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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.