First impressions are often considered everything and in video games this is no different. Showing off a game in a small snippet of a first level is pivotal to ensuring the player is hooked and knows what’s going on and what to expect. So, what does the perfect first level look like?
A theme many games fall into is using the first level as a tutorial. In this the player is halted at every new mechanic being taught, having to show an understanding of how it works before progressing to the next one. Although this can be a slow process to go through just to be able to explore the game, it is the most efficient way of teaching everything basic to the player. In some games, there are story elements added in to keep the player’s interest. In others, humour is used to offset the boring nature to these levels. Either way, the first level/area is still a tutorial.
Baba Is You is different. You’re thrown straight into the game after a pretty animation introduces the key words and pieces into the level. What is this? Nothing more than a small graphic telling your move is left stick (which should feel obvious if you’ve played any other games at all), and points out other things you can interact with. Therein lies the beauty behind this first level. You’re free to explore how you desire; take the easy route and just push the rocks out of the way and hit the flag, or how about messing around with the world like the game has you do in future levels by shifting the text blocks around to make it so you’re the Flag and Baba is now Win.
“Figure it out for yourself!” is what this game is screaming at you when you first enter it, just like you’re expected to do for the entire rest of the game. No hand-holding, no tutorial, just instant gameplay consistent throughout every level. The first level is pretty simple, there’s nothing too brain-melting to begin with. Again this is ideal for this type of game. It’s a puzzler – you want the difficulty to ramp up so you can feel your own sense of achievement as you progress. No-one wants to solve the hardest puzzle first, because then what’s the point in doing the rest now you’ve beaten the best it has to show? There’d be no progression otherwise.
By leaving the very first level up to the creativity of the player, it also highlights there’s not just going to be one way to solve each level. Often times there will be an easiest way to solve it, just like here by simply pushing the rocks aside, but it also shows to the player they can be intuitive with their problem-solving. To keep the game interesting there will always be limiting factors within each level, but it challenges you to come up with inventive solutions based around those parameters.
Unlike many other games’ first level that opt for a tutorial to begin with, Baba Is You gives you a first level actually relevant to the game and continues from there, acknowledging it as part of the game rather than a separate section of gameplay that’s only purpose is teaching. A puzzle game has you do the learning as part of the game, rather than in guide-like structure before the rest of the game – Baba Is You is inventive, beautifully simple and has the perfect first level.