Manifold Garden (Nintendo Switch) Review

By Michael McCann 03.12.2020 1

Review for Manifold Garden on Nintendo Switch

There has been a smattering of first-person puzzlers released since Portal and its sequel, Portal 2 "won" the mantle back in 2007 and 2011 respectively. Entries in the genre since then, such as The Witness, and The Talos Principle, are noted for garnering accolades each within their promotion windows, and did well at creating an identity for themselves, presumably on smaller budgets, outside of Aperture Science's cake-promising behemoth. One wonders if the emphasis on philosophy was a key component for their successes, making them, and the player, feel smarter than they actually are, and thus making these titles worthy of remark in this intro right now and elsewhere. Whether or not that is the case can be debated, but the question stands: is it possible to elude the long shadow cast by Valve's Portal? It's here that one can find Manifold Garden, developed by William Chyr Studio. It shares much of the DNA and many of the tropes of the aforementioned titles, but defines itself more so like a person who has done a lot more green tea than its contemporaries. Trippy, indeed it is. It is although perhaps becoming of a puzzle game that is a more direct and immediate exercise in philosophy because of this.

Eight years in development, Manifold Garden's core experience manifests, rather simply, as getting from A to B. Doing so requires the fetching of one or multiple colour-coded keys, reified as cubes, which also grow off of cube-trees, to be matched to their corresponding locks, then to open doors and progress. Sounds simple enough? The catch here, and brace for impact, is that every environment in Manifold Garden is essentially a repeating, multi-dimensional infinite loop.

Screenshot for Manifold Garden on Nintendo Switch

If not otherwise closed off to a corridor for whatever design or pacing reason, individual puzzle maps are infinite, and pushing forward on the control stick into anywhere other than a wall will always bring the camera back to the point at which it began, and again, and again. Manifold Garden uses this looped hook often in open, multi-tiered areas in conjunction with one other key feature: the ability to rotate the world toward any axis. Imagine being inside of M.C. Escher's Relativity, not knowing which way is up and which way is down. What this hook ultimately does is create puzzles that are about disorientation more than they are about anything else.

A minimal but pleasing geometric aesthetic embellishes the presentation, quite gloriously, as one navigates through the labyrinthine, maze-like maps. Expanses range from small rooms, to grandiose cathedral-like buildings and, well, gardens. Shapes overlap, and grid, and intersect, and form stimulating patterns constantly, even if occasionally the wide field of view can get a little jarring. Alternating between these open, more geographically confusing areas with smaller linear sections, offering moments of scenic or visual-eye-candy interlude, deftly paces the game. It is possible to get lost if, like this reviewer, a chunk of time is left between play sessions, but this isn't a fault of the game design.

Screenshot for Manifold Garden on Nintendo Switch

If attention is paid, Manifold Garden is a master at delivering a show-don't-tell experience. No goals are specifically laid out, no real text boxes, hints, or context is given as to what needs to be done, and yet the path is led via subtle way-pointing, and clever level design. For example, there might be a bridge that needs to materialise, or just one junction in a repeating loop will be slightly different from the rest, which will then guide towards the next door or "goal." Elsewhere, and more clearly, there is a defined visual spectacle making it clear that something significant has been achieved. Later into the game some smaller brain-teasers feed into an overarching puzzle like veins to an artery, and these are always rewarding and impressive in this regard of design literacy.

Screenshot for Manifold Garden on Nintendo Switch

It is noted that one section, in a larger, configurable area, did manage to stump and slow progress in Manifold Garden, and this was due to an issue of not being able to get a good vantage of a problem clearly enough. In this case, shifting platforms exacerbated the problem, and led towards doubt of the correct solution multiple times, even though it was the eventual solution. Usually during these more complex moments it can be solved by being able to "fall into" the loop. It becomes a relied upon strategy to get a good survey of the architecture, and where to go and what to do next. This wasn't as readily possible in the aforementioned section, which frustrated progress as well as highlighted problems with the controls when attempting to be a bit more precise, controls which generally aren't an issue for the rest of the experience.

The difficulty curve otherwise, it must be said, is managed very well, and not one other section of Manifold Garden felt too hard or unfair. It introduces new angles or mechanics just when they are needed, and like all good puzzle games, solutions can seem obvious or even feel "cheated '' in places where they were previously opaque. It's all about lateral thinking. That falling into the loop thing too never gets old. If done intentionally, or by tripping off an edge by accident, when it happens it is completely exhilarating and disorientating to hit maximum velocity before returning back on terrafirma with a satisfying 'clunk.' It makes you "feel" like Spider-Man. The option for a run button is questionable, though, as levels will naturally desire exploration speed to be at full tilt all of the time.

Screenshot for Manifold Garden on Nintendo Switch

Cubed3 Rating

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

Whether it's the influence of all the shapes and all the colours, or the enjoyable "clack" sound of cubes tapping along staircases, Manifold Garden is totally hypnotic. It's easy to get lost in a flow state while traversing between cubes to switches and other cubes, imbibing in the phenomenal, ever building soundtrack. It has none of the script or context of a title like Portal, but one would easily suspect that that would conflict with the undiluted audio-visual treat that this experience proffers. Manifold Garden builds a compelling, meditative world, and easily stands on its own merit as a highly recommended first person puzzle. It is short but sweet, as they say, and paced excellently. Jumping off into the abyss, and thinking about how to solve the next puzzle will never fail to reward - it makes one feel clever and always fits within the framework of rules which were previously set.

Also known as

Manifold Garden

Developer

William Chyr Studio

Publisher

William Chyr Studio

Genre

Puzzle

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date None   North America release date None   Japan release date None   Australian release date None   

Comments

Such an inventive game - really did mess with my head at times, though Smilie

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]

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