National Catholic Register

Arts & Entertainment

Fun Puzzles With Goo and Arachnids

Physics Plays Role in a New Batch of Titles

BY THOMAS L. McDONALD

March 29-April 4, 2009 Issue | Posted 3/20/09 at 11:00 AM

 

“Physics-based gaming” may sound like a fun new way to study for a midterm, but, in fact, it’s a new sub-genre of puzzle games featuring objects that act as they might in the “real world.”

Thus, “Line Rider” allows you to draw a wild path for a tobogganist, creating jumps and loops and other hazards. If the ride gets too wild, however, he’ll fly off the track. The game started as a free PC application before migrating to the Nintendo DS as “Line Rider 2: Unbound.”

Similarly, “Crayon Physics Deluxe” creates a charming experience out of a screen designed like a crumpled piece of children’s drawing paper and a few crayons.

“Draw” objects on this piece of paper, and they take on the physical properties of those objects. Draw a hill, a car shape, and two circles for wheels, and the car rolls down the hill.


“World of Goo”; 2DBoy.com, computer/Wii: $20.

One of the most impressive physics games of the first generation was “Tower of Goo,” a building/puzzle game in which you create structures made out of balls of goo. Along with the original “Crayon Physics,” it was one of the best things to emerge from Carnegie Mellon University’s Experimental Gameplay Project, which set a goal of creating 50 games in a single semester, each done in under a week by one person.

“Tower of Goo” has now been reborn, in a new improved form, as “World of Goo,” available in computer versions (for PC, Mac and Linux) and as “WiiWare” that can be downloaded and played on the Nintendo Wii.

The goal of “Goo” is to create stable structures out of little moving blobs. As the size of a goo structure increases, imbalances can occur, and you have to work quickly to prevent the whole thing from collapsing. Each level has a puzzle-like structure and a simple goal that challenges you to get a certain number of goo balls into a pipe that leads to a special container.

Naturally, the pipe is inaccessible, and the challenge is to create bridges, towers and other lattice-work structures in order to shepherd a certain amount of glop to the exit.

Different varieties of goo are available, and depending on a ball’s color, it might float, stick, drip or be impervious to damage.

Gravity is the great enemy, and once the levels start moving and the spikes and goo-eating frogs appear, things can get tense very quickly.

“World of Goo” is wildly inventive and creative fun for the whole family. The more elaborate structures might be a little frustrating for little kids (and many adults), but aside from the possibility of goo-ball fatalities (they do have little faces and personalities) and the presence of a clichéd “evil corporation,” there are no real content issues.

A free demo is available at the 2DBoy website (2DBoy.com).


“Deadly Creatures”; THQ, Wii: $50.

“Deadly Creatures” might sound like a show on the Discovery Channel, but, in fact, it’s a new Wii exclusive that takes games where they’ve never been before.

And, if you’re at all squeamish about bugs (arachnids, to be specific), you may not want to go there.

Rainbow Studios, a development team best known for its motocross and ATV (All-Terrain Vehicle) simulators, has done something actually new: created a third-person action in which you play entirely as a spider and a scorpion.

The game features 10 levels in all, alternating between the two deadly creatures. All of the normal features of an action game are on hand. There are foes, health, goals, points, unlockable fight moves, combination moves, platform jumping, and a final big-boss battle for each level.

Everything, however, has been translated into “bug-lish.” Thus, “health” is restored by eating tasty grubs and other lesser insects that don’t fight back. The “enemies” are other bugs, rodents and reptiles, ranging from spiders, beetles and gnats up to rattlesnakes and gila monsters.

As you earn points by killing bugs and traversing levels, you unlock new moves. The spider is fast and nimble, with quick attacks and spin-kicks: the ninja of the desert. The scorpion is thick and powerful, with snapping claws and a sting in the tail: a slower heavyweight.

This might sound like a recipe for silliness, but Rainbow has actually managed to achieve, if not realism, at least a level of plausibility in the way the creatures move and fight.

The game also manages a neat narrative trick by having the arachnid action take place in the foreground of a human drama that is unfolding in the background.

Two humans, voiced by actors Billy Bob Thornton and Dennis Hopper, have ventured into the desert to search for a treasure. Their story advances on the periphery, intersecting with the spider and the scorpion at key moments.

It’s just one more effective touch for a clever game.

Content note: “Deadly Creatures” earns its T-rating thanks to some salty PG-level language; a seedy background story of greed, violence and murder; and nonstop bug-based combat.

Killin’ critters is the whole point of the game, although this is done without much blood or gore. Frankly, the entire game is disgusting since … well, you’re a spider and a scorpion, and you eat grubs and crickets. Things get tasteless when, during one of the scorpion levels, you repeatedly sting a human in the groin.

If that was meant to be a leg-crossing moment for the largely male gaming audience, then mission accomplished! It was also tasteless and unnecessary.

Thomas L. McDonald is

editor-at-large of Games magazine and a catechist in the Diocese of Trenton, New Jersey.