A Tasting Course
HIGH Crossing the first gap.
LOW The main giant sliding block area.
WTF So we’re just going to end with a 2001-esque light show, huh?
Manifold Garden doesn’t have any way for the player’s avatar to jump. It is, by nature, a first-person puzzle-platformer, and many of the puzzles require that the player move from a low platform to a high one, or cross a gap. The absence of a jump, however, forces other verbs to the fore. For instance, the player can still fall.
This may not immediately sound useful. After all, in real life, tumbling into a gap very rarely enables a person to cross it. Fortunately, Manifold Garden’s levels are tessellated, so falling out the bottom of one causes the player to fall in from the top. Since there is no damage on landing, with the aid of a little forward momentum, a player can move across a gap or slide off the bottom of a building and alight on the top.
Enclosed spaces pose something of a challenge for this paradigm. Here, Manifold Garden’s solution is less mundane — the player can change the direction of gravity by activating any surface perpendicular to the current “down”. If it becomes necessary to reach a higher platform, one needs only redefine the frame of reference so that the wall becomes the floor before walking to a suitable spot, and then returning to the original reference frame.
As this is a garden, there are strange trees present bearing cubic “fruits” that are color-coded (and marked with arrows) to match a particular gravitational direction. As long as their matching “down” is active, they can be carried around and placed on switches or the floor, but as soon as the gravitational direction is changed, they freeze in place. This same behavior is true for streams of water that stop flowing and become walkways when the player changes gravity.
Manifold Garden adds a number of little wrinkles to these elements — portal doorways, beams that cause fruits to change their orientation, and huge sliding blocks that move with gravity. What all of these additions share is that the game doesn’t spend much time on them. Most new ideas show up just long enough to hint at their potential, and then get dropped for the next thing. Only in the game’s short coda do significant numbers of these ideas all-too-briefly collide.
Manifold Garden also seems uninterested in complementing its puzzles with any kind of story, or even just a scenario. Sound effects imply that the game’s viewpoint is attached to a pair of feet, but there is no name or dialogue. The world traced out by Manifold Garden’s straight lines has no coherent architecture or purpose. Solving each area of puzzles dispels black clouds that seem to corrupt its space. One does this not because an overt mission has been given, but because there’s nothing else to do.
That lack aside, the world can be striking to look at. Faced with its enormous, mechanized pagodas and sprawling Greek temples, I always wanted to drink the sights in. Its endless atria and infinite pyramids are astonishing. Yet all too often Manifold Garden congeals into a maze of sterile passages and stairwells — an Escher-esque brutalist nightmare I wanted more to escape than to observe.
The sublime power of Manifold Garden’s visuals is never matched by its puzzles. Rather, the puzzles skitter across the surface of every new idea, dipping into each one just enough to suggest fascinating interactions and then move on at a brisk pace. Manifold Garden never dives into its concepts, or, perhaps, it only dives far enough to end up back where it started.
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by William Chyr Studio LLC. It is currently available on PC, PS4, Switch, and Xbox One.This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Switch. Approximately 4 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E (no content warnings). There’s no story, violence, or characters, so there’s nothing to offend.
Colorblind Modes: No colorblind modes are available in the options. The game very strongly relies on color recognition (although the palette is very desaturated). While there are also some shape cues, I suspect its difficulty will be sharply increased for colorblind individuals.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: Manifold Garden has no dialogue and no essential sound cues. This game is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. A controller diagram is shown.
Currently Sparky works as a scientist in Rhode Island, and works gaming in between experiments and literature reviews. As a writer, he hopes to develop a critical voice that contributes to a more sophisticated and interesting culture of discourse about games. He is still waiting for a console port of Betrayal at Krondor.
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