Baba is You (2019)
Developer: Hempuli Oy
As we're nearing the end of 2019, I'm pushing to try to review all the great 2019 indie releases I've had a chance to play. Baba is You is a particular one that I've actually been playing through since July, but even now I'm still not completely finished with. I want to finish it someday, but I've gotten so much out of the game that now is a good time to go ahead and talk about it. Baba is You is a puzzle game where you use words and phrases to reach your goal.
Baba is You is one of those games that generated so much conversation and acclaim, but was hard to understand as an outsider. It is a simple puzzle game with simple rules, and yet somehow as you progress it seems to evolve and surprise you with what is possible. Pushing words together to form a phrase makes the phrase true. The words "Baba is You" are true so long as those three words are in line, as is the case with "Flag is Win". The first few puzzles are showing you how much freedom this simple game gives you, letting you make anything true as long as you can put the words together. As the challenge ramps up, though, levels come with limitations that you can't alter, such as "Wall is Stop" and "Wall is Wall", locked behind walls and therefore unchangeable. The controls are simple but very well set up for you to try different methods and start over a level quickly. Just by clicking one button, you can undo your last moves, as far back as you want. It makes it worthwhile to try different things that may or may not work, without ruining your progress. The rest of the controls are pretty much just moving around the map.
As you progress to different areas, they each introduce a new mechanic by adding a new word - like "TEXT", "NOT", or "EMPTY". It's exciting to figure out what these words can do when used in different ways, before other words or in between phrases. Enough new areas open up throughout the game that if you're stuck on one, you can jump to another one and give some new levels a shot. Each new area gives the levels a different style and flair, from lava-covered areas to black and white spaces with minimal objects. Some levels require precise timing, making have to count every step you take and re-doing the step a couple times to get it just right. Baba is You's minimal pixel-art style and simple controls make it a perfect game for the Nintendo Switch, especially in hand-held form. I played it at home on the TV plenty, but I played it even more on trips and boring events I had to sit through.
The music in Baba is You is mostly relaxing and fitting for each area. As you're meant to be on some puzzles for long periods of time, sometimes hours, the music is rightfully soothing and helpful in concentrating. I'd recommend listening to the soundtrack when you need a no-distractions playlist to study to. As nice as it is, you can play this game without sound if needed and it shouldn't affect your experience all too much.
It's incredible how much playtime you can get out of this seemingly straightforward and inexpensive puzzle game. I'm almost 50 hours in and I still have plenty of puzzles left. Unfortunately, I've also reached a point where I've hit a difficulty wall in all the puzzles I have left. There's nothing you can really do but try everything hundreds of different ways and hope one of them works. I finally came to a point where I had to look up the solutions to some the puzzles, so I could move on and unlock new levels. Most often, watching a solution video is a face-palming "ohhhh!" when you realize a very simple mechanic you forgot to try. I do somewhat wish that the harder levels gave you hints of some sort, or informed you of little tricks you might not have learned to use yet. Regardless, looking up a few puzzles online in order to get to new levels that I can solve myself is still a fun enough experience. I recorded many of my level completions for my own satisfaction and success after multiple attempts, but there's not much point in uploading them here since all puzzle solutions can be found on YouTube already, and I'd rather not spoil solutions here.
I don't think there's any game that's quite like Baba is You. It's a weird, often mind-breaking series of puzzles that feel incredibly satisfying to complete. Despite some of the later puzzles becoming fairly challenging, it's a game anyone can play for hours. It's perfect as a handheld travel game, for plane rides or whatever it may be. It's cute and catchy; despite the fact that I'm still not finished with it, I look forward to continuing to crack at the levels I have left little by little. I can't say for sure if it has an actual "ending", but even without any sort of story, it's still a stand-alone consistently fun game.
Baba is You is available for PC and Nintendo Switch.
Played on: Switch
Last Played: 12/6/2019
Playtime: 45 hrs