Baba Is You teaches you the absolute bare minimum you need to succeed and leaves you to figure out the rest through intuition and perhaps a bit of trial and error. It’s also damn hard. Yes, Baba Is You is essentially the Dark Souls of puzzle games. I know, I know, it’s cliche, but hear me out. There’s also an interconnected world, hardly any story to speak of although fans insist there is one by linking together loads of random lore, and Forbes has even written articles stating that Baba Is You needs to be both easier and harder. Okay, maybe not all of that is true. You know what, forget the comparison to Dark Souls. Baba Is You is just hard. Really, really hard.
Baba Is You is an ingenious puzzle game that forces you to work within a strict set of rules to complete each level, but also gives you control over those rules, letting you break them apart to make your own. Many levels have multiple solutions and, while the phrase “think outside the box” is a little overused—not to mentioned nearly always incorrectly used—it probably does apply to a game where you can get around a solid wall by changing the physical nature of the wall so that it can be pushed out of the way (or walked through, or even controlled directly) to reach the goal at the end of the level. You can even change it so that the wall is the goal at the end of the level.
My only complaint with Baba Is You is, unfortunately, a significant one. It’s too tough for me. I guess that’s another thing it has in common with Dark Souls. There are huge leaps in difficulty and even though there are around 200 puzzles in total, far too many of them are outside my skill level. The content I could complete was absolutely stunning, even if I did have to stare at many of them for half an hour and doubt my own sanity.
Baba Is You is a tricky game to explain because the win condition changes with each puzzle. Even the character you control can vary, so while you’re usually controlling a sheep called Baba (Baba is a ewe, get it?), you could instead be controlling a moon, key, a flag, or even multiple Babas. The best way to explain it is to walk through a couple of simple examples from the early game.
The scattered words you see in the image above need to be arranged in the form of a noun then a linking word then a condition. The most common set words you’ll see together is BABA IS YOU because something has to be YOU. If not, you can’t do anything. These phrases are the rules. In this level, Baba starts in a small room with the rule WALL IS STOP. This rule means the wall will stop you moving through it and therefore you can’t go anywhere. So what do you do? Well, if you use baba to push the words around and break the rule up, the walls will no longer function as STOP and Baba can move through them. The easiest way to win from here is to create a rule saying FLAG IS WIN and then touch the flag to complete the level. However, it’s important to note that you have options. You could also make WALL IS WIN, to make touching the wall a win condition, or even create a second rule for Baba, so that not only is there BABA IS YOU, but also BABA IS WIN. You then win automatically because you are already touching Baba, so to speak.
Early levels are all about manipulating these fairly straightforward rules. If there is a wall of deadly skulls around the win condition, then just break the rule that states the skulls are deadly. A favorite trick of mine is to take control of the main environmental hazard that’s causing problems in the first place. For example, if you change BABA IS YOU to WALL IS YOU, you can move the entire wall around until part of it hits the win condition. It doesn’t matter if some of the wall hits a hazard. You just need one part of the thing you control to still be alive.
Or there’s the puzzle with a huge pool of lava between baba and the win condition. It’s worth noting that although the lava looks deadly, it’s not automatically going to harm you without specific rules in place. In this case, we have the rules LAVA IS HOT and BABA IS MELT, so clearly the lava is a problem. While I’m sure there are a bunch of other solutions, my approach was to add LAVA and IS to BABA IS YOU to form LAVA IS BABA IS YOU, which meant every square of lava turned into a baba that I could control. Then I just moved the massive bundle of babas over to the win condition.
If you could remove and change all the obstacles in every level it wouldn’t be much of a challenge so many of the key rules are blocked off. If WALL IS STOP is surrounded by walls, then chances are you won’t be able to do much about that rule. You also can’t pull any blocks so blocks placed against the edge are of limited usefulness.
