07 June 2019 ~ 0 Comments

GAME REVIEW: Baba Is You

written by David Steffen

Baba Is You is a puzzle game developed by developer Hempula Oli and released on Steam in 2019.

At first glance it seems like a pretty typical block-pushing puzzle game, where you move a character around and push blocks to reach the designated goal. But in this game, some of the blocks are words that when combined form the fundamental rules of the level, and the object is modify those rules to make it possible to reach the goal. The title of the game “Baba is You”, because every level in the game has to have a “___ Is You” rule which defines what kind of object is the player character. While many of the levels have Baba Is You rule to define Baba as the player character (Baba is a white four-legged creature), Baba is only you because of that rule… as you will discover if you accidentally break the “Baba Is You” sentence without replacing it with something else, and will not be able to continue, having no player character.

So let’s say the rules say that you win by touching the flag, but the flag is surrounded by impenetrable walls. Depending on the pieces available, you could win by making the walls pushable, or by making something besides the flag the way to win. Lots of different combinations are possible based on what rules are defined in the level and which ones are malleable (while all words can theoretically be pushed, often they are placed in unreachable parts of the level to make those rules basically immutable for the level).

The game gradually builds up, adding more nouns and verbs and adjectives to further complicate how you have to think about the rules to break them sufficiently to beat the level, such that even levels where you only have a few movable pieces can still be stumpers for quite some time and I find myself often picking through them in my mind as I’m doing other things, trying out different combinations of the available rules, and most of the stumpers I’ve figured out when I’m NOT playing.

The headspace of the game feels very similar to the headspace of a particularly novel and interesting computer programming task, takes you a while to get your head around it but then it is so satisfying when everything turns out the way you imagined. This game will probably be particularly appealing to people who enjoy that kind of challenge.

I haven’t finished the game yet, but I am well and truly hooked and I’ll keep picking at the remaining levels until I get them, and it’s very satisfying when I get one of the stumpers I’ve been stuck on for a while.

Visuals
Cute, in a simple way.

Audio
Fine, though I usually play with the sound off; it doesn’t appear to have made much difference.

Challenge
SO challenging puzzle game, though the game has a well-designed difficulty curve, the first levels breeze by because they’re ingraining the basic rules into your head, but as the simplest cases of those are exhausted and more words are added it becomes frustratingly difficult.

Story
No story, particularly, Baba is moving around a map trying to reach new areas, but you don’t really know what the point of it is.

Session Time
You can quit at any time, and any given level probably only takes a couple minutes once you figure out the strategy, so it’s easy to pick up and set down.

Playability
The movement is very easy, just arrow keys and you can also wait. Other things in the levels only move when the character moves so you can take your time to think if you need to, it’s not a game of fast fingers. The challenge is not in the difficulty of the gameplay.

Replayability
Haven’t finished the first playthrough yet, but I imagine it wouldn’t necessarily have a lot of replay value because you’ll know the puzzles, but maybe there’s some collectibles or unlockables to enhance that.

Originality
It is based around a familiar type of game but with rule rewriting system I’ve never seen before, ends up making it a whole new kind of game.

Playtime
I haven’t finished it yet, but I’ve spent 14 hours of playtime on it, and I’m sure the playtime will vary wildly from player to player based on how fast they solve the puzzles.

Overall
This is an excellent puzzle game if you enjoy mind-warping mental challenges and especially if you have a sort of programmer brain that likes playing with the framework that everything is built on, that when faced with a challenge that seems insurmountable, enjoys rebuilding the entire structure to make it surmountable. I highly recommend it though I warn you that it might drive you to distraction. It’s listed at $15 on Steam. If you’re not sure you understand what I mean by rearranging the rules, watch the video at the bottom of this review, it gives some useful examples.

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