Wednesday, March 13

Review: Baba Is You [Nintendo Switch eShop]


With so many titles on Switch, and many genres well-represented, a major challenge for developers is figuring out how to stand out from the crowd. To maximize impact you can take an established path and then try to polish the gameplay better than anyone has done before, or you can take a risk and come up with something completely new in the hopes that it makes a strong impression. There’s no doubt that the people behind Baba Is You decided to go with the latter path, concocting a game where the key to success is figuring out how to change the rules in order to win rather than working within their limits.


You almost always start the level as the humble Baba, and aside from more typical elements such as walls, rocks, lava, water, skulls, and more around you there will also be some words defining the rules. While there are initially simpler in nature like Rock Is Push or Wall is Stop as you make progress the rules will evolve, adding more elements to be the subject and verb but also sometimes throwing an And into the mix as well. Given these rules and the layout of things around you what you’ll need to do is figure out how to manipulate or circumvent them in order to complete the puzzle.


What gets a bit crazy is how this will play out since it can vary pretty wildly from level to level. Sometimes you’ll need to change the conditions for success, assigning Win to a Rock instead of the typical flag. Sometimes you’ll need to change what’s assigned to You, controlling an entire Wall to work towards your solution. While the nature of your solutions may be similar it’s unusual to end up using the same means more than once so this also means that some puzzles will outright stump you. Seeming to understand that fact one terrific element of the game is that access to new area won’t always require you to complete everything, allowing you to step away from a head-scratcher and return to it later when you may get inspiration from another puzzle or simply see a new approach on another pass.


It’s likely the difficulty of figuring out how individual puzzles are solved that will be a barrier for some less determined gamers, with no hint system or guidance of any kind some of the leaps of faith you need to make can be a challenge. Of course that makes conquering them all the more rewarding though, so it’s hard to count it as a major complaint. The main thing to remember is that when you’re breaking the rules the nature of what you need to do is ever-changing, the most typical trap is allowing yourself to get comfortable and feeling like you’ve caught on. Throughout your time with the game it will continue to evolve and surprise you, which makes it both exciting and confounding. I do wish there were sometimes more room for greater latitude or variety in how you solve some problems as I could sometimes see alternative paths that didn’t work and these would slow me down as dead ends and feel like opportunities missed. That, and in the case of some puzzles the nature of the solution didn’t feel as creative in thought as an execution puzzle that had it revert to feeling like a classic box pusher.


Quibbles aside, it’s hard to deny that Baba is You is a pretty brilliant breath of fresh air in the puzzle space. I love the concept of winning in a game being tied to rejecting and then changing the rules to find success, and would be intrigued to see this applied elsewhere. The notion of circumventing traditional rules and encouraging people to apply more creativity is a great one, and deserves to be explored further. As an initial foray into this concept Baba Is You manages to be refreshing and also frustrating but true puzzle fans would be making a mistake not to give it a spin.

Score: 8.5

Pros:
  • An innovative idea explored pretty thoroughly
  • The nature of the puzzle solutions continues to change in surprising ways
  • Flexibility in many areas allows you to move on without completing all stages first

Cons:
  • No hint system or guidance of any kind can be frustrating when you’re completely stuck
  • Sometimes you may see alternative ways of solving problems that won’t work, frustrating not only because of an opportunity missed but also time wasted on a dead end
  • There are puzzles which boil down more to an exercise in classic box pushing than creativity