[Review] Manifold Garden – Nintendo Switch

Written by Mel Curtis
  • Developer: William Chyr Studio
  • Publisher: William Chyr Studio
  • Release date: 18/08/2020
  • Price: £16.19 / $19.99
  • Review code provided by William Chyr Studio 

Introducing: Manifold Garden Switch Review

Like many others, I was watching the Nintendo Indie World Showcase this past week and was taking in everything that was coming up. I think that I was just as shocked as everyone else to see just how many games were “coming later today.” Normally, I am not surprised to see one or two of these, but the vast list was exciting. I was eager to try out Spiritfarer after waiting eagerly for it, but instead I ended up getting sidetracked on the way there and sucked into the mind-bending reality of Manifold Garden.

Awaken

Manifold Garden is one of those titles that I like to call an “experience game,” a game in which the focus is on the harmony between the gameplay and the visuals, with story being of a lower priority. Yes, there might be a story there, but it is more likely to be a background element or be more up to interpretation by the player. I covered something in the same vein with the platformer 140 earlier this year. In some ways, Manifold Garden reminds me a lot of that, though the focus here is much more in puzzle solving rather than in platforming.

Despite this being a game that doesn’t have an intensely visible story, the setting of the garden is still interesting in its own right. At first I wasn’t sure why exactly it was being called a garden considering the hallways that I was moving through, but as things opened up it became more obvious to me. There were fountain-like structures and blocky trees that grew keys to puzzles on them. It’s all very dreamlike in a way that I really liked. There wasn’t a strong story thread that was pulling me along, but rather my own curiosity and desire to see more of what the game had to offer. While I won’t give things away, the end of the game is something of a trip, but it’s a sight to behold and I wasn’t personally disappointed.

Twist

As a puzzler, we of course have to talk about the form that the puzzles of the game come in. There is such a wide variety of ways for a puzzle game to stump you and make you think. Manifold Garden’s main standby is the “block and button” puzzle, where you have to place something in a certain spot in order to make progress appear, but that’s not all that it has up its sleeve. You see, this game has the added challenge of allowing you to rotate your gravity so that the world spins and you are suddenly able to walk along the walls or the ceiling, but other objects are fixed in place with their own gravity. The puzzles then become about how all these elements can be mixed up in a variety of ways to keep you guessing.

As such, any puzzle that might have seemed simple before now can unfold in mind-bending ways that can leave you thinking for quite a while. However, the game is kind and introduces different concepts to you one at a time. There are plenty of visual cues that make it clear what the purpose of everything is as you are exploring and learning how best to navigate the world. For example, once I had figured out the ways of blocks, buttons, and walking on walls, the game let me out into an open area rather than the confined halls I had been in. There was a platform that I was clearly meant to get to clear a large gap, but I knew that I didn’t have any form of a jump button. The game gently nudged me to jump off the platform to learn the other concept of the world: dropping off one spot can land you in another identical place. Free-falling was my jump.

Fold

In fact, those repeating visuals is what gives Manifold Garden it’s biggest mind-bending flair. You’ll be able to see the place that you are in repeated both above and below you and to your side off in the distance. It’s fairly obvious that everything is a big tribute to MC Escher’s work and his contemporaries, creating these dreamy repeating worlds. They are a trip and a half to look at, let alone move through. The game is absolutely gorgeous, which you can tell even from a first look at the trailers, let alone actually playing the game. So much so that I had all the screenshots that I needed very early into my playtime and still continued to take more all the way though, even if I didn’t intend to use them. This is especially true in the few exceedingly beautiful moments where the world literally builds and changes around you, letting you see environments come into being.

The music is similarly dream-like and doesn’t get in the way too much. It’s gentle atmospheric pieces for the most part, but it’s a perfect complement to the visuals of the game without being too distracting. It’s what we would expect out of a game like this. This is one where I could see some people turning on their own music or something of the sort, but I would discourage that as it is distracting from the visuals to have any music that would call so much attention to itself.

Unbind

The way that this all comes together is excellent, but I am sad to say that there are some drawbacks. I’m someone who plays a decent amount of VR and have tried a variety of games in that medium. I have never gotten motion sick while gaming, except when playing Manifold Garden in handheld. It was to the point where I was having to take breaks from playing after just short bursts of a few puzzles. I can only guess this was because of how much closer the screen was to my face and the world rotating nature of the game.

I’m not saying that this will happen to everyone, but it was the case for me. However, if you don’t mind playing the game in shorter bursts or playing on the TV, it’s still worth it to give the game a shot. I think it says a lot about the quality of a game that I wanted to push though these issues and find other solutions despite the game sometimes making me feel ill in my usual play configuration.

Settle

Manifold Garden has won a lot of awards and it’s pretty clear why. The game is not only a visual masterpiece but also a masterclass in puzzle gaming. Even if it is a little short, it stumped me enough to stretch out the runtime in the best of ways and I am looking forward to taking another trip though after I have had enough time to forget the puzzle solutions. I’m happy to add another award to the pile with Nintendad’s highest honors!

Pros

  • Absolutely stunning visual design
  • Smooth difficulty curve
  • Stunning atmosphere

Cons

  • May make a few players motion sick in handheld

Verdict

Mind-bending and world twisting, Manifold Garden is a masterclass in Nintendo Switch puzzle games.

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