The best puzzle games leave you with the purest sense of joy when you finally unravel their mysteries and progress, and that's exactly how we've been feeling as we slowly but surely chipped away at Hempuli's Baba Is You, a game that started life at the Nordic Game Jam in 2017, the brainchild of Arvi 'Hempuli' Teikari. Two years later, the game released for PC and Nintendo Switch, and we decided to conquer our conundrums on the go via the Switch, where it's perfectly suited.
The mechanics of the game are relatively simple, strictly speaking, but how Hempuli uses them makes the puzzles incredibly complex. Each level abides by certain rules, and these are dictated by blocks on the screen, or rather words. The sentence 'Baba is you', for example, is spelled out by three blocks in most levels, which indicates one of the 'rules' of that level, which is that you play as Baba. Then you have others like 'wall is stop', indicating a rule that you cannot move through walls, but by breaking that sentence by moving one block and you eliminate that rule, allowing you to pass through walls.
This also allows you to manipulate rules, and this is the key for defeating the many puzzles Hempuli has laid out for us. For instance, by moving 'you' in the place of 'stop' in the example above, you then play as the wall itself, and as you go further functions like 'open', 'float', 'melt', and 'move' are layered in with items like crabs, keys, and flags.
The purpose of every level is to unite the object you're controlling with the item that lets you win. To begin with the 'flag is win' command is in every level, but again this can be moved and tweaked as you see fit. This is made easier by the fact that you can restart a whole level in one button and rewind one move (it's a grid-based game) on another, meaning you can always undo a mistake as you experiment with moving the level to your advantage.
Hempuli is certainly thinking outside the box with this concept, and the solutions require you to think just as creatively. Often there are very few parameters to work with, and so it's all about inventive use of the components at your fingertips, like joining sentences onto one another and transforming the rules to suit you. It's the type of game that sees you look at yourself in the mirror and wonder if you even have the capacity to work out what's going on, which is why it makes you feel like the smartest person alive once 'congratulations' finally flashes up on the screen and you're successful.
It's perhaps one of the hardest games to talk about because vocalising its concepts doesn't do them justice at all. It's one of those games where you really need to experience it to get where it's coming from, and within seconds you'll understand that all you need to do is move blocks and get to 'win'. Sounds simple enough, but the layers that are introduced and the requirements for success keep going up and up as you progress through the levels on Hempuli's map, leaving you gripped as you constantly fiddle with each level (we almost missed our stop while on the train, that's how hooked we were).
Puzzle fans who have been looking for something else to keep them entertained should definitely look this way, as not only is it unique but it tests our thinking in a way we haven't tried before. It's not about shifting the pieces in the game but changing how the game itself operates, and only those with a keen perceptive eye will succeed in getting to the very end. It's a tough challenge, but one that we couldn't stop fiddling with, especially considering how nice a fit it was on the go with the Switch.