- Game: Arvi Teikari and Hempuli Oy's Baba is You
- Release Month: March.
- Quick Look: Here.
- Started: 28/11.
- Completed: 01/12 (sorta - there are more stages but I've seen an ending).
Review is Start. Baba is You is one of those deceptively complex puzzle games that beguiles you with its cutesy, child-like whimsy before locking the door, filling the room with a mysterious gas, and letting you know in no uncertain terms that you're in for a world of brain-hurt. I was initially going to give Baba is You a miss because it combines two of my least favorite puzzle game genres: Sokoban, the ancient art of pushing boxes into corners and trapping them forever and rueing that you even bothered to wake up that day, and those intricate programming/assembly puzzles where success is contingent on memorizing a bunch of rules and figuring out how and when to bend or break them. The former's been around for literal decades, while the latter's only come into its own in the past few years with the works of Zachtronics and Tomorrow Corp's Human Resource Machine. Certain large-scale factory games like Factorio and Satisfactory also have an element of this, where a complex array of zig-zagging assembly lines can only work if the coding behind it is solid.
Baba is You isn't quite as demanding as all that though, for as tough as its puzzles can be. For one, you're only ever dealing with a handful of clauses and booleans to futz around with, limiting the number of possible combinations to the extent that you could always potentially luck upon the right solution, or at least that first challenging step from which you can intuit the rest. The rules are also simple Noun is Noun or Noun is Adjective for the most part, though the game eventually starts throwing in operators like "and," "has," "on," and others. However, it only introduces one operator/noun at a time across its many worlds and stages, usually starting with a simple tutorial to teach you all (well, some) of what you'll need to know about this new aspect going forward. The game wisely has something of an open-world approach, with multiple worlds and multiple levels in those worlds becoming accessible concurrently: it's best to go in order, as you'll find new worlds incorporate most or all of those introduced in the previous, but the level of freedom means you can bail on one stage causing your brain to overheat and cool down with others for a while. There are also tricks to learn and shortcuts to take that you'll glean upon over time, and coming back to tricky levels armed with that knowledge can make them far more approachable. It's not unlike Thekla's The Witness in that regard.
Presently I'm powering (if by "powering" I mean "staring dumbfounded and occasionally sobbing quietly") my way through the final handful of worlds, having already seen the "normal ending" of the game. I've experimented with the absolute dumbest ideas I can conceive more times than I can count, and on at least half of those occasion it's proven to be the correct solution. The operators and nouns available are so carefully chosen that none of them are ever there by accident, which in turn gives you an inkling of what you might be missing. Keep running past that one "and" function you don't know what to do with? Well, it's gotta be there for a reason. However, some puzzles are straight up evil with the amount of necessary steps involved, and others make you feel like you've somehow broken the game before you realize it's exactly what the developers intended. I've heard that you could hypothetically beat any Baba is You stage within a minute if you know exactly where to go and what to do, but I swear there are times where I've been steadily working my way through a single stage for half an hour before finally getting that sweet "Congratulations!" screen wipe. Baba is You is at least smart enough to give the players an unlimited undo button for these longer instances, but then I couldn't imagine wanting to play the game without it.
On the whole, I think Baba is You is delightful. I sometimes get wary with puzzle games that start easy and then suddenly catapult you into low orbit, like - say - the original Snakebird or Stephen's Sausage Roll, but Baba is You has proven to be just on my wavelength. Not insurmountably difficult, but certainly tricky enough to BSOD my bean for hours at a time. I'm sure it's working its way up to the point where I'll feel completely lost, but I've at least seen a substantial amount of the game's content and I appreciate how new wrinkles and mechanics are appearing all the time. A puzzle game can only ultimately be judged on two factors, assuming everything else (graphics, music, UI, accessibility, etc.) meets an acceptable level of competency: the gradient of that difficulty curve, and the variety of its content. Baba is You nails it by both criteria. Review is End.