[I’ve been unable to finish Baba is You so giving it a full review doesn’t feel right (at least for me). I still wanted to talk about it so blog-style it is. If you’d like to watch some gameplay while listening to my audio reading, follow this link if the embedded video isn’t working: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P_I78z8MWS0 ]
I shouldn’t be surprised that I can’t even come close to finishing Baba is You. If its world map is any indication, I got just under halfway through before running into a wall, the likes of which I can’t get past without collaborating with others during my livestream or resorting to a guide - The latter however feels like a last resort in puzzle games. It’s to no fault of the game as it functions, gives you all the necessary information up front, is simple to control and introduces new rules at a healthy rate which only opens up new possibilities and obstacles which can be bonkers to overcome later on. If anything the fault lies within my silly self not being able to wrap my head around being Baba.
Word Conjunctions and Statements: The Game wouldn’t be that far off in explaining what Baba is You is all about. Take word blocks and put them together to create ‘rules’ which then affects entities, objects and the environment. Baba is You means that the titular sheep-looking-thing is controlled by the player. Wall is Stop means that walls are impassable. Skull is Defeat means that bumping into a skull requires rewinding or restarting so on. The game has such easy wording to follow that it doesn’t take long to read the level and figure out what each rule means in relation to how to win, but putting the pieces and words together to allow said winning is where things get difficult - When I say putting words together, that’s meant literally. Pushing a block allows one to break that rule or to use it elsewhere to form a new one. For example: Wall is Stop can have any of those blocks pushed out of the way which leads to walls no longer being impassable barricades, but pushing Wall into ‘is Win’ leads to said wall tiles now allowing victory if touched. The early game might sound easy but that doesn’t last very long.
My first thought about the game was how it uses grade school english and somehow won the hearts of many - Typical cynicism of me which naturally ended up being wrong. I would catch snippets of game developers on social media praising it but was curious as to why the press and other consumers were mostly quiet about it. We’ll touch on why I think that is later, but in hindsight it’s clear that people who make games had more to say about it than those who play them for work and hobby. Baba is You has that funny knack for making you feel like the smartest person in the room, but the very opposite is true when stuck on a puzzle and just staring at it in disbelief - With simple words and all the tools available, one just needs to push the right words together, right?
Box has Key but Box is Weak, but why not then make Box has Key and Box so that when Box breaks from ‘Weak’ it spawns a new box but also a key? But ‘Key’ doesn’t have ‘is Push’ so that when Key appears it can’t be pushed into Door since Door is Shut which leads to Flag is Win. Why not make Key is You so that when Key appears you can control Key and to go Door, but using yourself ends up in a fail state since Key is gone but you’re no longer Baba and-
You can see how things get silly. Don’t even get me started when Baba is Baba is introduced.
Later levels end up having so many working parts or needing to break the rule logic that once the solution clicks it’s a wonderful rush of satisfaction - Said clicks take a while to arrive though, and in my case I spent more time scratching my head and humming in thought than racking up solutions. I frequently threw my hands up in exasperation claiming that a level is impossible, only to then have everything make sense once the solution came together.
I try to avoid using tropes whenever possible but I have to pull out my ‘this game isn’t for me’ card. A friend of mine on Discord, Maxwell, summed up why that might be pretty conclusively: “It's a game by programmers for programmers. It's a niche that got big for a while, and while this game is far more accessible than most of the field, there's still going to come a moment where a layperson's ability just won't be enough.”
While unable to contact the developer for clarification, when looking at Baba is You through the eyes of a programmer it makes astronomically more sense as to why later levels become so heavy and thorough with the number of rules to form and break. This also is likely why other developers took more from it than others.
I found my brief bouts of solving levels and its ensuing joy being overshadowed by how often I would stare at the screen in stumped frustration. Some people can enjoy being in that situation; figuring out and solving these brain busters and getting gratification out of it - I just end up feeling really dang dumb. To reiterate, Baba is You is far from bad or meriting criticism for being so challenging. It’s a puzzle game where the solution is right in front of you, it’s just a matter of piecing it all together - I just don’t have the cranial capacity for it and still have a good time while doing so. It’s a weird position to be in; recommending a game that I can’t complete to save my life without resorting to a guide, but here we are. Baba is You is rotten for having so many sly, canny moments and ideas that definitely merits a buy, though under the caveat to know what you’re in for.