Baba Is You: New Adventures

A Monster’s Expedition wasn’t the only sokoban-like to get an update with a whole lot of new content recently! Baba Is You got its first truly major update a couple of weeks ago, including a level editor and two additional campaigns designed for people who completed the original. One, called “Museum”, is a collection of unused levels (although I don’t think they can really be called unused now that they’ve been published) and new variations on familiar ones, and it uses the same collections of words and concepts as the original game, except for one addition: signposts containing developer commentary. The other, “New Adventures”, introduces a number of exciting new concepts, and this is by far the more interesting part to me.

New Adventures introduces quite a few new object sprites, including simple geometric shapes (Circle, Square, Triangle), animals (Dog, Cat, Bird), food items (Banana, Donut) and even a couple of new friends for Baba and Keke: the shaggy Fofo, the llama-like Jiji. I haven’t really warmed to these interlopers. Somehow the new “characters” feel like they go against the grain more than all the other objects, even though they’re exactly equivalent in gameplay terms: like all sprites, they’re just empty containers for properties assigned by rules. The only new objects that really have special properties of their own are a set of musical instruments, which can be made to play notes, a pure amusement that doesn’t affect the puzzles.

No, the interesting part is in the new attributes and relations. There are many. The relation EAT, for example, lets one type of object consume a specified other type, which is elementary enough that in retrospect it’s a little surprising that it wasn’t in the original — the closest it came is probably the OPEN/SHUT rules, which were considerably less direct. Another example: BROKEN, an attribute that cancels out all other attributes. This has obvious applications as both a tool and a hindrance, which is always a good sign for a puzzle game element. Sometimes a single BROKEN rule can even be both in succession. I think my favorite addition so far, though, is FEELING, which makes a rule conditional on an attribute — for example, FLAG FEELING MOVE IS WIN would grant flags the WIN attribute when and only when they also have the MOVE attribute. This not only enables all sorts of wacky conditionals, it also makes a place in puzzles for attributes that would otherwise have no mechanical effects. The original campaign had one room with the attributes RED and BLUE, and all they did was change the color of sprites; now, you can have rules where changing an object’s color also changes how you can interact with it.

The main disappointing thing about the game has always been that, because the designer doesn’t like re-using tricks, a lot of concepts are introduced, used in a small number of levels, and never seen again. The new content happily gets some extra mileage out of previously-underused words like GROUP, but the newly-introduced words can fall into the same pattern. There are a few cases where I consider this positive, though. There’s a new attribute that can make turns advance automatically, transforming the game from turn-based to real-time — useful for those musical amusements, but irksome elsewhere, because it transforms it into a different kind of game, one that it’s not well-suited to being. The attribute that shifts you into a first-person 3D view has this problem even worse. It’s a 3D view based on the same blocky and abstract sprites as the regular game, creating a sort of Bard’s Tale-but-more-primitive look, which means it’s difficult to judge distances and you essentially have to memorize the level layout while it’s still 2D and comprehensible. Also, this won’t be a problem for most people, but in my current circumstances, the concept of YOU2 is troublesome. With my right hand still sore from injury, part of the appeal of the game is that it can easily be played left-handed, just like A Monster’s Expedition (and for the same reasons). So what does YOU2 do? It gives you a second player-controlled entity, one controlled by each hand. Here’s a feature request: Provide an option to toggle between controlling YOU and YOU2 with a button press. First-person mode already has a similar ability to switch between YOU instances. Consider it an accessibility feature.

Anyway, if you haven’t started on the new content yet, I can’t fully recommend doing so, because it’s still receiving frequent updates, often more than one per day. I recall the original levels had a similar problem when they were new: some levels even got renumbered, replaced with simpler versions and shifted into bonus levels, or even removed entirely. (You can now play the removed levels through the Museum.) Back then, I ultimately restarted the game just to make sure I saw each level in its final form. The new stuff seems a bit stabler than that: levels change internally, but they don’t move around the map. Or maybe they do and I just haven’t noticed.

Still, there’s gobs of delightful new stuff. The New Adventures could have been released as a standalone sequel, and I would have paid for it, and it would have been worth it. Instead, it’s a free update.

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