Review: Manifold Garden (PS4)

Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4
  • PC/Mac

Platform/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4 Pro
  • 4K HDR

Extras:

  • DualShock 4 Required (1)
  • Move None
Title: Manifold Garden
Format: PSN (4.60 GB)
Release Date: August 18, 2020
Publisher: William Chyr Studio
Developer: William Chyr Studio
Original MSRP: $19.99 (USD), Deluxe Edition $29.99 (USD)
ESRB Rating: E
A code for the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Note from the Reviewer: Manifold Garden is a first-person puzzle game from American artist and game designer William Chyr. Originally released for PC and Apple Arcade in October 2019, it has now made its way to PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. Having never played a previous version of the game myself, this is both my initial impression of Manifold Garden and of its PS4 version.

Gameplay:
Dropping Manifold Garden into a neat little box labeled “first-person puzzle game” may accurately describe it in a general sense, but that is actually a disservice to everything the game offers. It is a fully explorable and interactive M.C. Escher-esque art exhibit. It is a technical showpiece that represents the bright side of creativity and video game design joining forces. It is a fresh perspective on its genre, providing “wow” moments throughout its duration.

Perspective is key in Manifold Garden. The first brain-breaking gameplay mechanic that you are introduced to is that you can walk up to any surface and tap a button to rotate the entire game world (or at least your perspective of it), resetting that surface as the one that is under your feet. You may come to what seems like a dead end, only to look up and realize you need to rotate everything by 90 degrees to move ahead. The initial experience is jarring and awesome, opening up a new way of thinking about navigation in a game.

The next shock to your system takes place once you step outside of the initial enclosed area and notice that the massive structure you just emerged from is repeated indefinitely in all directions. The game’s ingenious level design urges you to take a leap of faith from the edge of the huge tower. That is when you discover that you can fall past infinite iterations of the same playable area. It is mind-blowing to freefall through a never-ending pattern of traversable areas. Only a short way into the game it becomes obvious that the journey you are embarking on will be one-of-a-kind.


There are switches and keys, in the form of brightly-colored blocks that grow from surreal trees, that must be used to activate doorways and progress further in the game. Keys are color-coordinated with their locks and they also experience the force of gravity in the direction of the arrow, or sometimes arrows, displayed on their sides. If you are holding a red block and place it on the ground, then rotate the map 180 degrees vertically, that red block will remain anchored to what is now the ceiling as you plummet to the ground below.

Puzzles require you to think creatively about how to pass the blocks through the level to their destination. The abilities to rotate the game world and jump between instances of a level are required in thoughtful, challenging ways throughout the course of the game. Other mechanics are introduced, such as water that flows indefinitely in one direction until you divert it with a key, or the ability to transform a key from one color, and its associated gravity force, to another.


Progressing through a stage represents a significant challenge. Most of the time it is extremely rewarding to complete a task. There are a few instances, though, when it seems like mindless trial and error can be just as successful as careful planning. This lack of deliberation can cheapen the impact of progression.

The gameplay mechanics that are introduced as you progress are only partly successful in elevating the stakes at a consistent pace. The game is also devoid of a concrete narrative. This does allow the player to arrive at their own interpretation of the game, but removes a mechanism for providing motivation. The basic gameplay is unique enough and the game is short enough (about a four or five-hour experience, depending on your proficiency with the puzzles and tendency towards exploration) that it is fun from beginning to end. However, the lack of narrative or gameplay escalation holds Manifold Garden back from being a top-tier puzzle game.

Visuals:
The visual presentation of Manifold Garden is incredibly unique and endlessly dramatic. At any given moment you can put the controller down and be in awe of what is displayed on the screen. It truly does feel like stepping into a painting and exploring it from all directions. Since virtually any surface can be traversed, each world is carefully crafted with sharp, geometric shapes. They are intricately woven together to form patterns that play tricks on your mind at every turn. As mentioned before, rotation and vertical exploration are required to gain the correct perspective of the world spread out before you.

It is not often that a game’s scale can accurately be described as infinite, but that is the case with Manifold Garden. Appreciating the beauty of each level as you fall into an infinite loop is an experience almost never afforded by other visually impressive games. Fortunately there is a photo mode that you can utilize to further soak in the game’s visuals. There is an impressive suite of editing tools at your disposal. One filter even provides the ability to view your current location from an isometric perspective.


Bold colors serve as thematic elements throughout the game. They also provide visual cues to assist in solving puzzles. Whenever you rotate the world, the floor will change colors to match that of its corresponding key blocks. This can help you keep track of where you need to go next during otherwise confusing sequences of repeatedly rotating a level.

Audio:
The music and sounds of Manifold Garden contribute to its overall meditative atmosphere. Most of the time, the synthesized music is very subtle. It slowly meanders along as you work your way through a level. However, as you approach crucial steps in a puzzle or move from one area to the next, the music swells dramatically. This gives the player affirmation that they are on the right path and adds a sense of importance to major milestones.

There are relatively few sound effects in the game, but they are pleasant and make the game feel grounded within its own alternate reality. As you dive off the edge of a platform, there is a crescendoing WHOOSH to make freefall feel faster. Locking a key into place triggers a series of satisfying, futuristic sounds that culminate in the KER-CHUNK of an opening door.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is single-player only, with no online component.

Conclusion:
Manifold Garden is a bold and distinctive experience within the landscape of first-person puzzle games. While it lacks in pacing and evolution of mechanics, its core gameplay is staggering. It is a work of art that also happens to be a great puzzle game.

Score:

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

Written by Brock Arnett

Gamer since the NES days, Boilermaker, Colts and Pacers fan. I can’t wait until my two boys are old enough to play games with me.

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