Mental Gymnastics – Manifold Garden

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.

Pros:

  • Beautiful level design.
  • Stunning visuals.
  • The perfect length.

Cons:

  • 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.

Final Score: 9/10

Manifold Garden is available now on Steam for Windows and macOS as well as PS4, Switch, Xbox (including Series S & X), and iOS

Come Along With Me – Wattam

If you’ve been reading my stuff for a while, you’ll know I really like the Katamari Games. As such I was super excited to hear that Keita Takahashi would be releasing Wattam in time for the new year (happy new year btw). From the trailers I knew very little, apart from that it would have a similar graphical style to the Takahashi’s other games, and that it involved holding hands.

Wattam plonks you into a dark world with only a sad looking green cube friend who wears a black hat and has confusing facial features (everyone’s nose looks kinda like a cat’s mouth so the mouth below that makes for some mental gymnastics while playing). The cube – introduced as Mayor, has lost their memory and must explore the world around them, meeting a rapidly expanding cast of brightly coloured and simply designed companions. Friends such as orange flower, acorn, squid, boat, telephone & toilet.

Taking your first steps in the world of Wattam, you’re given a basic tutorial, introducing the abilities of holding hands with others, moving the red arrow (which points to whichever character you want to control), climb on people, and (as Mayor) doff your hat to create a small explosive gift box and blast anyone nearby into the air, laughing joyously.

While blowing up your friends is generally frowned upon in real life, everyone seems really happy about it in Wattam.

There’s a real joy to experimenting with this world. You’ll be taught early on that trees can eat people and turn them into fruit (we got you vore crowd, it’s all harmless fun here). Mouth, on the other hand, can eat fruit and turn it into coiled piles of poop (buzzing flies and all). At this point a tree could eat them again and turn them back to their original form, even if toilet got to them they could end up gold plated (the toilet is ever hungry for poops).

Wattam 03_01_2020 09_27_21.png

While this is all silly fun, I did struggle a bit in the late game, when I needed to find particular friends for a puzzle but could only find a box of sweet potato fries where I’d hoped to find an octopus and having completely forgotten about changing people’s forms as it had been a few days between plays. This is where Wattam’s explanation-light approach can become an issue, because it’s never explicitly stated that the collection menu can tell you both what form a friend is in right now, and what their normal state is. That said, it was only for one puzzle that I was struggling and only at the very end of winter.

Speaking of the collection screen, there’s a lot of silliness to find here too. Much like Donut County’s Trashopedia, each of the characters have an intro screen showing brief descriptions of them. This changes as they change form, so it’s worth checking back here a few times, to get the full experience.

Scale takes a role in this world, much like Katamari Damacy. When you’re zoomed in, you’ll be controlling characters around Mayor’s size. However, as you zoom out, you’ll take over some of the arriving friends such as the boat, a larger toilet, or bowling alley. These more grand characters can ferry others across the sea of clouds that makes up the wider world, taking them to visit main islands, each based on the seasons.

The music of Wattam is the kind of gentle and jolly tunes Keita Takahashi’s games are well know for. There’s plenty of acapella to “la-la laaa” along to and there’s almost always the sound of laughter and play from the other visitors to each island.

As you progress through the game, you learn more of the overarching plot through a series of simple vignettes. Why was the rainbow destroyed? Who is the mysterious, horned figure? What happened to the world?

At its core, Wattam is a simple game of exploration, experimentation, and puzzle solving. There’s a simple joy to helping one of your companions, being rewarded with the arrival of a new friend who in turn ferries in a number of smaller friends for you to interact as, or help through a difficulty. Be that helping seeds to grow into trees, getting a telephone receiver back from the sun, or stacking a group of friends up until you’re the same height as a bowling pin (for some reason).

Despite some of the more scatalogical aspects of the game, I found it packed with charm and simple delights and was regularly giggling away at the sheer joy of the world as I took the hand of a new friend and explored the vibrant and expanding world. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you like weird, puzzly, colourful fun, and the sound of joyous laughter, you could do a lot worse than Wattam.

Pros:

  • Really Charming
  • Colourful
  • Original

Cons:

  • Nearly glitched the game to death when steering an explosion for a prolonged period
  • Some slow down in places
  • Camera controls are a bit clunky

Final Score: 8/10