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Review of Baba is You

Game is FUN. Thinking is HARD. Brain is FRIED.

Baba is You is a 2D grid-based puzzle game. You play as some character-icon (most often the titular Baba, some kind of four-legged animal) and push other icons and tiles around to solve level-based puzzles. What makes the game unique is that the rules of the levels are the puzzle, and the rules are part of the level—are tiles in the level.

For example, if a level has the rules Baba is YOU and Flag is WIN, you must navigate the YOU (a Baba icon) to the WIN (a Flag icon). But you usually have to build the rules to make it possible to beat the level. And therein lies the fun!

The artstyle is basic. As with most puzzle games, that’s probably for the best. It keeps you from being distracted while looking acceptable enough. It has the feel of being a classic computer game that could’ve come from the early days, could’ve been made in the 80s.

It takes a bit for the logic to sink in. Part of that is learning the different types of blocks. There are non-logic blocks (like the Baba icon and Flag icon), which only have properties by virtue of what the logic blocks say.

As for logic blocks, there are names (Baba, Flag, etc.), which represent one or more icons on the board, there are operators and connectors (in white letters) like is and and, which connect those names to properties, and there are the properties, which are labeled in inverted blocks (here in all-caps). A few are WIN, YOU, PUSH. The other thing to know is that names can also be properties. What that means is if you have a sequence like Man is Dog, it will transform all man icons into dog icons.

One of the early tricks you have to learn is that any of the blocks can be reused by having them cross vertically and horizontally. This is similar to how tiles in crossword puzzles (or a game of Scrabble) can serve double duty.

The teaching of new properties is decent. Each area starts with some easier ones that demonstrate the new concepts you’ll see used in that set of levels. Sometimes it felt like I didn’t fully understand them when I was expected to use them (EMPTY from the “Rocket Trip” levels is a good example of that). That’s part of the challenge, though, the difference between knowing a little and mastery of the concepts.

Some the level solutions are kind of complicated to get set up right. Others are messy, requiring a lot of stuff to be moved around on the board that didn’t matter in the moment, next to things that did. And in general, order of operations and the specific properties of specific board pieces matter a lot. It’s a game probably best received by programmers and other technically-minded types. But most of the levels are likely accessible enough to anyone who likes puzzling their way through.

Another messiness issue arises when multiple items are stacked in the same spot. It could be confusing to figure out which items you have stacked. That’s true both for items of the same type (multiple copies) and for mixes of different items and words. The good news is that there is an undo feature (the z key) that you will use often to fix mistakes or remind yourself the correct first part of a solution after the second part falls apart. (You’ll also use the r key to reset the level as needed.)

Most areas have bonus levels, which are numbered by dots instead of numerals. The bonus levels are copies of their neighbors with tweaked rules to puzzle out an alternate way to solve. So if something doesn’t work on a level, keep it in mind! On a number of bonuses, I had to implement a solution that didn’t work for the main level, that I had to abandon.

Most levels’ difficulty arises from figuring what to do. For the harder levels, and some of the others, the challenge comes more from figuring out how to do what you know you have to do. And then for a few levels, most of them not particularly hard, the hurdle is doing the solution that’s obvious enough. But you might get stuck here and there. It’s easy to overthink some of the puzzles.

A good help in dealing with those cases was Key of W (Michael Matlock): “Baba is Hint: A Spoiler-Free Guide”. It let me think about my approach without telling me the answer (and it helped me make sure I didn’t miss any levels). Steam Community: rjdimo: “Guide Has Hint Is Not Solution (WIP)” was also good for some hints, though it’s less complete. Fandom: Baba is Wiki is a full wiki with lots of information about the game, including levels. Unfortunately, the level pages have full solutions in plain view.

“Baba is Hint” is well put-together, with each map area having its own page (use the pictures near the top of each section to navigate to the right one). It’s got several hints per level from nudges to bigger hints, and it rates level difficulty and offers some commentary. Toward the end-game, it does tend to reference prior levels (but you may not remember what or when or how), so clicking around is necessary for those hints. I tended to use the Fandom wiki for looking up solutions to levels I’d already completed to refresh my memory, rather than going back to them in-game or looking at their hints again.

The nature of puzzles always makes it difficult to give useful hints that are not outright solutions. About half the time I looked for a hint, I was overthinking the solution, believing I had to do things I didn’t need to do (some of which I would later have to do for a bonus level). The other half of the time, it was usually a matter of confirming I had to do what I thought I did, and then I figured out how to do it.

The endgame levels of “Baba is You” are many. This is a deep and involved endgame. After you complete the regular levels, things get crazy. I would not have beaten everything without at least some hints and nudges to keep me sane.

A well-done puzzle game, it took me about 53 hours to complete with all achievements, though I spent a little time after messing with the level editor and user-made levels. Unless you’re adverse to puzzles you should give this one a try.

Review of Oniria Crimes

A game that doesn’t use the La Llave method.

Oniria Crimes (Badland Publishing: “Oniria Crimes”) is a different spin on a point-and-click adventure. There are six cases that have you investigate and interrogate a crime scene in the dreamworld of Oniria. (In case it struck you as poor wording, it wasn’t: you interrogate the scene itself. Items and furniture give you statements about what they saw when the crime took place.) At each location you will identify three suspects and up to seven pieces of information about each of them (six plus their image), and once you have enough information you can point to two relevant pieces of information per suspect to ascribe guilt or innocence.

