Review: Manifold Garden

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There’s a small selection of games out there that I just love being in. I’m not talking about enjoying the challenges or the gameplay, I mean I love loading up the game and simply wandering around in it. Games need a special aesthetic or atmosphere to draw me in like that, and among this unique subset of games, Manifold Garden may be my favorite. I’m a sucker for fantastical vistas and clever architecture to begin with, and offering that within the context of the sprawling infinite should make it obvious why I connected with this one so much. Mixed with the solid puzzling, it’s an experience that more people need to share.

The story in Manifold Garden is very much open to interpretation, so I’m not going to try guiding your thoughts on it with my own suppositions. Instead, I’ll just mention that there are six colors from which a grand garden can be cultivated, and it’s up to you to make that happen. Making that happen involves navigating vast structures hanging in an infinite, repeating world, one that you can fall through indefinitely until you get bored and decide to land back on an iteration of the level. Adding to this mind-bending premise is the ability to flip your own gravity to align with any of the six directions that comprise the cubular architecture, allowing you to wrap around towers and explore the undersides of walkways, to name only a few of the incredible possibilities open to you.

So there’s the infinite, and the ability to scamper all over or fall through it while orientated however you like. What’s one to do with such powers? Well, besides taking in the breathtaking scenery from all angles, you do have a garden to grow. Throughout the world of Manifold Garden you will find blocks of six different colors, and those blocks can be used for a wide variety of purposes, from opening doors to forming platforms to directing water, and so on. The trick is that these blocks have their own gravitational alignment as well, and you can only interact with them while aligned the same way. This, again, expands the puzzling possibilities as you start mixing different colors of blocks and working out how to get one to one place while the others are frozen in their alignments. The game does an excellent job of easing you into this mindset, and continues to do so as it adds more and more twists on the formula, but it does get devious in some parts that can leave you scrambling for some time.

While there is certainly more ambitious gameplay to be found in this surreal genre of puzzler, I can think of few games that can match the visual flair that Manifold Garden has. The spectacle of a massive complex of chambers, windows, and platforms hanging in space, surrounded by an infinite field of itself repeated, never gets old. Every area feels so much more massive, so much greater in scope, than any other first-person game I can think of. And the simple color schemes give the aesthetic an even bolder look, drawing the eyes towards the shapes and details that comprise every structure. What’s even more impressive is how every few areas, the game manages to surprise you yet again with what it offers visually. I knew about the infinite staircases shown above long before I reached them, yet the experience of being there and navigating them still knocked me off my feet.

Really, with visuals like these and clever puzzles dotted throughout, there’s not much more you can ask for. It’s a tight package, offering about 4 hours of infinite journeying before concluding in a way that was fitting, if not particularly revelatory. There are certainly secrets to find, and in fact there’s apparently a way to complete the game without doing any of the key tasks for each of the areas you end up in, so the replay value is there for intrepid types. Tied up with some excellent minimalist sound design, Manifold Garden is exactly what it sets out to do, and it does it incredibly well. As good as the gameplay part of this game is, it’s the experience of touching the infinite that makes this what it is, and it’s an experience I can whole-heartedly recommend.

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