The indie game market has been saturated in terms of the puzzle genre for some time. Therefore, games like Baba Is You have a lot of work to do to stand out from the crowd. Probably the best way to distinguish themselves is to have innovative or unusual gameplay.
Baba Is You does just that. At the 2017 Nordic Game Jam, Arvi Teikari took inspiration from logic operators to come up with a new type of puzzle. Rather than building satisfying puzzles first, the Finnish developer thought up interesting solutions. He then worked backwards to figure out a way for the player to arrive at that solution. After almost two years of work, the title released on PC and Nintendo Switch on March 13, 2019.
As previously mentioned, Baba Is You takes the idea of logic gates and manipulating them to solve puzzles. Two operator blocks can be linked with different words such as “is” or “and” to influence the level. Every puzzle in the game works the same, meaning you have to push these different blocks to create different effects. Moving the “win” block under the name of another object and the “is” block will make it the goal. Moving a “stop” block from the wall and “is” blocks will make walls passable.
Essentially, players have to change the rules of each level in order to progress. Occasionally, rules are forced by blocks being placed in a locations where you cannot move them. In total, there are more than 200 individual stages to get through and they operate in much the same way.
For the most part, you take control of a little character known as Baba. However, it is possible to play as other characters or objects. Sometimes this is happening from the start of the level but at other times you are forced to take over control. You do this by moving the name of another object to the “is” and “you” blocks. The concept, then, is a fairly simple one. Explaining it in any more detail is difficult as it is far easier to see how it works by playing.
If the gameplay is simple, the solutions to many of the levels are not. Although puzzle games are supposed to be challenging, Baba Is You sometimes takes things too far. The challenge can become frustrating at times. Lateral thinking is an absolute must as you have to think abstractly about the rules you can change. The one saving grace is that there is an undo button. So you never make a move that puts you into an impossible situation.
A lack of a proper difficulty curve makes things harder as well. Too often it feels like you are not making proper progress as the puzzles don’t get gradually harder. Instead, they jump around, with sudden spikes and troughs that make it seem like you are not really getting better. The upshot is that when you do come to the realization of how to proceed, the satisfaction is immense. Of course, it can also make you feel like you were just plain stupid for not figuring it out sooner.
To help combat this, the developer has ensured that there is often more than one way to complete a level. Rather than force players to come up with a set solution, Baba Is You allows you to experiment and use your ingenuity. This not only means that you won’t get stuck as often as you might otherwise, but it also adds replay value. You can go back and replay levels to come up with new solutions.
Keeping with the theme of simplicity, the visuals in Baba Is You are incredibly basic. Your character sprite has no real identity to it and the world looks bare. The appearance resembles that of an old 8-bit title but doesn’t really have any of the charm of those games. Obviously, keeping things basic was necessary to allow you to understand the rules and their effects.
But this can also work against it at times. The low-resolution sprites mean that it can be difficult to distinguish between the various objects. As levels get more complex this becomes more of a problem, with the sheer amount of blocks and items in play. Better quality visuals could have made a difference in that regard.
The soundtrack takes a similar approach. Based on retro classics, it is entirely bland. Each of the few songs available is a very basic affair and you really won’t want to listen to it. Rather than stick with the repetitive, unimaginative music you will be better off muting it and playing your own playlists.
Baba Is You is undoubtedly a compelling and unique game. Although the experience can become frustrating at times, the original nature of the puzzles will keep you coming back time and time again. The game has its fair share of problems, mostly when it comes to the difficulty curve and presentation. Yet, it easy enough to put down and come back later when you have forgotten about the maddening level you were stuck on.