Baba is You is Win
There is something deeply satisfying about being presented with a challenge, applying various problem solving techniques, and finally finding the solution. Perhaps this resulting satisfaction that the player feels is what causes developers to include puzzles in their games, or maybe they just really enjoy creating new ways to “stump” players. Regardless of the reason for their existence, puzzles can sometimes be the most interesting and unique parts of a game. Every once in a while, a developer may decide to make a game comprised of puzzles alone, and nothing else, hoping that every single level will give the player that satisfaction of quality problem solving. Baba is You, by Hempuli Oy, is probably the best example of this in recent memory.
…one of the most unique and mind bending puzzle games I have ever played
Baba is You is without a doubt one of the most unique and mind bending puzzle games I have ever played. If it were a standard puzzle game, you would see something like this: you are the character (Baba), the walls are your boundary, the key unlocks the door, and the flag is the goal. In order to get to the flag, you must push the key to the door and unlock it, then cross through the newly opened path to touch the flag and win. What happens, however, if the key and door get removed, with walls blocking every way to get to the key? In Baba is You, you are able to redefine the variables and change how every object works, making new paths of your own to reach the goal.
Now what exactly does this mean? Instead of the rules of the level being implied, they are physical blocks in the level that can be moved around. For example, the level could start with three blocks next to each other “BABA,” “IS,” and “YOU” – creating the logical phrase BABA IS YOU (thus the game title). But, if you have a different block that says “ROCK” in the same area, you can physically push the “ROCK” block to replace “BABA” – creating the new phrase ROCK IS YOU. Resultantly, you stop controlling Baba and start controlling every rock in the level. Using this new control, you can reach new areas, push other blocks, and ultimately achieve the goal in new ways.
…steady addition of new block types kept the game from ever feeling stale
This mechanic is absolutely key to solving the puzzles in Baba is You, and is thankfully taken full advantage of (especially in the later levels). What starts off looking impossible sometimes is actually something as simple as shifting a block in the logic chain to completely change how the main obstacle behaves. Having the ability to move and redefine these blocks was something that took a little getting used to, but once you get your mind in the right mentality, the solutions will start coming easier to you. Something I appreciated is that as soon as you think you have seen all puzzle variations possible, a new element will be added. Suddenly, you will have levels that only allow PULL instead of push, or a MOVE block that makes objects move on their own. This steady addition of new block types kept the game from ever feeling stale and made me think differently for just about every level.
In all honesty, the closest thing I can think to compare this form of problem solving to is computer code programming. At the start of a level, you need to look at each object and how it is assigned to behave. Next you need to look around you and see what words or objects there are to interact with. Then, you need to try to come up with creative ways to redefine what objects there are on screen or even ways to change the command for what determines how you “win.” There were a particular few instances where I felt like a genius because I completely bypassed the entire level by pushing the phrase YOU IS WIN together – causing an automatic victory.
…creative solutions make you feel like a smug genius.
This right here, this feeling that I was able to “trick” or “outsmart” the game, is what makes Baba is You a fantastic puzzle game. Sometimes, I knew what I was supposed to do, but I really wanted to try and change the way I was “supposed” to win to try and “cheat the system” almost. This, to me, is phenomenal game design. By giving the player the sense of control over the entire set of rules, it allows them to come up with multiple possible solutions to the same problem, and all are just as valid as the rest.
Each level almost reminded me of a Shrine from Breath of the Wild, or a Test Chamber from Portal – where there are certain ways to complete puzzles, but creative solutions make you feel like a smug genius. In the later levels, however, that feeling was much more difficult to achieve because they are so difficult. Simple three word phrases quickly get more complicated and chained together, leading to some monstrosities of logic statements that can be absolute doozies to solve.
The real draw, other than the fantastic puzzles and problem solving potential, is the sheer simplicity of the rest of the game. The controls are incredibly basic, with only seven buttons: four movement directions, a reset level button, a undo button (which is crucial when you accidentally push a block the wrong way or kill yourself), and a wait button (used for moving components). Just as basic is the visual and sound design. Nothing stands out as beautiful or mind-blowing, but it really works because it is based on function and simplicity and allows the focus to be on the puzzles and levels themselves. For me, I found the emphasis on content over presentation to be almost refreshing and allowed the best parts of the game to shine.
Overall, I really do think that Baba is You is a game that fans of puzzle games should not miss. By choosing to put emphasis on quality level design and puzzles, rather than visual presentation or a story, Hempuli Oy has made a game that isn’t over-ambitious and sticks to its strengths. The main hook of being able to change the variables and redefine the level goals never overstays its welcome and is constantly adding new elements to keep it fresh and challenging until the very end. When I think back on puzzle games that I’ve played in my life, I don’t know if I can think of many that have kept my attention and continually innovate as well as Baba is You did. While it may not be for everyone, fans of puzzle games and problem solving will fine a lot to love here and should not miss out on this experience!
Yes, if you:
- Enjoy creative puzzle games
- Want to be challenged mentally
- Need a change of pace from other genres
- Like programming and the logic behind it
No, if you:
- Need a story alongside puzzles in games
- Are one to give up quickly when posed with new problems
- Want a game of mindless, simple fun
Baba is You released on March 3rd, 2019 and is available on PC and Nintendo Switch at an MSRP of $14.99.
Note: Cannonicity received a copy of Baba is You in exchange for a fair and honest review.