I have waited so many years to hear the right words. So many years, not even knowing what the right words are, or what form they will take. Now I have heard them: Deliver a Big Cube. Okay, not the exact words I was expecting, but they will do. They will do nicely.
At the start, it’s a small cube. A small cube of pink space-jelly or something, lurid and wibbling in a lab. I pick it up and drag it. Its flesh, to quote General Sternwood, is too much like the flesh of men. It squidges along the floor behind me. Just an office worker taking a cube for a stroll.
But when I run over pools of pink goo, the cube starts to draw them up. It starts to get bigger! More pink goo! I need more! I start to hunt it down, clumsy now because my small cube is no longer a small cube, and is actually fairly awkward in fact. Walls shatter. Wheely chairs go flying. Equipment is upturned. No matter! The cube drinks. Eventually I find a vat of the goo stuff – three storeys high. Turn the valve, plug in a pipe, let it spill everywhere! The cube erupts into its final size, a true monster. But still so light and jelly-like to drag. Into the weighing machine and off to whoever requested a big cube. Delivered, mate. I hope they love it as much as I did.
Good Job is a real beauty. And it keeps changing on me. This is a game that casts you as the talentless offspring of the CEO behind some huge company. You start off on the ground floor of the business and have to work your way up, through the various levels of the office and the various stages of corporate hierarchy, until you’re at the top. But you’re talentless. Even the simplest of objectives ends in hilarious disaster. What a thing.
Seriously, this game never stays still for very long. As each level unfolds – a simple agenda and a chunk of real-estate in which to achieve it – it initially feels like a QWOP-’em-up. The levels are packed with physics objects, and the stuff you have to do is very straightforward. Plug in an overhead projector. Got it. But the OHP is a pain to drag, and pretty soon you’re collecting desks and typists and pot plants as you lug it along. It’s dynamic physics silliness, and then the OHP is in place and switched on. Onwards! Upwards!
There is a lot of this stuff: simple carnage in an open-plan office, in an auditorium, in a zen garden. In a swimming pool, floats need collecting. In an outside area, plants need watering. Even here it’s great fun. It’s great to lug stuff around and crash through walls. Plugs and wires get a special mention too: plugs are big bulky things that click into place with a lovely snap, and then the wires can be used as sort of giant elastic bands, so you can pull back and fire a desk through a window. Smash!
As things go on, though, it starts to change. Complexity creeps in, and surprisingly it really fits. Up on the laboratory level, a biome needs irrigating, which means you have to move pipes around and control the flow of water. Higher up, colour-coded packages need to go to the right colour-coded recipients. This stuff is great because you’re pulling off intricate stuff in a world in which everything is a clumsy toy, but is balanced so that it still just about works. It helps that the level designers have a flair for coming up with new ideas. Like that cube of pink glue.
Why it truly sings, I think, is because the game has created such a perfectly irritating place: a place where photocopiers won’t fit through doorways and wi-fi routers miss huge swathes of the office. Good Job weaponises your frustrations with the real world, and the glory here, of course, is that you can do things about it all. You can fire photocopiers through walls and push docile colleagues around on their chairs until they have the signal their devices require.
All of this and co-op, too. With two players, each holding a Joy-Con, Good Job is a proper relationship-wrecker. And I mean that in the best sense. You will learn a lot about people when you’re both holding different ends of a filing cabinet.
Step back and ponder the strange trajectory of physics through video games. It’s beautiful and catastrophic, the arc of a sofa going out a window. Back in the early days of stuff like Max Payne, you were always stumbling over physics when you were meant to be looking cool. Now it’s been mastered so fully, it seems, that the stumbling has been choreographed. Good Job works because its endless pratfalls have been so skilfully arranged. As Spike Jones once said – I am quoting from Pynchon obv – if you’re going to replace a C-sharp with a gunshot, it has to be a C-sharp gunshot or it sounds awful.