I thought Baba Is You was going to be a cute, relaxing puzzle game that I could play for fun. Word of warning: do not be fooled by Baba’s adorable, dumb-looking face. It will absolutely destroy your brain, but you’ll love every minute of it.
To begin with, I never claimed to be good at puzzle games, but Baba Is You‘s childishly drawn graphics fooled me into thinking it wouldn’t be so bad. It seemed simple enough: solve puzzles by manipulating the rules of each level. Phrases like “Baba is you” and “flag is win” permeate the space to explain the rules and objectives of a level, and you can change the rules so long as you can reach them. From the beginning, Baba Is You encourages players to literally think outside the box, making you find ways to change which item is the winning objective or even allowing you to adjust the titular phrase. You don’t always have to be Baba. Baba is merely a vessel for you to use to reach your goal. That revelation proved that Baba Is You was going to be special.
These revelations kept coming with the introduction of new words and mechanics. The simple addition of the word “and” flooded my mind with all the possibilities for its use. Each level brought new items and mechanics, and each time I had to learn how I could use them to my advantage. Levels are designed so well, so as to slowly introduce new ideas and complicate the old ones, and things got really difficult really fast. I found myself getting stuck pretty quickly, but luckily, I had the option to choose between several stages at a time. When I was stuck in one level, I could go and get stuck in another one instead. Like an escape room, I just had to start trying out absolutely everything, even if I knew it wasn’t correct.
I liked to try turning myself into the most ridiculous things, like the walls. Turns out that was a solution to one of the puzzles, since Baba couldn’t reach the flag, but a giant moving wall could. Sometimes the text would be stuck behind impenetrable walls, and that rule couldn’t be modified in that level. This means that I couldn’t use the same solutions for every puzzle, and it forced me to learn how everything worked. It was kind of genius.
And then, when I thought it couldn’t get any harder, there was teleportation. Words and objects could now be moved between two portals, sometimes allowing me to reach spaces I couldn’t get to before. And then, the text could float, and words could exist on a layer above other objects. Some objects moved in a straight line every time I moved Baba, or whichever object I happened to be inhabiting at the time. Any time I thought I had a grasp on Baba Is You, something completely new changed my entire perception and forced me to think in an entirely different manner. I am blown away at how well each level is designed on its own and how well they progress into another.
Any time I got comfortable, Baba Is You threw new challenges my way, and the whole experience felt like I was truly learning its language. There was always something new, whether it was the words “and” or “has,” or objects like locked doors and keys. Levels shifted and evolved to accommodate new mechanics that would immediately stump me.
The one thing that kept me sane when I was stuck on a level (which was most of the time) was the music. It’s so sweet and simple, just like little Baba. It’s happy and fun, the exact opposite of how I felt when I couldn’t get through a particular puzzle. But something about seeing that sweet little marshmallow fluff face with happy sounds in the background helped to keep my frustration in check.
This all turned into existential dread when I first messed with “Baba is you.” I thought I could be funny and remove Baba from that equation, leaving only “is you.” The resulting sound was what a black hole would probably sound like if there were sound in space. You must inhabit something, and if you don’t exist, the game can’t go on. Luckily there’s a quick option to undo a move at any time, or even completely restart the level. I found myself restarting constantly, for better or worse, and tried to avoid messing with my own existence if only to ensure I would not hear that terrifying black hole noise again.
Such a simple concept — to utilize the game’s rules as physical objects, to be changed and moved around — seemed innocent enough. But these incredibly well-designed puzzles would throw in all kinds of new ideas that forced me to learn the language of the Baba Is You, albeit slowly. I got stuck fairly often, but I was always enjoying myself. I knew once I found the solution, I would either be kicking myself or be in awe of such a well-crafted puzzle. Baba Is You uses that marshmallow fluff dough ball face to trick you into thinking this is just another cutesy puzzle game, but it is so much more than that. It handles gameplay and new mechanics better than any other puzzle game I have ever forced myself to get through.
This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game. A copy was provided by the game’s developer.
Baba Is You has a cutesy exterior that serves only to fool you into thinking it won't be the most difficult puzzle game you've ever played.