Played on Windows.
Also Available on macOS, Linux, and Switch.
Baba is You has gotten a lot of attention recently. It’s a new game from Arvi “Hempuli” Teikari. It’s also is a game that scratches that particular itch of mine when I look for puzzle games. It’s not just about the rules the game makes, but rather how you deal with them, change them, and make your own rules. This is Baba is You.
Baba is You is a simple puzzle game, there doesn’t appear to be a story, and the graphics as you’ll see below are a bit plain, however, Baba is You does quite a bit with the simplistic graphics.
The titular Baba is a sheep, perhaps. Admittedly, it’s not always clear what certain objects are, there are three major names that are confusing. “Baba” “Keke” and “Me”. Each refers to a different object that you’ll eventually recognize through repetition. While one can make guesses of what these objects are, such as sheep, cat, and human, it really doesn’t really matter. As long as you know that Baba, is the vague white shape, you have the full knowledge that you need. Each word refers to the same object for the entire game, so there’s no confusion with what each word refers to after the first encounter.
The map is well done.
It’ll become clear once we dive into the gameplay, but the name of an object has no power. A Baba, is just an object, as is a wall, a tree, or a rock. As long as the names of objects are clear, Baba is You is able to work efficiently.
Some of these names can be confusing but names and objects are presented at the same time, so while there might be some confusion on what a “Fungus” means, the fact that there’s a mushroom on the level make it clear what the player is looking for.
In hindsight it’s a little obvious.
But to be honest, the graphics in Baba are serviceable, because they are not very important. Players should have something to look at, and be representative of iconography but the gameplay is where Baba is You exists, if you’re coming to look at the game, it’s in service to that gameplay.
Similarly, there is no story with Baba is You, at least nothing beyond “Here are some puzzles”. Similar to Stephen’s Sausage Roll, Baby is You doesn’t require a story beyond that, this is a pure puzzle game, where even the names of the levels are very minor hints or jokes on the theme of a puzzle.
So what are the puzzles? Well, Baba is You is unique in that the rules of the game are on the screen at all times and they are the puzzle. If there are three words next to each other forming “Baba is You”, then the Baba object (the sheepish looking white blob that is in a number of the images) is considered the player.
This creates an understanding of how rules work. When words form a sentence, that’s considered a rule and usually is implemented immediately. Similarly, if those words are separated, they lose all effect. I say usually because sometimes rules can come into conflict with each other, but that’s part of the learning process.
The first level, and a perfect example.
Normally I don’t refer to my pictures directly but this is a special case. In the screen above, you have four very specific rules.
“Baba is You” The grammar is poor but necessary for the game. Everything is set up to be “Object” is “action or Object”. In this case, it simply means the white Baba is controllable. Next to that, we have “Flag is Win” and that’s just telling us in order to beat the level, the flag must be touched. We also have “Wall is Stop” which means the wall is impenetrable. And finally “Rock is Push” which simply means rocks are pushable (And impenetrable).
So from here, we have four rules. You control Baba, objects can’t go through walls, rocks are pushable and touch the flag to win. This is a simple tutorial level where the player just has to push the rock out of the way to win.
But that’s not the only way. Each word is a pushable object so the player can move “Is” and “Win” over to make the Walls the win condition. Suddenly the Walls are the goal. Of course, if they make it so horizontal where “Wall is Stop” still exists, then both conditions are true. The player can’t enter the wall, but the wall is the victory condition. A similar situation can happen with the rocks, as “push” operates somewhat similar to “Stop” in that the player can’t enter the rock.
But a quick push on either “Is” or “Stop/Push” and suddenly those walls or rocks are enterable. The player can even get tricky and set up “Baba is You” and “Baba is Win” and instantly win, my personal favorite way of beating any level when possible.
A number of early puzzles in sets are simple and clever.
There’s only one danger on this level. If the player moves any of the words of “Baba is You” in such a way that nothing “is You” the level “stalls”. The music will die down, but essentially, the level ends, and the game tells you to undo or retry again. This might sound strange but from the gameplay it’s simple. If nothing is “you” then nothing is controllable and you can’t change the scene.
Of course with some work, the wall, the rock, or the flag can be “you” as well. The fact is each rule is malleable and the player has control to make what he wants happens, in fact, that’s most of the player’s agency.
