Yes, it’s a strange name but it’s a strange and amazing puzzle game that’s worth your time.
“Baba Is You”
Developed by Hempuli Oy
For Mac, PC and Nintendo Switch, $15, rated E for Everyone
You should play “Baba Is You.” Yes, it’s a strange name but it’s a strange and amazing puzzle game that’s worth your time.
The “Baba” in the title refers to a cute little sheep that you move around a very simple, pixel-art world. “You” refers to the fact that you as the player control Baba, who can’t jump, fight, run or any of the other classic video game verbs. Baba can only push (some) things around the screen; most importantly Baba pushes words together to form sentences. Those sentences change everything.
Each level of “Baba Is You” starts with a number of complete sentences that define the level. Usually (but by no means always) there’s one that says “Baba Is You” and one that says “Flag Is Win.” Move yourself (as Baba) onto the flag, and you win. On to the next level.
Of course it’s never as simple as that. Getting to that flag is always a challenge, with walls, locked doors or stranger obstacles in your path. To solve the puzzle, you’ll need to do some creative writing: Each of the words in those sentences can be pushed around the screen to form new sentences. Push the word “stop” out of the sentence “Wall Is Stop” and suddenly you can walk through walls. Push the word “Wall” into the place occupied by “Baba” and now “Wall Is You” and you can move all the walls around. When more words like “Open,” “More,” “Kill” and “And” are added into the lexicon as the game progresses, the puzzles get increasingly mind-bending.
The perfect puzzle game is one that seems impossible when you first look at it, but once you crack the mystery feels perfectly obvious. You just have to come at things from a new angle. “Baba Is You” provides this emotional roller-coaster over and over again; it frustrates right up until it makes you feel brilliant.
Although this is a single-player game in the strict sense that only one person uses the controls, this is actually an amazing game to play with friends. The challenge here is always figuring out the solution, not performing the simple movements. I’ve spent hours with friends talking through these levels, trying out different solutions and high-fiving when we finally get it right.
Made by independent game developer Arvi Teikari, “Baba is You” developed out of a Nordic Game Jam that Arvi participated in in Copenhagen in 2017. Game Jams are weekend-long events where amateur and professional game developers come together to try to make new games based around a theme. I help organize two game jams every year at Ringling College in Sarasota, Florida, where I teach, and there are similar events all over the world. With no experience required and no goals beyond having fun and learning to make games, I encourage anyone with a passion for games to give one of these events a try. Maybe you’ll make the next “Baba Is You.”
You can find a list of game jams at itch.io/jams or by simply searching for “game jams” online.