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Manifold Garden Review

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721101744_ManifoldGardenlogo.jpg.12d4713bd5746c9e90725de83b9214d9.jpgUp is down, left is right, and sometimes up is left and down is right depending on where you're standing in Manifold Garden, a mind-warping puzzle game all about changing gravity to see solutions from new angles. Developed by William Chyr, this first-person trip into an MC Escher print challenges you with simple gameplay mechanics that are put to wild effects as you navigate a world of repeating patterns and surreal landscapes. And it's a landscape that is a joy to explore.
There's no text or voice over to guide you in Manifold Garden, you're simply left to explore this surreal world that seems to have no beginning or end, just endlessly repeating structures. What the game does have is an incredibly sharp sense of atmosphere, brought out by the visual and audio design, as well as the fact that you are wandering alone through unreal structures. There's something a little haunting about that, especially when the music—normally kept at a moody minimum—swells as you uncover a new area to explore. Conversely, the game is also quite calming and meditative. Just like an MC Escher print, you'll get lost in Manifold Garden as you observe how the unreal scenery interlinks. There's a real sense of wonder and awe to the experience, which is only heightened by the minimalist art style that allows your mind to just roam and revel in the landscape.
The art style serves the gameplay as well. The puzzles would likely be far more confusing and complicated if there was too much detail in the environments—the endless white scenery and strong linework of Manifold Garden does have a way of keeping you focused on the puzzles. Throughout the game your goal is essentially just to move forward, open new paths, and continue exploring this world. You do this by manipulating gravity and moving colored cubes around to activate switches. The gravity effects are trippy, and yet ultimately quite easy to grasp. When facing a wall, you press ZR, and what was once the wall is now the floor (I use terms like "walls" and "floors" to convey how you move about but these are honestly rather meaningless in this game). This allows you to climb up every side of a room or explore each facet of a structure floating in the endless white abyss.
To make things a little easier to follow, each surface is color-coded, so you can quickly tell which direction is currently "down." The cubes are also color-coded so you can conveniently see that you'll need to be on the red surface to use the red cube. Most areas of the game are also endlessly repeating, so for example if you jump off a cliff you'll eventually land back in the same spot. Not only does this mean you can't really get "stuck" anywhere, it allows for some truly inventive puzzle solutions.
This all feels very strange to explain in text, but rest assured that the gameplay is shockingly easy to understand once you've had a few moments with the game. One of Manifold Garden's great strengths is in making the complex seem simple, and the simple seem complex. Initially the game might seem daunting, but it doesn't take long at all for the seemingly complicated mechanics to click in your brain. It also allows for some delightfully mind-bending puzzle solutions, which most often strike you in an "of course, why didn't I see this sooner" sort of way.
And once you have those basic mechanics down, Manifold Garden is an absolute delight to explore. The scenery is endlessly surprising, and there are always interesting new quirks to puzzle over in each new area that you uncover. The puzzles themselves are also engaging without being frustrating. Manipulating the 3D space can get a little confusing but there wasn't a single puzzle solution that I found to be obtuse or annoying. It helps that, since you have so few tools or actions at your disposal, you'll never be bogged down with options. Instead you just need to examine the area and consider the puzzle from a new angle—literally. It's a game that you can very easily lose yourself in, and not just because the environments are so surreal.
One of the few downsides to Manifold Garden is that it simply isn't longer. You can pretty comfortably get through the game in just five hours or so, though that number can vary depending on how quick you are at solving 3D spatial puzzles. Like most puzzle games there's not a ton of incentive to replay it once you already know the answers, though the solutions in the game so often come out of pure experimentation that I might not be able to replicate most of them right away. There's also something to be said for the journey of Manifold Garden, not the destination. Wandering through the beautiful and trippy scenery of the game may well warrant a replay or two.

It feels cliche to say of games like this, but Manifold Garden is an experience, one that treats players to a surreal, breathtaking journey and challenges them with inventive and mind-bending puzzles. It's a clever puzzle game without being tedious, with stunning art and music that knows exactly how much or how little to use. It's so easy to be drawn into this endlessly repeating world, and it's a tranquil, delightful experience to discover the surprising puzzles and solutions that wait within.

Rating: 9 out of 10 Cubes
Review copy provided by developer
Manifold Garden is available now on the Switch eShop for $19.99, currently on sale until 8/30 for $17.99.
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