Game Music, Reviews

World of Goo Soundtrack: World of Good or Just Goo? (Review)

July 3, 2009 | | 4 Comments Share thison Facebook World of Goo Soundtrack: World of Good or Just Goo? (Review)on Twitter

With all due respect to the great puzzle games of our time (i.e. Peggle, Portal, Bejeweled, etc.), this genre is not particularly known for its winning use of music (save, of course, for Portal’s “Still Alive,” but I am not counting that as part of the in-game score). Maybe this is by design, as the player will often be hearing the music for long stretches of time while he/she is completing a level. It also might be that these games often require a different kind of concentration and a lavish score could prove distracting.

Former EA developer Kyle Gabler and his partner, Ron Carmel, broke off from EA to form the independent studio, 2D Boy. Their first big venture, World of Goo, was an incredible success garnering various awards and near-unanimous positive reviews. This puzzle game consists of a whole bunch of anthropomorphized “goo” which the player must construct into various shapes and structures for the purpose of moving the goo from one side of the stage to the goal (a drainpipe). Sounds a bit bizarre, yes?

So, does Gabler hit the mark with the soundtrack? Does he successfully play the dual role of developer and composer? Hit the jump to read the review!

Kyle Gabler’s World of Goo soundtrack is a great piece of music. With a whimsical Danny Elfman-like feel to the zany atmosphere the game and music provide, Gabler graces the listener with a very competent and clever experience. The opening track, entitled “World of Goo Beginning,” delightfully sets the scene: a fast-paced, minoric polka that uses an accordion to provide its lead voice – not the most common sound in a game soundtrack. The fun continues with the eighty-second circus fanfare “Another Mysterious Pipe Appeared.”

“Brave Adventures” – a charming, rousing, little march – is obviously used to illustrate the courage of the “goo” but felt a bit out of place in context, as the movement in the game did not equate with anything march-like, only “goo”-like. “My Virtual World of Goo Corporation” is among the best chiptune homages to 8-bit soundtracks in recent memory – it sounds as though it was ripped right out of Rush’n Attack. Before I could write this off as a quirky and charming little work, Gabler reaches for the gut and shows that all is not fun and games, with “Are You Coming Home Love MOM” and “The Last of the Goo Balls and the Telescope Operator.” These pieces evoke an uncharacteristically emotional response with their use of ambient, treble voices and strings and piano doubling the melody.

“Best of Times” is perhaps one of the soundtrack’s two “singles,” if there are such things on video game soundtracks. This percussive, treble-filled anthem is an exceptionally rousing piece, and one whose emotional scope is worthy of the biggest of Hollywood blockbusters – certainly not one I’d expect to hear in a puzzle game. The following piece, “Red Carpet Extend-O-Matic” is a warm, pleasing, dance tune whose melody is sung fluidly over the fast-paced electronic beat by a soprano and soars as one of the soundtrack’s true gems.

[The trailer below gives a great feel for both the game and the soundtrack. The track in the background is “World of Goo Beginning”.]

Gabler pulls back to a more traditional-sounding puzzle soundtrack with “Regurgitation Pumping Station,” only to have it accelerate halfway through to a Dick Dale-like guitar piece that sounds like it could have scored a Pam Grier blaxploitaiton film from the 70s; a very dynamic track.

More nods to the expressionistic side of things for “Rain Rain Windy Windy” as the chimes and harp give the track an extra fairy-tale feel. This is quickly followed by the more ominous “Jelly” – possibly the most interesting track of the bunch in its depth of theme and variation, and use of the piano ostinato.

Admittedly, the three previous pieces of note in this review were originally written for other projects – other very different projects – before Gabler decided to use them to score his game. The result is an incredibly varied collection of interesting works, but ends up feeling a bit schizophrenic.

Although Kyle Gabler has scored a direct hit from a musical standpoint, as a soundtrack for a puzzle game, it comes up a bit short. If this were an adventure game, the schizophrenic nature of the score would fit right in; but here, it suffers from having a bit too much character and variation, and at times I found the rousing anthems to be a distraction, taking away from action on the screen. This would normally be a fatal flaw for a run-of-the-mill soundtrack, but Gabler’s melodies are so damned infectious, I found myself just being happy for the experience.

As a free download, getting this soundtrack should be a no-brainer to any fans of a varied, quirky, charming, and extremely musical experience. I only wish it had been used to score an adventure game with lots of action, as that is the sensibility this work unabashedly presents.

What say you? Are puzzle games allowed to have elaborate scores? Should we continue to reduce their scores to more ambient noise than full-on scores?

Be sure to check back here soon as we will have an interview with World of Goo composer, Kyle Gabler!

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