Ultra-Indie Spotlight Sunday: Baldi’s Basics
Baldi’s Basics is about going to school after hours in order to get your friend’s notebooks. Within these whitewashed hallways, a horrible creature lies in wait: a teacher. Ugh. Mr. Baldi, who lurks the school like a minotaur in the labyrinth wants only to have some fun and educational experiences with his students. And god help you if you don’t grant him the academic satisfaction this monster requires.
I’ve very little understanding of psychology. But I feel like the uncanny valley effect is a psychological tool for survival or something. Like, maybe helping early humans recognize the general idea of a face that is not normal, for instance, realizing that a saber tooth tiger’s face is both alive and not friendly. However, this not only works on CGI characters. As Baldi’s Basics shows, it works on environments as well.
I understand the signifiers of the environment in Baldi’s Basics. I’ve been in a number of schools and even more hallways; the inside of a building is quite familiar to me. But the setting of this game is so terrifically horrible in design, obviously intentionally, that it fills me with great unease. It mashes a hundred different art styles together, ranging from MS Paint drawings to Windows 3D Maze Screensaver graphics to Unity assets made while blindfolded. All this combined makes the whole game uniquely distressing in a way that a gore and spider-filled corridor could never achieve.
Non-Wanky Game Recap:
Baldi’s Basics plays like a typical survival game. There is a wretched abomination who follows you around like Resident Evil 2’s Tyrant (apropos, as all teachers are monstrous tyrants for making you do homework) and asks you to solve a few math problems. Of course, there are other factors at play that will prevent you from doing simple arithmetic, and you find yourself running from Baldi and his basics. But you’re still in school, and the rules are strongly enforced. If you’re caught running in the halls or sneaking into the teacher’s lounge, you’ll end up in detention, where Baldi can easily hunt you down.
The game is a sort of meta take on Cool Math Games. It is very reminiscent of that genre of low-quality flash games designed to be fun and educational. However, Baldi’s Basics is obviously a twist on that genre. Although there are no usual horror elements, the lack of a traditionally creepy or evil antagonist chasing you does not detract from the stress. A teacher slowly stalking you whacking his hand with a ruler is bad enough, but you’re subject to a number of school-themed terrors. A hall monitor that runs at jaguar speed to throw you in detention, a bully trying to steal your precious quarters, and more. All these combined are both thematically appropriate and funny, and frightening. And the further in you go, the more horror elements begin to emerge.
I’m really struggling to think of what doesn’t work in Baldi’s Basics. Because 90% of the game is both perfectly executed while simultaneously made to look and feel bad. I will say that this title is quite hard and at times frustrating. You might find yourself on the verge of progressing only to be stopped by a big huge fat guy completely blocking the path. Or you run out of stamina at just the wrong moment. These are, however, what makes the game so interesting, and I would not have them removed.
How To Fix It:
I think a solution to the difficulty problem would be a save point. Baldi’s Basics is not exactly a lengthy game, but without any progress saved, you will most certainly get annoyed when you lose and are forced to start at the beginning again. I had to put the game down for a while and come back later because I was so frustrated. But that doesn’t really detract from the game for me. In fact, it makes the experience of winning that much more rewarding.
We’re used to indie horror games filled with doom and gloom. But a poorly lit corridor full of creeps and slimes is not entirely necessary for a great horror experience. Baldi’s Basics is probably the most colorful and PG horror game I’ve played in some time, and yet, is also the most visually unsettling and distressing as well. The genre of horror is extremely versatile, and Baldi shows us just one fascinating direction that it can lead.
You can buy Baldi’s Basics on itch.io by clicking here.