Baba is You is a brilliant game.
It’s brilliant not because its presentation is unique (it is), or that it lets you rewind time to fix your mistakes (it does), or even that the puzzles it presents to you are clever (they are). It’s brilliant because it makes you as a player feel resourceful in your creativeness.
Baba is You, by Hempuli (aka indie dev Arvi Teipari), is a game where the goal is simple – reach the flag. But it’s only simple until you realize that in order to get there, you can’t just saunter over; you have to manipulate the environment instead. And the method of doing this adds another layer of abstraction: you change the world by pushing around simple ‘is’ statements to alter the level. Wall is block. Door is shut. Pillar is push.
Baba is you.
By moving these phrases, you change the rules of the game, and in doing so utterly alter the way you perceive a level: almost to the point of absurdity. In the early stages, you can unlock doors by changing what the key is, or by circumventing the door entirely, making it so you can push open the wall rather than the door. You can even turn the goal into a jellyfish instead of a flag. You dictate the sense of what things are and what they do. Even if it doesn’t make sense.
Baba is You does a phenomenal job of acclimating you to this way of thinking by casually reminding the player of what they are capable of, then mixing in multiple elements for you to juggle. The challenge is in attempting to think outside the box. Or is it thinking like a box? Honestly, I don’t know anymore. Trying to describe Baba is You in terms beyond praising its cleverness is an exercise in futility.
The game rewards experimentation: if not necessarily in a solution, then at least in a funny outcome. With the press of a shoulder button, you can back Baba up and try a different route, and I found that this constant experimenting and rewinding is often the best way to play. Any attempt at rational thinking on my part usually meant everything slowed to a standstill while I tried to work out my next move – it’s better to just play around and see what works. And actually, the ideal way to play Baba is You is with other people watching, by applying group think to muddle your way through things. This was especially the case with my kids, whose imaginations are still fruitful and who are unafraid of defying expectation – and who often hit upon the solution as a result.
I want to pick apart each and every level of Baba is You in order to give you more examples of how this game works in such a weird but adept way – but doing so would ruin the experience. Much of the enjoyment is in experimenting, failing in an amusing muddle of events, and eagerly trying again. The less you know about Baba is You going in, the more entertaining it will be. Looking back, I’m impressed at how the game escalates enormously in complexity, yet still manages to feel as simple and easy to understand as on the opening levels. It’s an indication of the game’s wonderfully clever design.
In case you couldn’t tell, I came away from Baba is You extremely impressed. While I enjoy all the fundamental elements that make up the game, what truly blew me away is how it was able to change my way of thinking – not just in terms of the experience at hand, but towards video games as a whole. It messes with your senses in the best possible way.
Baba is brilliant.
Baba is You was developed by Arvi Teikari and is available on PC, Mac, Linux and Switch. We reviewed the Switch version.
Disclosure statement: Review code for Baba is You was provided by Arvi Teikari. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.