The other levels on display here show more complex versions of the game and rules, and these are hardly the only rules in Baba is You. Baba is You is broken up into sections of the game, each with a number of levels, and each section seems to introduce something new, usually in the form of a new word to use. These words can be anything from a rather large list but some of them are “Not”, “On” and even “Text” itself. Each word has a purpose. There are a couple of words late in the game that are some of my favorites, but I’ll hold off on sharing them here.
Baba is You excels at its level design as almost every section starts rather easily teaching a word, and then grows incrementally more complex. This isn’t done through increasing the number of moves but rather the thought process required. In fact, there’s no dexterity required as the game only moves after the player makes a move, and most solutions become as simple as realizing the series of moves and then executing them relatively fast. The most complex puzzles probably only require a hundred steps at most, and most will take under 30 seconds to complete once the solution is known.
It’s the puzzles that allow Baba is You to excel. I found myself amazed at how many times Baba is You could deliver multiple different puzzles in a row using a similar collection of words, and yet each puzzle feels unique.
Much of Baba is You though is staring at the puzzle and trying to understand all the elements and the process to succeed. Early on, there’s usually more than one way to beat a puzzle, but eventually, puzzles require specific solutions. Though the game is very clever about them.
Sometimes the answer is thinking about the problem in a different way.
There is a puzzle in the middle of the game which I was staring at trying to understand. “Door is Shut” “Key is Push” and “Key is Open”. Seems easy, using the key to open the door, and that would work. But the solution is to just walk through the door as “Shut” isn’t “Stop”, so the player can just pass through and access the other room as necessary. There are a series of puzzles that play with your preconceived notions of how video games work, and Baba is You does similar tricks with much of the game to great success.
There also was another hard puzzle I was working on where I was stuck in a room and I was stymied. But the beauty of Baba is You is that often there’s only a hand full of the rules you have access too. Baba is You might be locked behind a fence, along with “Wall is Wall”, and “Rock is Push”. From there the player might only be able to play with maybe 7 words but by combining them according to the rules allows them to come to the solution.
Though I will say not every puzzle is that simple though it’s a perfect example of how Baba Is You limits the problem scope at times to produce interesting intuitive levels. While most puzzles are quick to execute, I’ll be honest, similar to how Stephen’s Sausage Roll stumped me, Baba is You left me floundering a few times.
Similar as well, Baba is a bit limited in how players can really pass levels that they aren’t able to solve. Staring at a puzzle may give you a hint but many levels are “get it” or don’t. Baba is You does not contain a hint system, and while the level’s name might give a small nudge, it’s mostly only an obvious reference after solving the levels.
There are a number of hint guides and walkthroughs online and it’s up to the player to choose how they solve the puzzles, personally, I’ve indulged a bit with walkthroughs but have felt the need to hold back on a number of levels. Though I do thank the writers who have developed hint guides which don’t completely give away the puzzles because that does prolong the game’s experience, and I felt the need to go to that length to see a majority of the final levels, which are amazingly difficult but very interesting.
The game plays with your understanding of games. Sometimes you are the wall.
I know I haven’t dived deep into how Baba is You is played, but partially that’s because I want to save the exploration. So much of Baba is You is about exploring a new level or a new word, and to just explain how each word works or each puzzle is solved is the majority of the game. It’s the way each puzzle is presented that makes it worth exploring the next one in the list, and that’s what will keep the player coming back, not just the quality of the puzzles but also the curiosity of what does Baba is You have hidden up its sleeve.
Baba is You does boast over 200 levels (somewhere around 219), and it appears the developer is continuing to work on it. I’m unsure exactly what we’ll see and when we’ll see it but I look forward to more because I find great enjoyment in how Baba is You operates, and the level of puzzle design scratches a familiar itch. Maybe it’s just the style of game that Exapunks and other programming games scratch due to its clever level design, but I enjoy it nonetheless.
Baba is You is a great puzzle game. It’s unique, clever, and has more mental challenges than just repetition of the same tasks you’ve learned before. Baba is You is what I look for in a puzzle game, while it could have minimal gameplay if someone was just to use walkthroughs, it also has many challenges and a lot of thought put into it, and similar to Stephen’s Sausage Roll, it’s hard to really judge a game like Baba is You without tackling the puzzles yourself.
It’s definitely not for everyone but I still think Baba is You deserves a major look by more people.
I give Baba is You a
Final thoughts: An excellent puzzle game with a huge amount of challenge, and extremely well-designed puzzles. This is a game that will keep you thinking rather than acting, but it’s those thoughts that make for a great puzzle experience.
Stats: 14.6 hours played, 3/18 achievements earned (most are for full clear of zones)