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Describing Baba Is You as a block-pushing puzzler is a bit like calling Picasso’s Guernica a big painting. Both are accurate descriptions, sure, but they also woefully undersell a remarkable piece of art.
Arvi Teikari, aka Hempuli, has here produced one of the cleverest, most original, and just plain best puzzle games of recent times. And while it’s not an iOS original, it works very well on iPhone and iPad.
Each stage sees you controlling the titular tiny creature on a simple single-screen 2D plane – the kind of which could have been beamed in from an early ’80s home computer game. The controls are dead simple, as you touch and drag the screen to move Baba one grid place at a time.
The goal is simply to get to the level exit – typically represented by a flag – by pushing around various blocks. There we go again with the oversimplification.
You see, such basic spatial challenges are a tiny fraction of what makes Baba Is You tick. The real mechanic is playing with the very fabric of this pixel-art playground, chopping and changing the rules like an 8-bit Neo.
Each element on the screen is represented by a word block: Rock, Wall, Flag, Baba and so on. This is then attached, via a separate Is or And block, to a basic descriptor: You, Hot, Win, Stop, etc.
When these three words blocks are physically touching in the appropriate order, they empower the related object(s) on screen accordingly. In other words: written rules make up a part of each level, and the rules are physical objects that can be moved. Mixing and matching these bundles of words fundamentally rewrites the reality of that level.
Objects can be made immaterial, water can be walked across, lava can be nullified. At its trippiest, even the very identity of your avatar is up for grabs.
Maybe you are not Baba, but rather every rock on the level. Maybe you’re the wall that’s keeping Baba confined. Or maybe you are Baba, and Baba is also Win rather than the flag.
Sometimes it’s the absence of something that’s key. We spent a minute puzzling over a particularly claustrophobic puzzle, only to realize that there was no rule present for the wall that was hemming me in. Which meant that it wasn’t the solid prison I had taken it to be at all.
Baba Is You is full of these gently mind-blowing moments. And yet they land so softly thanks to its super-basic presentation, its welcoming chiptune soundtrack, and a level select system that always enables you to head off and try something else when things get too tricky.
And boy do they get tricky. While Baba Is You lets you in nice and gently, some of its puzzles will really stump you. We suspect that a lot of people will simply bounce off it after a small handful of levels.
It would perhaps have been nice to have a couple of control options, too, as we suspect that not everyone will click with the touch and drag provision. But these are relatively minor quibbles. Essentially, to put it in the game’s own parlance, Baba Is You Is Win.
- Ingenious syntax-driven puzzling
- Clean yet characterful retro visuals
- Always an alternative level to play
- It can get properly difficult
- Touch and drag controls won't be for everyone
- Not for retro art-style haters