Baba Is You is an incredibly intuitive puzzle game from developer Arvi “Hempuli” Teikari in which the player controls an adorable little white animal named Baba as you navigate a series of increasingly difficult scenarios by manipulating words.
The game begins with a simple puzzle to acclimate you to the mechanics. BABA is YOU, ROCK is PUSH, WALL is STOP, and FLAG is WIN. You very quickly realize which aspect of the game you are controlling, and instinctively push the rock aside to proceed to the flag, marking your first victory. After this short “tutorial” the game drops you right into the fray, giving you a handful of puzzles that you can approach in any order.
As you explore the early puzzles, you will quickly learn that words can be moved around and manipulated to create short phrases that change the way the game functions. For instance, if something reads WALL is STOP, and you push the word STOP to the side, you will now have the ability to walk through walls, effectively breaking this puzzle. You can then push words around and manipulate things in a way that allows you to reach your ultimate goal, which is often times the flag.
Similar to the 1982 Japanese computer game Sokoban, everything functions on a grid-based system. This is especially important because if you push words or items up against a wall, they are effectively stuck as you are unable to push them from the opposite side. Thankfully, Baba Is You has a very forgiving “undo move” system which allows you to reverse any moves you make. This small feature is extremely helpful, as many puzzles require multiple moving parts to complete, and having to start an entire puzzle over after a single mistake would be devastating. But, if you do get stuck—and believe me, you will—you can restart any puzzle with the push of a button.
Baba Is You features 200 puzzles, each increasing slightly in difficulty as you progress through the different biomes in the overworld map. During your playthrough, you’ll journey through ruins, a forest, a lake, a volcano and even space, amongst others. Within each new area, new mechanics are introduced, giving you more tools to work with—and inevitably more headaches. The puzzles are definitely challenging, but many offer multiple solutions, allowing you to approach them from many different angles.
As you progress through the various puzzles in the game, you’ll encounter more than 30 unique words that can all be combined and manipulated in different ways. Often times, puzzles have set parameters that cannot be manipulated, these are your “rules” and give you some structure as you devise a solution. The beginning of each new area begins with a relatively simple puzzle, but with each successive level, the game layers on new words and elements that constantly pushes your critical thinking forward. At times, playing through Baba Is You feels like you’re learning a different language. Mostly, though, it makes you feel like the world’s greatest programmer as you meticulously manipulate the syntax into bite-sized sentences.
Graphically, Baba Is You is the definition of rudimentary. The color palette is limited, but works well for the game. The words are generally brightly-colored and contrast well with the background. Other meaningful elements in each puzzle, such as water or lava, are colored in a way that they stand out against the single-toned background, as well. The game employs a slight wobble effect to all of the elements in the foreground by default. I found this helpful to help things stand out, but it can be disabled from within the settings if you prefer a more static experience. Overall, I couldn’t imagine this game looking any different, as simplicity is part of its overall charm.
Similar to the graphics, the music is equally pleasant. Each area you travel to has its own individual soundtrack that meshes perfectly with the theme. For instance, the outer space area features higher notes that make you feel like you’re amongst the stars. On the other hand, the lake area features a murky soundtrack and a perfect underwater melody to accompany the seaweed and bubbles scattered around each level. Most of the music features small chiptune solos and other synthesized elements. In general, the music is relaxing and never seems to get in the way of your train of thought.
After completing a given puzzle, you’ll unlock a branching path of additional numbered puzzles that can be played in any order. Each area requires that you complete an average of eight puzzles in order to “clear” that section, even though there are plenty more that can be played. The benefit of having so many puzzles to choose from is that if you get stuck on a specific one, you can return to the map and attempt a different one. At any given moment in the game, there are usually a handful of available puzzles that you can try and solve. This gives the player plenty of options to choose from, so you don’t feel stuck on any particular puzzle for too long. Alternatively, I’ve found that putting the game down and returning later makes a world of difference. Approaching a perplexing puzzle with a clear mind often yields positive results.
At its core, Baba Is You is a game about breaking the rules, not following them. Within each puzzle, you’re given a set of parameters that you must orchestrate into the perfect solution. Eventually solving a cryptic puzzle that seems all but impossible at first is one of the most satisfying feelings. While this game may not be for everyone, it is especially for those who like to push themselves or think outside the box. It’s a game that encourages you to experiment in ways that you aren’t able to do in most other games. In my playthrough, I completed roughly 60 of the 200 puzzles, meaning there is still so much I have yet to uncover in the game. Baba Is You is one of the most unique experiences I have ever had in gaming and executes it in a way that feels almost effortless. You’re given an unparalleled amount of freedom, while constantly being challenged in an imaginative way. When it comes to Baba Is You, rules are designed to be broken.