Friday, December 19, 2008

2008 Game of the Year

Game of the Year: none

2008 has been a tough year for us hardcore logic and puzzle gamers on the PC. No game has grabbed me the way any of my previous Game of the Year winners did. I did not experience game lock with any puzzle game this year. No game stretched my mind or made me think in new ways. So, I decided to not award a game of the year this year. Maybe I am just getting old and crotchety but that is the way it is.

Runner-Up: DROD RPG: Tendry's Tale

I am huge fan of the DROD series, and the latest entry DROD RPG is a great game. The DROD games are some of the best and most demanding puzzle/logic games around. They combine a simple interface with deep puzzles. DROD RPG continues the tradition with some really good puzzles. So, why is it not the game of the year? The RPG elements in the game are lacking. Somehow it should be a better game. The relative lack on fan generated levels is also telling. But ultimately, I have unfairly high expectations for any game with DROD in the title.

Honorable Mention: World of Goo

Another almost great game which could/should have taken the top spot. For three fourths of the game, I was thinking, this is it. It was amazing, and I was having a good time. But then came the final chapter with its bit shooting accuracy levels and odd Jengaesque levels. Thought went out the door and so did game of the year.

Over the holidays, I watched my 11 year old nephew play through the first chapter. It was a challenge for him, but he did it. Based on that, I have to say that World of Goo is a better game for children than I thought it would be.

Honorable Mention: Quadrax IV

Again, this is an almost great game. Why the passcodes? Why not tell us where the caves lead to? Why? There are some really good puzzles mixed in which kept me going.

Honorable Mention: iPhone Apps

Maybe the most telling fact about the state of puzzle games for the PC is how much time I spent playing puzzle games on my iPhone. It is a good platform for small puzzle/logic games and always available when an extra five minutes appear. My current favorites: Enigmo, Monster Masyu, Vexed, and Puzzle Maniak.

Previous Winners:

2007 Game of the Year: Chocolate Castle

2006 Game of the Year: Hex-a-hop

2005 Game of the Year: DROD: Journey to Rooted Hold

Saturday, December 13, 2008

World of Goo

Title: World of Goo
Author: 2D Boy
License: commercial

Two years ago I played around with Tower of Goo when it came out. Released as part of the experimental gameplay project, it was more of a toy than a game. It was interesting, but I did not see the true gaming potential in it. I figured it might morph into an open ended sand box game not a puzzle game. So, when World of Goo came out four months ago, I was not very excited. But I kept reading these rave reviews. Finally, I tried the demo. Then I paid my $20 for the full version. Now, I am jumping on the World of Goo bandwagon.

World of Goo is a wonderfully produced game. A simple idea combined with whimsy and a bit of love yields one the best games I have played this year. It is clear that the small team of designers, programmers, artists enjoyed making this game.

In a sentence, World of Goo is a cross of Lemmings with Bridge Construction Set. The objective of each level to build a structure using some of the goo balls which reaches the exit pipe and allows the remaining goo balls to escape. The interface simple, select a free goo ball and move it near the current structure. Once close, faint connections will appear. Release the goo ball and it becomes a new node in the structure and those faint connections become permanent.

Depending on the level, you may have to build a tower, a bridge or some thing else to reach the exit pipe. That is the puzzle aspect of the game, figuring out what to build. Also, to complete each level, a certain number of goo balls have to escape. So, you have to plan carefully to have a few unused guys at the end. Oh, the free unused goo balls move around on your structure, moving from node to node via the connections, weighing it down, stress it, and just causing trouble. You have to take this into consideration when planning your next node placement.

As you progress through the game, new goo ball types are introduced. Some goo balls are not permanent and can be removed from a structure and placed else where. Another type is the balloon goo balls which pulls upwards. While there are some helpful hints from "the sign painter", you have learn on your own the properties of each new type. That is part of the game.

There are 46 levels spread across 5 worlds. The levels have to more or less be completed in order. At some points there is a split allowing access to two levels, but you have to complete all of the levels in a world before moving on. On the plus side, you are allowed to skip some number of levels and return to them later. There were enough skips so that I never got stuck. For the hardcore, each level also has an OCD challenge, maybe save an addition number of goo balls or use a fixed number of moves.

The best part of World of Goo is the atmosphere. The back story, artwork, cut scenes, and hints from the sign painter are interwoven to produce a wonderful gaming experience. The interface and menus are simple and well done so as to not distract.

As with any game, World of Goo is not perfect. My biggest complaint is that as a puzzle game, World of Goo is lacking. This is largely a matter of taste, but very few of the of levels require serious puzzle solving skills like most of the games reviewed in this blog. For most levels, it is clear from the start what you need to do. Actually do it is another story. You might have to play around a bit, especially if a new goo ball type is available, to achieve it. This does lead to a frustration factor. One misplaced node can ruin several minutes work. There are these time travel angels flittering about; click on one and go back to some previous state. The actual amount you go back seems a bit random. I would mush prefer a time bar allowing me to go back to any previous time.

Through out the first three worlds (32 levels), the lack of tough puzzles was not much of an issue. I was just enjoying the game. The fourth world took a bad turn. A new goo ball type is introduced which you have to fire from one structure to the next in order to get them to the exit. If you missed, the goo ball would fall into the abyss or get chewed up by a gear and die a horrible death. Now the puzzle aspect is gone. For several levels in this world, it is all about aiming with no or minimal thinking. In practice, I found these levels easy but completely uninteresting.

This leads to my second big complaint: no level editor. This is a odd and glaring omission. I would love to see what challenges others could produce. There is an unofficial Goo Tool which allows includes a level editor and allows for mods. I have not played with it yet.

My last possible issue is the physics model. If you are a hard core BCS or Armadillo Run fan, you might be annoyed at the at somewhat loose physics in World of Goo. I personally was not bothered. Actually, a more accurate model would probably make the game too hard.

A great fan site for World of Goo is It contains walk through for each level in case you get stuck.