Last year, mind bending puzzle game Manifold Garden released on the Epic Game store. I missed this one, and I’m really surprised I did. I’m usually a sucker for puzzle games, and something as visually striking as Manifold Garden fell completely off my radar—though I do remember, vaguely, its announcement almost a half a decade ago. Now, a year after its release, it’s finally out for consoles—so I thought this would be a great time to check it out.
Manifold Garden looks unlike any puzzle game I’ve ever played. Its visuals are really the first thing you’ll notice. Apparently, according to developer Willam Chry’s Twitter, the current style manifested after many iterations of small changes through development. Now it ranges between looking like black outlined architectural drawings to gorgeous geometric patterns. There is never a lack of gorgeous or brain boggling visuals, and they’re presented in a way I’ve never quite experienced. Like something out of MC Escher, but repeating to span infinity.
As abstract and surreal as Manifold Garden can be, there is a bit of a narrative underlying the entire thing. You aren’t just placing blocks to see what’s ahead, rather, there’s a purpose to the whole ordeal. There’s something of a corruption that clouds areas, and clearing that corruption is your ultimate goal. Of course, to achieve this goal, you’ll have to solve puzzles.
Much of the puzzle gameplay in Manifold Garden consists of placing blocks, and hitting switches. Of course, doing so is never so simple, and to get past Manifold Garden’s obstacles, you’ll need to switch between orientations, all of which are color-coded. If you want to get to the ceiling, you can turn the wall into a floor, and walk straight up it. Of course, for all intents and purposes, the wall is now the ground—and certain objects will react to gravity appropriately. Other objects are dependent on their orientation, too.
You can use the way blocks react to gravity to solve some puzzles. If a block falls while orientated in one direction, but not another, you can potentially place another block to stop its fall. Sometimes you have to change the orientation of the entire puzzle to get a ball or block to fall where you want it—something that is quite mind bending, and in a few instances, took me a while to wrap my mind around.
That’s not the only mind-bending aspect of Manifold Garden. I mentioned infinity before, and I meant it: Remember the sidescrollers where you’d leave one end of the screen and come back around to the other? I imagine it would look like something out of Manifold Garden if seen in the first person. If you want to get to something above you, you can change orientation, or, if possible, you can simply drop below and if you can fall far enough, you’ll eventually land on the ceiling of the object. Look to the left and right, and you’ll see the puzzle you’re working on—sometimes in the far distance, forever.
Manifold Garden’s use of infinity and gravity took mundane block placing to a whole new level. And even though most puzzles are just a variation on the block placing and switch hitting theme, they were variations that never really got tiresome—and they remained a consistent difficulty. I always find that some puzzle games are tougher for some than others. Manifold Garden had extremely clever puzzles, that stuck as just the right amount of challenge for me. I only cruised through a few puzzles, and only got completely stuck on one of them.
The puzzle I got stuck on happens to be, perhaps, the only complaint I have about Manifold Garden. While each of its puzzles are mind bending, they’re not so hard to conceptualize as this one, which required you to orient the puzzle itself in a way that made giant blocks fall into the proper place. I could never get a full picture of what I was doing, and it was extremely frustrating, and perhaps the only time I wasn’t enjoying my time with Manifold Garden.
I’m glad that I checked out this beautiful, surreal puzzle game. I found it to be the perfect amount of difficult, with most puzzles paced well, and not tedious. But the puzzles aren’t the most alluring part—getting lost in Manifold Garden’s infinite vistas would have been enough for me. The clever puzzles are just a bonus.
Manifold Garden is available now on Epic Game Store, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch. It will be coming to Steam in October of this year.
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