by Daniel Fosselman | December 9, 2019 7:58 pm
“Baba is You” is a puzzle game all about changing the rules in order to win. It was made by Arvi Teikari, and was originally made for the Nordic Game Jam in Copenhagen, which ended up being the winner of the event. Afterwards, the game was developed into a full puzzle game, and released on March 13, 2019.
The entire game is based around rules in the form of simple statements, which is the basis of the title of the game: “Baba is You.” You can rearrange the word blocks that form these statements to manipulate the rules in your favor. There are multiple classes of words, words that represent objects (Baba, Rock, Wall, etc.), words which represent attributes objects can have (Push, Hot, Float, Stop, You, etc.), and words for describing the relationship between words (is, and, not, has, etc.).
Various attributes can be assigned to objects, like “Rock is Push,” enabling you to push rocks around. Objects can be transmuted into other objects by forming a phrase like “Wall is Rock,” which would make each individual wall block in the level a rock. There are many more interactions that can be done, and many that are not even used in the game. The universal rule is how to win. You must reach a condition in which you win to finish a level, by adding the “Win” attribute to either what you are or to another object that you can overlap with.
In the game, you are You. In order to control anything on screen, there must be a phrase that says “X is You.” These phrases vary from level to level. Sometimes, Baba (a white sheep-like creature) is You, but other times, Keke (a little red guy) is You, Rock is You, or Wall is You. It is even possible that you are more than one thing at a time, either if there are multiple of the same thing or if you can control multiple different things. Even if you are defined as Baba at the start, it may not be impossible to become something else, or to gain control over more than just Baba.
While you can move around in four directions, there are more things you can do than only that. You are allowed to undo any action you take at the click of a button, most often used when you accidentally break the “X is You” phrase. You can also wait, which is only of use when other elements of a level can change on their own, like “Robot is Move.”
“Baba is You” does not have much of any narrative. The game begins in a void of blocks, until the phrases that you will learn to change begin to form, giving order to the world. Finally, “Baba is You” is formed, and you can begin the game. After clearing the first level you are presented with a map of a land mass (it could be an island or an entire continent) in an ocean with many different locations. Locations will open up to you as you finish more levels, and eventually you learn more about the nature of the world you explore.
Visually, “Baba is You” is very simple. The game’s style is done in a somewhat pixel-ey kind of way. Everything may be made of pixels, but overall the style is not sharp, and instead soft. It is almost as if everything is drawn in crayon, or a similar medium. The game is generally easy and pleasant to look at. Backgrounds are dark to allow the brighter objects that you interact with to really stand out. The object of a puzzle game is to find the solution to the puzzle, so muted graphics are perfect for keeping the player’s attention on the problem in front of them.
The game’s overall sound design also lends itself very well to a game that requires lots of thought and consideration. Music is simple enough as to not distract from, but instead keep you engaged in your thought process. Sound effects are soft and minimal but still convey exactly what you need to know. There is a crack when you are defeated by something. A pleasant little sound is played whenever you connect a phrase together successfully, combined with the phrase lighting up a little, gives clear feedback that the player has changed something. There is a distinct low white noise that replaces all other sounds when you are rendered powerless by breaking the “X is You” phrase.
Just the base concept of pushing blocks around on a 2D plane can be interesting and challenging on its own when you are limited in how you can push those blocks. In some spots, pushing something against a wall means you can not move it off unless you undo your action. The limit of a phrase always stating that you are something can sometimes be a severe limit to your options. This means that you can not rearrange the blocks that make up that statement, and the only thing you can do to change it is to change what you are defined as, which must be done in the same move you break the phrase or if it is somehow done automatically by waiting while you have no control.
On top of the base mechanics you always make use of, new elements and mechanics are introduced regularly, and at the same time are given room to be fully fleshed out on their own. Mechanics get even more interesting when they are combined with each other. Despite a simple premise, the game gets increasingly complex. For each new mechanic incorporated into a puzzle, an extra layer of difficulty is added to wrap your head around. Even by the third world, there are some serious brain-teasers.
One of the game’s strengths is most definitely its versatility. The creativity enabled by the game’s systems leads to countless interesting ideas that can often change how you approach every subsequent puzzle. “Baba is You” is open-ended by design. This open-endedness can often lead to the player exhausting the options they are aware of, which then encourages them to think outside of the box and ultimately expand their range of possibilities within the game.
The complexity and versatility “Baba is You” demonstrates is something you do not too often find in games in the current industry. While the game may be seriously difficult at times, it is also seriously rewarding when you do figure out the solution, or even just when you make some amount of progress towards a solution. Solving some of these levels made me feel like a genius.
“Baba is You” is an exceptional puzzle game that teases your brain to do better. It is definitely my favorite puzzle game of this year, perhaps of the decade.
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