The artstyle is nice, with a voxel-based cyber-dream aesthetic. The writing is decent, showing a lot of worldcrafting behind the game. The environments are limited, and not as surreal as I expected for a dream-based game, though some of the lore and writing do have surreal elements. The main departure from a standard graphical adventure game was that there’s only one screen per crime (except for the train), and so each area is much more what-you-see-is-what-there-is. That’s a fine approach, and I don’t think it detracted from the overall design.

I liked the variety of the crimes presented. The inclusion of the minigames gives a nice breakup to the similarity of the levels, though some of them could have been better orchestrated. The other unique features per level were also nice additions. These level-differentiators are especially important as otherwise the interaction was mostly clicking and reading.

The game itself was a little bit of a rough start for me. The basic gameplay wasn’t entirely clear. When you start playing, you understand that you interrogate the items of the crime scene, and you learn that some will add choices to the suspects’ dossiers. But some of the dossier choices are a bit ambiguous. Others are too obviously canards. Even in retrospect, while some of the answers are easily identified, others seem arbitrary.

On the second level you can rotate the room (as you can later on the library level), but it wasn’t formally introduced and I didn’t try hitting the button until I already felt stuck, only to realize there were two other walls to interrogate. Other similar mechanics in other levels were properly introduced, so that made it feel like even more of an oversight.

For whatever reason (on Linux, at least) achievements only show up in Awakeland (i.e., after you close the game). This can leave you wondering if you’ve achieved something only to have several get added when you stop a play session. That’s not a huge deal from the player perspective, but if it’s fixable from the developer’s perspective, they should fix it. Getting the immediate feedback of achieving something is important from a psychology and design standpoint. You want to make sure that players who are rewarded by achievements get them as soon as they achieve the thing, as that makes them like your game more. (To be fair, I have seen this in a few other games before. It’s not clear why they do it this way, so perhaps there is some reason to it?)

One other thing to note: the library level uses a QR code to point to a URL that at the time of playing was no longer in service. Luckily a Steam Guide (Spoilers: Steam Community: “Oniria Crimes”: TheDeluxeTux: “Solutions and Achievements”) includes the relevant information from the missing page. As you can finish and revisit cases, after you finish the game you can go back and see that information without spoiling anything. But from a design standpoint, it’s best to avoid that entirely, even if it’s only for an achievement. Even if you know you’ll keep a website in operation indefinitely, people could still be playing offline.

Despite its flaws, the general shape of the game holds up. I think it’s a nice example of diversity in design helping to cover for some inadequacies. The parts I didn’t like or felt were incomplete got overshadowed by what the game got right, and I felt at home in the gameplay even when I knew it wasn’t quite where it should be.

I got all the achievements over about nine hours. It’s a fun game that begs to see more depth to the world than what the developer was able to bring. Making games is hard, so I understand the limited scope of the world compared to the lore, but I hope to see more titles from them in the future. If you like the genre, Oniria Crimes is worth a look.

Review of Helheim Hassle

Do not try to fuse your limbs together at home, kids.

Helheim Hassle (Perfectly Paranormal: Helheim Hassle) is a metroidvania platformer where you play Bjørn “Bearslayer” Hammerparty, a resurrected viking that can (eventually) detach your limbs and head and recombine them with his torso. Stick two arms together, or an arm and a leg, and jump, climb, and throw his body to solve puzzles. The different combinations have different abilities.

The game is a very chatty. It mixes some Norse mythology with popular online culture and liberal city culture. Some of that got a little stale for me, but the overall story hung together nicely.

The first time I booted the game, Mogdun, the gatekeeper to Helheim (and to the game) made a crack about not using a controller, which I took as a sign the developers really think a controller is best, so I played the whole game with one. That seemed to work fine, though I’m guessing a keyboard would’ve been okay too.

The only weakness in the control scheme was when you have multiple body parts at different places and need to switch to the right one. There may be tricks or tactics to make this easier, but for me there were many many mistakes and I mostly muddled through. In theory, a keyboard would be to have keys 1–6 switch to the specific body parts, but I don’t think this was implemented.

The game is very deliberate about introducing the mechanics, making sure you understand how they work. In different areas, different appendage-pairs or sets tend to work best, and throughout the game the arm–leg alliance seems to be the star (with the head stuck on as needed).

The puzzles weren’t too hard, and the game doesn’t really punish you for failing, which made it an enjoyable time of trial and error. Outside of the highest difficulty of one of the optional game-developer conference games (made to emulate other games; in that case Super Meat Boy), nothing was particularly hard about this one. Just a nice puzzle-platformer.

My only real complaint was that it could have done a better job of letting you know when to go back and collect some of the items from earlier areas. I felt like I played through most of the game before I was comfortable going back to pick up all the hidden bits, mainly because it wasn’t clear when I would have the skills to do so. That meant that I had beat most of the game without the benefit of the powerups, which aren’t too powerful but are helpful.

I spent about 30 hours on Helheim Hassle and got all the achievements. I actually spent a little longer, but that was chasing after some secrets (which I did not end up fully cracking, unfortunately; this was the so-called “mystery of Mount Riverrum”).

I enjoyed my time in this game. It was well-designed and well-executed. The plot hangs together. I’ll probably look into Manual Samuel, a prequel by the same developers, based on my experience here. If you like puzzles, platformers, and metroidvania-type games, you should look at this one.

For those who seek the answers to the mystery, perhaps this will make life easier:

A basic alphabet table showing the Roman alphabet over their pseudo-runic equivalents.
The pseudo-runic alphabet used to hide clues for some unsolved secrets in Helheim Hassle.