Baba Is Puzzles. Baba Is Rules. Baba Is You.
The tagline and release date trailer for Baba Is You may make the game seem deceptively simple in concept. Arrange a bunch of words with operators to make different things happen. Each level is shown on the screen at the entire time with some creative thinking needed to solve later puzzles. For hardcore puzzler fans, you’ll find a lot to like about Baba Is You. There is plenty of variation in the puzzles and enough routes unlocked at the same time to keep hard levels from being too much of a sticking point.
The portable nature of the Switch makes it the best home for Baba Is You. Read on to find out why I think this is one of the best puzzle games released in a very long time.
Baba Is You is a puzzle game about re-writing the rules to suit your needs. Every level has a specific win condition to satisfy, but how you achieve that win condition is left up to your imagination. Through the use of operators like IS, AND, HAS, you can completely re-write the puzzle to win through your own terms.
The beginner levels start off very basic to introduce you to the concept of changing the rules through operators. Re-arranging words into new sentences can remove obstacles, duplicate Baba, or even create hazards needed to solve the level. One early head-scratcher I ran into was figuring out how to get Baba outside of a walled in space with limited operators. Most of the puzzles revolve around creative thinking for operating within the constraints of rules that you cannot change.
The game was designed by Finnish student Arvi Teikari for the 2017 Nordic Indie Game Jam. The game was so well-received after it debuted that Teikari announced he was turning it into a full-fledged game. It was nominated for four Independent Games Festival awards in 2018 and won Best Student and the Excellence in Design award.
You can still play the early Game Jam build of Baba Is You if you’re curious how the basic concept of the game works.
There are over 200 puzzles to solve in Baba Is You, all laid out on a world map that reminds me of traveling around in Super Mario World. One benefit of the puzzles being divided up into different sections is being able to tackle several puzzles at once. Unlike most games that feature one path forward, several areas can be unlocked at once in Baba Is You. Beating an entire block of levels will grant what looks like a Poinsettia flower, which can be used to unlock gated off areas.
I loved the mix of puzzles in the game and found new concepts were introduced at a steady rate. Some of the later levels require some really abstract thinking. It can be really easy to overthink a puzzle, too. It’s best played in short creative bursts rather than focusing on it for hours at a time. I often found that coming back to a puzzle with a fresh mind would let me see some key element I had been missing before.
Every single puzzle in the game is a single-screen puzzle, meaning everything you need to solve is already visible on the screen. This makes Baba Is You ideally suited for playing on the Nintendo Switch, with its portability and ease of access.
The controls for Baba Is You are deceptively simple. The actions that Baba can perform are often defined by the operators in each level. Baba can’t push or pull unless the object has been defined as push-able or pull-able. Sometimes, a Baba Is Weak condition can prevent you from colliding with anything in the level.
There are some considerations to make restarts as few as possible, which helps remove frustration when playing the game. You can infinitely rewind all of your moves back to the beginning of the level with the press of the X button. This is very useful if you accidentally push a word or operator against a wall or past a point of no return.
The precise nature of the game means you’ll probably want to play this one with a D-Pad. I didn’t have any trouble controlling Baba using the Joy-Con analog stick, but the Pro Controller analog stick was another matter. I would suggest using the D-Pad for this one, since the control scheme is very simple and Baba can only move in four directions (no diagonal movement).
The aesthetic style for Baba Is You is very simple. The 2D design make it easy to understand the puzzles as they’re presented. It reminds me of some of the old puzzle games I used to play on NES like The Adventures of Lolo. The final version of the game features what Home Movies and Dr. Katz lovingly called squiggle-vision as the only aesthetic spice in this generous helping of puzzle soup. I never found the feature annoying enough to turn it off, but there is a setting for that in the menus.
The hand-drawn aesthetic of the game won’t blow you away, but it is serviceable and easy to follow. I would also argue that this incarnation of Baba is inherently more cute than the original, so points for that. It won’t win any graphic design awards, but the hand-drawn art style grows on you the more you progress through the world of Baba Is You.
Developer Hempuli also composed all of the music for the game. It’s a serviceable soundtrack that won’t blow you away, but it fits thematically with the simplicity of the game. I enjoyed it enough to leave the music on the whole time I was staring at some levels and never got agitated with any individual track. It’s worth a listen for anyone who enjoys chillwave or synthwave, but it is pretty average as far as game soundtracks go.
The Not So Good
Publisher provided the key for our review.
Verdict – Buy And Enjoy
If you love puzzling games then Baba Is You will be right up your alley. There are plenty of areas to unlock to keep you from getting stuck on one puzzle too long, but be prepared to really think outside of the box.
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