Critical Play: Baba is You


Baba Is You is a single-player puzzle game created by solo developer Arvi Teikari and released to PC and Nintendo switch in 2019. Baba Is You is a 2d puzzler in the vein of classic Japanese title Sokoban, in which players must push around various boxes in a grid-based environment in order to reach a goal.

Mechanics and Play Experience

The key mechanic underpinning Baba Is You and the reason it is (I think) so brilliant, however, is that the very rules of the game are objects within the level. Everything we might consider to be an obvious rule within a game, such as the fact that walls block player movement, is rendered as a series of tiles inside the level that can be pushed around and manipulated. For instance, the rule that walls are impassable is rendered as [WALL] [IS] [STOP] in three consecutive places. If you as the player push the [IS] block out of place so that the sentence is broken, then suddenly walls pose no obstacle! While the premise is simply stated, it leads to a nearly endless variety of frankly mind-bending puzzles. I think Baba Is You really succeeds because it demands, in its purest form, “out of the box” thinking. Even some of the earliest levels test players’ abilities to take nothing for granted.

For instance, take the example below from the level “Poem”. At the beginning, the level is arranged to produce a classic pair of rhyming couplets. [FLAG] [IS] [WIN] means we want to reach the flag, but unfortunately it is surrounded by walls, and the sentence [WALL] [IS] [STOP] rests in the corner where we can’t modify it.

But by cleverly manipulating the columns of symbols, we can reach the following configuration. Suddenly, we no longer control Baba, but instead all of the roses in the scene at the same time! Meanwhile, our objective has become Baba, which is much easier to reach than the flag.

So we see that even the most basic premise of a game with characters — that you are in control of one particular character — is turned on its head in Baba Is You. Each level shatters another of the players’ assumptions.

Types of Fun

Far and away, the biggest type of fun Baba Is You offers is challenge. As mentioned above, some of the puzzles can be absolutely mind-melting (and I haven’t even gotten to the late-game puzzles). This difficulty in turn leads to a feeling of immense satisfaction when you finally wrap your head around whichever twist of the game’s rules the level is trying to show to you.

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