NB: I was provided a review copy of the game.
I like weird shit. I’ve always liked weird shit. The dreamy, trippy, and impossible. Optical illusions, infinite landscapes, hyperbolic environments. A few years back I was singing the praises of Antichamber (nope, I checked the Steam page and that was released in 2013. What even is time anymore?!). I had an absolute blast, even if it took me nearly a year to finish, because I just didn’t understand one of the puzzles. Today though, I want to talk about a game far more beautiful, but no less logically confusing – Manifold Garden by William Chyr Studio.
First off, I just want to say, this game is pretty as heck. You can tell it was developed by an artist. Imagine all the flat walls with splashes of colour that were seen in Antichamber and then soften down the bright whites, turning down the saturation of the other colours. Make it all more soothing to the eye. It’s a delight to look at.
Most of the game takes place on structures hovering in space. Look off to the distance and you might even see the platform you’re on from the other side. Jump over the edge and you may land on the area above you. It’s this endless looping that allows you to navigate to places otherwise out of reach. Need to get a block to higher ground? Take it off the edge and glide in from above. Sometimes it’s quite soothing just to jump into the void and take a look at the area from multiple angles as you fall past. You might even spot the solution to a puzzle in a hidden tree or a tiny set of stairs.
Apart from the way the world wraps, there’s also the game’s main mechanic of gravity manipulation. Click on a wall, that wall is now the floor. Long corridor to walk down? Just find a pillar, click on the side, and now the far end of the hall is the floor, you’re there in seconds.
Using these two mechanics together the designers have crafted hours of puzzles to bewitch and befuddle. Each building on something they’ve already shown you, or silently taught you as you explore. Oh, you’ve seen a red block, and you know you can only move it while gravity is correctly oriented to it? What if now it was half red and half blue, well now it falls in two directions. It’s obvious to work out and even if it isn’t, it takes moments of experimenting with gravity to discover how it works. Now you just have to work out where you actually want said cube.
The game isn’t that long, but I think it’s the perfect length to not outstay its welcome. From the initial lessons of “turn the world to explore new areas”, to “this is a button”, or “place cube here”; right the way through to “redirect water”, “freeze water by moving gravity”, “use frozen water to hold a giant tetromino in place” everything is quite elegant. Sure, some parts are just for looks, but none of it feels wasted. Indeed, look from the right angle and you might find that what looked like scenery is a whole other area to explore.
At the end of each area you are given a tesseract to plant which will grow into a tree as the world shifts around you before opening up the way ahead, into the next set of puzzles. The visuals in these end of level areas are stunning, fractal-like geometries moving and shifting, a feast for the eyes (especially if, like me, you really love psychedelic art).
All told you can complete Manifold Garden in about 4-6 hours, depending how well you manage to keep your spacial orientation in a world where gravity keeps shifting. It’s everything I’d hoped for in the Nintendo Indie Direct videos that have trickled out over the last few years.
If you like games like Antichamber and Portal, this is almost certainly for you. No spoilers but the end is absolutely stunning and usually something I have to lick tiny stamps offered by old hippies in festival fields in order to experience. And like that, something I look forward to doing again, once a little time has passed.
- Beautiful level design.
- Stunning visuals.
- The perfect length.
- You might need some advice from YouTube to get through the last level.
- That one level where you have to find a tiny set of stairs leading to a door on a huge, towering structure.
- I could have gone another 15 minutes on that ending to be honest.