointer controls in a single, definitive package.
At its squishy centre, World of Goo is a physics-based puzzle game with an unusual amount of heart. In each of its nearly 50 levels you'll have some sentient goo balls and a goal to reach — usually a pipe that needs to suck up a certain amount of the little blobs — with free reign over how to get there. Dragging goos in range of their friends will see them auto-connect and then harden, allowing you to create extensive — and often slightly off-kilter — goo structures with the little guys. The wrinkle is that you only have a set number of goos to work with per level, and goos that have hardened can't count towards the required total of escapees; so if you have 30 blobs to build with, and need to have 10 reach the goal, you'll want to make sure to create your contraption out of 20 blobs or less.
Towers, bridges, tables, wheels, platforms and boats are among the many living, breathing infrastructure projects you may will into being during your adventure, and the satisfying physics engine underneath it all makes building as rewarding and strategic as it is silly and fun. If you need to get your goos across a ravine, for instance, you might start out building a bridge, counterbalancing it after every few lengthwise expansions with the best of intentions, only to have it flop, flan-like, towards certain destruction. But not to worry! With quick reflexes and a bit of luck you might manage to fit some emergency goo supports onto the sides, catching the whole thing rather tentatively on the near side of the drop. From there, you can build upwards and outwards again, and end up with a gloriously slapdash monument to 'oops!' which your remaining goo balls will wind their way across to the goal. Then, you will feel like a genius.
From there, that feeling only grows. World of Goo is so much fun because it makes you feel like every solution you come up with is a slimy subversion of the rules. Inspired by an early failure, one of our most consistently successful techniques for crossing pits was building a tower tall enough to stretch across, and then toppling it over — voilà, a bridge. After trying to build downward carefully and cautiously to a precariously-placed pipe over and over again, we had unexpected success by just sending a ball of goo blobs careening down into the canyon, wedging it between the walls, and extending outward from there — puzzle-solving by catharsis.
Of course, while these unlikely triumphs formed some of our fondest memories with the game, World of Goo also rewards strategizing and pre-planing intricate solutions — and the predictable but flexible physics mean that there's always several ways to approach these as well. It's the rare puzzle game that rewards careful, creative and downright reckless thinking all in equal measure, but World of Goo pulls it off, with something to offer every type of player.
While that balancing act alone would be enough to carry the game's puzzles through to the end, World of Goo has an appealing sense of progression that comes from both its diverse 'worlds' — each of the five overarching levels has its own unique visual and audio theme — and its gradual introduction of new mechanics. The garden-variety goos you'll start working with, for instance, are soon joined by green goos, which can be re-moistened after they've set into a structure, and pulled apart from their brethren to be placed anew as many times as you like. Soon after you'll add teardrop goos to your repertoire, which drip slowly and steadily downward after they're placed until they reach their full extension. Lighter-than-air floaty goos, spiky goos, flammable goos, bone goos, and many more round out the package, each introduced at steady intervals throughout the game and given plenty of room to breathe before being combined together in more complicated puzzles. It's excellently paced and never stops being exciting — there's always something new to learn, but always time to put what you've learned into practice.
Of course, if you've played World of Goo before all this will sound familiar. It's a wonderful game, but one that's also been released on quite a few platforms — all the way from the Wii to Blackberry phones. What does this Switch port do differently? For starters, it offers a truly complete suite of control options, all of which impressed us. As you might imagine, World of Goo is a perfect fit for touch controls, and that option works very well — you can undock the system, pop off the Joy-Cons, and treat the Switch like any other tablet, poking, dragging and stacking the slimes with ease. The touchscreen is responsive and quick, and we liked the 'hands-on' feel this mode provides.
Even better, however — and much more impressive — is the fact that the Joy Cons can be used like Wii Remotes for pointer-based controls, with the Switch in tabletop mode or docked on the TV. Since the Switch has no sensor bar in its setup, this works via gyroscope alone — but it does an absolutely wonderful job. All you have to do is set the Joy-Con down on a flat surface, then pick it up and go: you can control the pointer easily and quickly with easy, subtle wrist movements, 'click' with the any of the face buttons, and recentre the gyroscope with '+' or '-'. It's responsive and natural, and quickly became our favourite way to play; setting up the Switch in tabletop mode in a coffee shop and controlling our goo blobs with the Joy Con in a relaxed position under the table was amazingly comfortable.
Adding a second Joy-Con in the mix, you can also invite a second helper along for co-op play. This isn't a Switch-exclusive feature, but the nature of the system makes it an easily accessible high-point here; World of Goo works surprisingly well as a shared experience, feeling a little more frantic but just as fun with a second player in the mix, and we loved being able to just offer up the second Joy-Con to friends or passersby intrigued by the treacly towers on-screen.
And even though it's nearly 10 years old, World of Goo does still impress visually. Everything looks nice and sharp in HD, and scales very well for the Switch's tabletop mode — the goos are easy to see and rearrange, even sitting back a bit from the system, and the colours really pop on the portable. It sports a bold, clean design that gets a lot of milage out of playing with shadows and light, and the upsettingly appealing apocalyptic art style that would later become Tomorrow Corporation's calling card. It's bleak only in terms of its implication; in execution, it's gorgeous.
That sense of style carries through to the excellent writing — a surprisingly engaging story is told through snippets of script on signs in each level — and also to the music. World of Goo's cinematic soundtrack nails the same slightly sinister, oddly offbeat tone mixture that the visuals do so well, and the result is a genre-hopping highlight that touches on everything from jazz and choral requiems to funk and film scores.
It's a welcome change from the short loops of most puzzler soundtracks, and is well worth listening to independently of the gameplay — a premise at the heart of a Switch-exclusive bonus feature, the full OST being included with the game. It's a nice extra, but the interface does leave a lot to be desired. There's no way to pause a track in the middle without stopping it entirely, or fast forward, or skip to a certain part of the song. And whether it's down to a hardware limitation or not, the fact that there's no way to continue listening while the Switch's screen is off is unfortunate, especially when 3DS titles like Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call and Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS had the feature. As it stands the tunes themselves are fantastic, but the OST interface feels more like a simple sound test than anything else.
World of Goo is a true classic, and it's revered for good reason. It's instantly accessible but with plenty of depth; it's paced out perfectly, with a steady stream of new tricks and techniques to learn; and its puzzles can be solved with forward-thinking, quick reflexes or a mixture of both. Wrapped up in a unique, pleasantly apocalyptic presentation, with co-op support and a harder 'OCD' mode for added replay value, this is a complete puzzle package. If you've played it previously, the Switch incarnation might be worth a second go for its portable pointer controls and on-the-go co-op, but if it's your first time into the World of Goo it's absolutely a must-play, and this is — in our minds — the definitive version.