Baba is You (Switch Review)

Baba is You is one of 2019’s best indie releases. I kind of figured that’d be the case when I had fans on Twitter from all walks of gaming life inform me there was a puzzle game that I had to play. Trust me when I say, that’s not exactly a common occurrence. I love puzzlers, but they’re also easily the least read reviews at Indie Gamer Chick. Like, by far. Every time I’ve previously thought I’d found a weird, experimental brain bender that my fans might dig.. nope. The review plays to an audience of tumbleweeds. I suspect Baba is You could finally be a c-c-c-combobreaker for that trend. Then again, it’s already popular and this review is about six or seven months late and one of the most requested I’ve had in 2019. I’m writing it now because, before the year is up, I wanted Baba to take its place among the top ten indies I’ve ever reviewed. Because it is, at least as of this writing. It actually won’t last on the Top 10 very long, but technically I played it before some of the games that will be knocking it out of the top 10, so I wanted to at least give it its due. Plus, I’m hopeful this good deed will make up for all the bad things I’ve done this year. I do regret the incident with my Mom, the drone and the bottle rockets. Well, I’m told I should at least. I don’t get it myself. Funny is funny, and it’s not like burns don’t heal or eyeballs don’t grow back. Man, nobody in my family has a sense of humor.

I’m not in love with the art style, which is becoming increasingly common on the indie scene. I’ve also been unable to find a name for the style, so I’m calling it “living chalk.”

Okay, good deed time: I love Baba is You. You will too! You’ve maybe even played games like it before. A 2D box-shoving game in the mold of the traditional Sokoban formula, you play as a little character named Baba. Well, sometimes. The hook is that, instead of simply shoving boxes around, the boxes contain words. There’s object words such as BABA, FLAG, WALL, STAR, CRAB, ROCK, etc. There’s operation words like IS or AND or YOU. And finally, there’s action words like WIN, PUSH, SHUT, OPEN, DEFEAT, etc. Aligning those words properly changes the rules for the entire game. It’s sort of hard to wrap your head around this concept without seeing it in action. Even after spending a lot of time with Baba is You, I still had moments deep in the game where the solution to a puzzle caught me by surprise because I spaced out and forgot that, if you can line the words up properly, anything goes. So, for example, the boxes could say “FLAG IS WIN”, meaning that you’d obtain victory by simply walking into a flag on the stage. But, you could move the boxes so they say “WALL IS WIN”. Then you just touch the wall. Or hell, turn every wall block into a flag by spelling out WALL IS FLAG and you can touch any of them to finish a level. Easy peasy, right?

Well, no. Because the levels get more complex, with conveyor belts, different objects, enemies, traps, etc. But, every stage and object is also governed by the word boxes. You can actually turn a traditionally lethal object into the item that awards you victory. There might be other characters you need to push blocks to assume command of. You might even take control of things like rocks and keys. You don’t always have the means to access the rule blocks. Most levels have some kind of perimeter with at least some of the rules separated from the puzzle. Hell, sometimes you’ll play multiple identical-shaped stages, only with different rule blocks. Just changing those completely alters the entire method of the solution, and not merely how you line the blocks up. So, for example, you could line up blocks that spell out WALL IS FLAG, which would turn all the spaces that are currently wall bricks into flags. You could then put FLAG IS YOU and move all the flags.. like dozens of them, because you just turned all the wall pieces into flags.. and finally put “WATER IS WIN”, at which point touching any flag to the water clears the stage. It’s sort of insane how satisfying it is. It’s the only puzzle game of its type where I had fun even when stuff I did led to failure. This was a Game Jam game? Really? I take back every nasty thing I’ve ever said about how Game Jams give developers bad habits. Every crap game that devs rushed through production because of a mindset picked up at Game Jams was worth it just for Baba is You.

Frankly, Baba is You’s formula is one of the most clever and versatile in the entire history of video games. It never gets old. More over, I normally chew through games like this. I didn’t this time. Even some earlier stages left me scratching my head. That’s probably because there’s never been anything quite like it, and I just never fully adapted to the concept. That’s a good thing, really. I’m not trying to humble brag here, but I seem to have a gift for logic-based puzzlers where I could just simply reverse engineer them. I destroyed games like SpellKeeper, Slayaway Camp, and even the notoriously difficult Gateways! without breaking a sweat. That didn’t happen here. I found myself staring blankly at my Switch’s screen on multiple occasions trying to visualize the consequences of changing the rules around. I’d start pushing blocks around aimlessly with a dumbfounded look on my face, then feel stupid when I realized that the solutions were often super-obvious. Holy smokes, a puzzler was smarter than I was.

GOD, I LOVED IT!

I’m dreading all the copy-cats who will apply this “change the rules” idea to other genres, only not half as cleverly. It’s coming. You know it is.

I’ve wanted something like this forever. It’s so refreshing. And the strangest thing of all is, I should have been frustrated on principle with Baba is You. I hate puzzles with multiple outs. It’s unrefined and inelegant. But, it works here! It takes none of the enjoyment out of that “Ta Da!” moment when a solution reveals itself to you. There’s hundreds of levels in Baba is You, but it never gets old. To assure that, I played it the right way: I knocked a couple stages out per day instead of plowing through it to the point I got sick of it. I know some people disagree with me on that, but I believe it’s how puzzlers play best. Even the best titles in the genre make for better appetizers than main courses. I think that’s where Baba is You really shines. Play a few levels when you have twenty minutes to kill. Maybe you’ll make progress. Maybe you won’t. But, you won’t be bored. I don’t think you will even if you do brute your way through it all in a day or two. I’ve played dozens of games like Baba, and simultaneously never played anything like it. It’s special. I know this wasn’t my funniest or most intense review. What can I say? The developer literally gave me no flaws to work with. That’s the shit thing about perfection: it has no consideration for how much us critics suffer.

Baba is You was developed by Hempuli
Point of Sale: Switch, Steam

$10 (Normally $15) knocked Gateways! off the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard Top 25 after 2,648 days in the making of this review.

Baba is you is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

About Indie Gamer Chick
Indie game reviews and editorials.

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