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Game Review #188: Baba Is You (Nintendo Switch)

Reviewer: John B.

Developed By: Hempuli Published By: Hempuli Category: Puzzle Release Date: 03.13.19

Price (at time of review): $15.00

Buy Baba Is You from the Nintendo eShop here.

God bless the indie developer. While I love a big, open-world, AAA spectacle as much as the next gamer, that doesn’t mean it’s the only way to make a game worth playing. Crafting a smaller experience that’s every bit as engaging as Rockstar’s open world masterpieces is no small task. Now, certainly, Hempuli’s humble new offering Baba Is You for the Nintendo Switch doesn’t have the sprawling narrative or diversity of gameplay that, say, a Red Dead Redemption game does, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting or rewarding to play. Instead, it focuses on one specific puzzle mechanic that lends itself to dozens, even hundreds, of different possibilities. It’s a true original, and well worth the time of anyone who appreciates innovative game design.

Baba Is You… At the Start

Baba Is You focuses on one thing; its puzzles. There’s no storyline, no characters, and no mini games to play. Every level has a number of objects and words to start with. The words can be arranged to form rules for the game; the game’s title comes from a sequence of words that is present at the beginning of every level – Baba is you. This sets the rule that you play as Baba, a rabbit – however, if you push another word into the space where “Baba” is, then you play as that word. For instance, if you change the rule to “rock is you,” you start playing as any rock in the level. In fact, you play as ALL rocks that may be present in the level. There are words for every object in the level, as well as words like “is” and “and” that you can use to assign attributes to the objects. If an object isn’t assigned an attribute, you just pass right over it. Assignable rules include “push,” which allows you to move objects by pushing them, or “warp” which lets you teleport between objects.

The number of different puzzles and variety of solutions that can be created with this setup is impressive. The difficulty level of these puzzles range from obvious to ridiculously difficult; but the answer to every solution is right there on the screen. You just need to figure it out. Sometimes, the solution is to figure out how to get across a river to the flag, because “flag is win” is the win condition. Sometimes you can just change what the goal is; like moving the “is win” portion next to Baba; meaning “Baba is win” becomes the win condition, so you automatically win just by being Baba. It’s a fascinating and captivating mechanic; I can (and have!) spent hours solving puzzles despite the shaky grammar (I’m still an English major; this matters to me).

Baba is 8-Bit

Baba Is You develops a simple, yet attractive, minimalist 8-bit visual style. While it isn’t the most detailed 8-bit style pixel art game I’ve ever seen, the graphics get the job done. You can easily tell which object goes with which word to form the rules, and the words are clearly readable on their own. So, while it’s not a visual feast, the graphics keep the game functional. The music is similarly retro-styled, sounding a lot like an old NES game. The music is simple and thoughtful, so as not to take any attention away from solving puzzles. It doesn’t sound like the Jeopardy theme, but in terms of purpose it reminds me of that music.

Baba Is You Is For You

It’s not often a game as refreshingly original as Baba Is You comes around. The main puzzle mechanic is engrossing and the puzzle design is as challenging as anything I’ve come across. New wrinkles – in the form of new word blocks - are introduced often enough to keep the system feeling new and interesting for the game’s duration. The graphics and music are simple but attractive, completing an overall outstanding game experience.

Score: 9/10

Buy Baba Is You from the Nintendo eShop here.

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*Review Code Provided by Hempuli

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