Critical Play: Puzzles

I played Baba Is You, a single-player logic puzzle game by Arvi Teikari available for PC, Switch, and mobile. You play a cute bunny/sheep/dog/thing named Baba and navigate a 2D puzzle world by manipulating blocks in the environment that have noun subjects (Baba, wall, flag), verbs (is, has), or resulting effects/receiving subjects (you, stop). The logic will only read in left to right or top to bottom linear configurations. For example, arranging Baba/is/you in sequence means you control the Baba icon on screen, and if you were to move Baba away from is/you, you’d trigger an existential crisis because now nothing proceeds is/you. This is hilariously reflected by greyed-out visuals and lack of sound.

The player interaction is simple in that you only move things, but the mechanic is clever in a clean and frank way. Like in the puzzle readings this past week, players are not focused on challenging interactions but on the puzzle itself. This “don’t see the window, just the view” architecture is thus very effective and makes the player exercise caution to outwit the puzzles. The controls are not mentioned, but you can use WASD or arrow keys, and press enter to select levels.

The onboarding involves walking past simple signpost icons that create textual pop-ups. One interesting aspect of the onboarding tutorial was that it didn’t give you free rein over the characters immediately. It started with teaching you a rule that forcefully made you move in one direction no matter what key you pressed, which made me think “oh, there’s some special rule here”, and pay attention to which word tiles were creating that logic. This incongruent audiovisual action immediately draws attention to the puzzle content and is interesting because most of the game is all under your control. It’s the one time you’re forced into a movement you make not be expecting because you just haven’t experienced that before in the gameplay. After playing several levels, I had varying reactions like “how the heck does this one work” and got to that “of course, how could I not see that” feeling or “what the heck that was nutty but it makes sense”.

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