Written by: Bob Mandel
Despite an unprecedented explosion of blockbuster retail releases this past holiday season, the casual computer games market – largely operating through Internet downloads rather than boxed products in stores – continues to flourish. These titles generally sell for a lower price, with lower system requirements and a lower minimum time commitment to learn how to play, and they arguably provide more bang for the buck than their retail counterparts. Reflecting the imagination of small independent developers, these modest products may also evidence more creativity and whimsy than many of the “me-too” releases from major corporate publishers. Even with game consoles joining the fray by offering downloadable “live” games of this type, the personal computer – due to its openness and readily available programming tools — remains the primary development platform for this kind of release. So for the ninth year in a row, while other game sites focus heavily on conventional retail offerings, I unearth for your playing pleasure the very best hidden computer treasures that casual gaming has to offer. To select the dozen 2008 award winners, I spent many hours scouring hundreds of titles developed in countries all over the world, and playing through the full registered versions to get a solid sense of their overall value. Each year the competition becomes stiffer. One of the pleasures of doing so is that I get to meet some of the nicest and most imaginative people on the planet. Because of increasingly unacceptable intrusive and annoying copy-protection schemes, and the reality that many gamers own multiple computers (not all of which have ready online access) which they frequently upgrade, I tested only offerings where it is possible to register and play the single-player mode on a non-Internet-connected computer.
World of Goo
Developer and Publisher/Distributor: 2D Boy
World of Goo is a highly creative and amusing physics-based construction game designed by two amazing independent developers. You encounter millions of slimy black goo balls that you control with your mouse and have to build complicated structures using many differing types of goo – many of which are really delightful – in arrangements that try to defy gravity. Your strut-by-strut construction is really enjoyable, as you watch your final creation shudder and sway. There are five “chapters” full of these mind-bending challenges, many of which end up being trial-and-error affairs as you battle wind and other obstacles. There are always new surprises around the bend, so nothing ever seems repetitive – you even get to see epochs and seasons change. The visuals are beautiful, and the music and sound effects are perfectly suited to the gameplay. If you get stuck, certain clues help you out, and after you finish, you may wish to go back and play again to improve on your initial performance. Once you enter this really fun oozy world, you will never want to leave.