If you end up buying Baba Is You, let me offer a quick bit of advice; don’t let the obvious nature of an item restrict your thinking. As an example, when you’re first introduced to OPEN and SHUT conditions, a key is linked to OPEN and a door to SHUT, giving the obvious scenario of pushing a key into a door to open it. However, these items only work this way because of the rules on screen and there’s nothing to say you can’t have KEY IS SHUT and DOOR IS OPEN such that pushing the door into the key will remove the key that’s blocking your way.
Additional nouns and conditions are slowly added, so you can adjust the nouns with words like LONELY or FACING, and there are a few new link words as well such as HAS and AND. The HAS link adds a bunch of complexity by letting you add items inside other items. For the most part though, complexity doesn’t come from the sheer number of words you can play around with, but from the ways in which you can use them.
Not all of the puzzles are as freeform as those early samples I described. While some puzzles have multiple solutions, others require you to move in an incredibly specific way to set in motion the correct chain of events. The MOVE condition makes other pieces move with every turn you take and requires you to think a few steps ahead to make sure everything is lined up in the correct place. Add in moving conveyor belts and gravity and things can get incredibly complicated.
Fortunately, you don’t need to complete every puzzle to progress. Most areas only make you beat around half the puzzles before you can move on which was a real lifesaver given how utterly perplexing some of them can be.
For around ten hours, Baba Is You was almost a perfect puzzle game, equal parts satisfying and stimulating, with a hint of frustration thrown in for good measure. If a sign of a good puzzle is one that makes you think about it while you’re not looking at it, then Baba Is You has them in spades. There’s nothing better than getting stuck, stepping away for a bit, and coming back later to solve it in a few minutes.
At some point, though, the puzzles crossed from frustrating but satisfying to just frustrating. In the first couple of worlds, I was able to complete all the puzzles, plus a bunch of the optional ones, and felt like I was learning how to play the game. By the time I was on world six or seven, I could barely complete enough puzzles to move onto the next area and I eventually hit a number of roadblocks which completely stopped me moving forward.
That might have been bearable, but the real problem was that I stopped enjoying the types of puzzles on offer. Instead of using crazy leaps of logic to solve problems in weird and whacky ways, you had to do things in a very specific way, often from the second you took control. The problems weren’t so much “what words need to go where,” and more “exactly where should I put this block on the screen, when should I move it, and from what direction?” Even this wasn’t a huge issue for the smaller puzzles, but when you’re presented with a huge screen and a lot of moving parts, your mindset changes from “I’ll try this one again later,” to “I never want to see this puzzle again.” Personally, I preferred the puzzles that let me mess around to see what solutions I could come up with and I enjoyed going back to puzzles I’d already solved to do them a different way.
Eventually, I resorted to a guide to get past a few of the tougher levels and make sure I had seen most of the content on offer before writing this review. Some of the solutions to the harder puzzles were so complex, or at times, wonderfully simple, that I still enjoyed cheating my way through them. I also have a bunch of puzzles left that I’m going to return to a couple more times just to see if I can beat them at last.
I’m not one to miss the opportunity to push the blame onto someone else, so I do have an excuse lined up; namely, the tutorials could have been better. When a new mechanic is introduced, such as the teleport condition, you’re usually given a nice and simple example of how it works, however, it’s so simple that it doesn’t really teach you anything. For TELEport, that isn’t so bad. Shock horror, TELEport teleports things. Other examples are a little less clear cut and there is less visual information on the screen to show the results. The FLOAT condition seemed simple enough at first and I thought I’d understood it, but judging by examples in later levels, I clearly hadn’t. Likewise, the SHIFT condition is simple when paired with a BELT, but I struggled when pairing it with other items such as BABA.
I struggled with Baba Is You, but not until I’d played for at least ten thoroughly enjoyable, stimulating, and baffling hours. A smoother difficulty curve and a few more tutorial missions would have been appreciated, but if you’re at all curious, or appreciate a thoroughly different type of puzzle game, I highly recommend you give it a go.