- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 11, 2009

Manipulating globs of viscous matter makes for a visually and mentally rewarding experience in the beautiful World of Goo (2D Boy and Brighter Minds, for Mac and PC, $19.99).

This mind-bending series of 48 puzzling levels melds the laws of gravity and a snappy story line into a seemingly simple premise. Use feisty Goo balls and their trails to build structures and paths to ultimately move a certain number of blobby brethren to an exit and conclude a level.

Trails connect to two or more Goo, creating various triangle-based geometric shapes that build upon one another. Once a Goo is “connected” it becomes stationary, acting as an anchor point for the shape it has created.

The other Goo quickly move along the paths that connect the stationary Goo, working together to build towers, bridges and other shapes constructed to reach the final goal, a pipe that literally sucks up the still-free-moving blobs, depositing them in a collection container.

Of course, it’s not quite as easy as it sounds.

Each puzzle grid is built within a terrain that has specific attributes. For example, in one, the Goo must build upon themselves to move up a shaft in the ground and in between revolving wheels before they can move through an upper vertical tunnel, coming out into the light from their watery underground cave.

As junior Goo architects start the challenge, the blobs race around a square grid floating in water. The expanding grid bobs along, but as it gets top- or side-heavy, it upends with the heavier side pointing down, instead of growing up.

The player must first figure out how to build the grid evenly so it floats, eventually becoming wide enough to anchor to the walls.

Things get more complex as he starts building up into the narrow vertical tunnel where the revolving wheels quickly spin. Tension, weight and friction all come into play as construction continues.

Those who get stuck will find some cryptic clues left by the “Mysterious Sign Painter.” Players will learn to pay attention to each puzzle’s name and its snappy little intro tag.

The action comes down to channeling one’s inner MacGyver and carefully looking at the environment, the number of Goo available and the obstacles that must be overcome. Obstacles can range from deep gorges that Goo fall into, gusting winds that fling Goo around, or sharp points that cause Goo to explode.

With the 48 challenges broken into four “seasons” of play - summer, fall, winter and spring - the game is a time-consuming experience.

After each puzzle is completed, a tally shows how many moves it took to complete, the number of Goo collected and any bonus Goo earned. Players who collect more Goo than a level requires can go online to the World of Goo Corporation and build an ever-growing tower where they can compare their structures to others.

Learning Time: The World of Goo provides an excellent course of intuitive-versus-curriculum learning as players work through levels of increasing difficulty.

It’s a great mind exercise, as any really good puzzle should be, encompassing the use of very quick brain reflexes and decision-making skills to stabilize structures and solve exit paths.

More important, younger players will not actually grasp that they are involved in a physics lesson mixing geometry and engineering principals, so parents can jump in with some added lesson planning tied to the action.

Age range:So far, this adult has made it through 24 levels of play after hours and hours of effort. Some puzzles take just a few minutes and moves, while others take much longer and a seemingly unlimited number of actions. It requires the brain power of at least a 10-year-old to really appreciate the game.

Joseph Szadkowski’s ROMper Room is a place for children and their parents to escape the world of ultraviolent video games and use that gaming system or computer to actually learn something while having fun. Send e-mail to jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com.

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