Manifold Garden Review: An ode to the works of M.C. Escher that’s impressive, entrancing, and an absolute must-play
Played On: PlayStation 4 (Original)
With an immense amount of inspiration for creating its impressive world and intriguing gravity-based puzzle mechanics, artist and game developer William Chyr creates a mesmerizing puzzle experience that brings the world of art and gaming together with Manifold Garden.
In the game, players navigate a world filled with “impossible geometry” that allows them to manipulate gravity so they can turn walls and ceilings into floors to gain new perspectives so they can solve a unique set of puzzles. Although each area contains massive structures surrounded by an endless void, when players fall they actually end up going through an infinitely repeating loop that allows them to get to the top of a structure in seconds or even look for new paths. Players will also utilize more environment elements, like waterfalls and trees that grow colored blocks, in order to solve puzzles as they help bring color and light to a world overcome by darkness.
After looking into Chyr’s development of Manifold Garden, which took about eight years, it’s actually mind-blowing how many different mediums he was inspired by to design this game. From other video games, like Portal and Fez, being utilized as gameplay inspirations to films like Inception and Blade Runner as well as the works of architects like Frank Lloyd Wright and Tadao Ando helping Chyr create the design of the architecture, Manifold Garden is a strong ode to many different artworks, mediums, and styles. The big inspiration for the game is clearly the works of iconic artist M.C. Escher as his hypnotic and endless design of his geometric art, like his painting “Relativity,” are seen all over Manifold Garden. All of this comes together to create one of the most ambitious and visually impressive game’s I’ve ever seen.
There’s no shortage of visual marvels that Manifold Garden has to offer as players explore an endless cycle of intriguing architecture. Although some of the structures, like long staircases and towering skyscrapers, aren’t’ exactly unfamiliar, exploring them is almost like being on an otherworldly planet. There’s a loneliness to the game that’s inherently creepy yet also intriguing as these massive structures are placed in the vast openness of nothingness. However, you can feel this sense of vibrant color and life waiting to be unleashed and it adds this deep sense of satisfaction to solving puzzles and completing areas. The strong variety and design of structures also makes the traversing in Manifold Garden incredibly fresh and mind-blowing.
Frankly, there’re very few games that I’ve played that have made traversing as mesmerizing, easy to control, and that never ceased to amaze me at every turn like this game. Whether it was wall running or running across the ceiling, the gravity manipulating gameplay gives players so much power in the palm of their hands as traversing monumentous and mind-bending structures puts a new perspective on puzzle solving. Not only can players pretty much walk on any surface they can see, but the different planes of gravity can also help them interact with the environment. From putting endless streams of water in the right directions to hit water wheels and even grow more trees in the area to moving around giant Tetris blocks to create new paths, there’s no end to the ways that gravity plays a prevalent role in Manifold Garden. It’s also cool how gravity can affect water as it can freeze and create a pathway when gravity is shifted away from the way that water is flowing.
Manifold Garden is truly a spiritual successor to Portal as it contains the same kind of challenging and unique puzzles with a bit more of an artistic vision. Finding the solutions is a challenge without it becoming completely frustrating. Although there’s a lot of complexity with the visuals and navigating the environment, the puzzles and challenges are best solved when you’re not overthinking them and it’s what makes the game rewarding. The first-person perspective does get in the way at times as it makes it where players will move around Tetris blocks and it’s a task made unnecessarily hard because it’s nearly impossible to see everything because the structures are so massive and your field of vision is so narrow. Perhaps that’s the point and a part of the challenge, but it does create an unnecessary frustration that could’ve been relived with a third-person perspective or an overview mode that would give players a slightly stronger perspective. However, there is a slight solution to this that’s easily one of my favorite mechanics in the game – just falling.
Even if players mess up and gravity ends up pulling them off the map, Manifold Garden has an excellent solution to this problem as the environment and structures repeat endlessly. So, if you’re stuck at the bottom of a structure and need to get to the top, instead of climbing all the way up there you can actually just fall off the side and land at the top. It’s easily one of my favorite game mechanics of all-time as it’s not only just amazing to watch and an incredibly impressive feat, but it’s also very useful. Often times, when I was unsure where something was or where to go next, I would just keep falling as it offers an unlimited amount of time to take a step back and think things over. It’s a really relaxing tool that lets players soak in the environment and allow their minds some rest and ease. It’s both a unique way to tackle a puzzle and adds in some pleasant strategy that’s makes Manifold Garden such a strong nod to the works of Escher.
As for the story, there’s no dialogue or even characters to get to know or root for, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less entrancing or captivatingly trippy than what it’s inspired by. Bringing colors back into each area is visually hypnotic as Chyr enhances the moment with the appearance of incredible trippy imagery. As each area is completed there’s also this calmness that brings out this vibrant satisfaction and that your actions are impacting the world around you. It’s an amazing feeling and one of the strongest satisfactions in the puzzle game that I’ve ever felt. Players can also take become artists and photographers themselves as the game contains a photo mode and, besides maybe Ghost of Tsushima, I can’t think of a better game for photo mode than this. Not to mention, the ending is absolutely eye-dazzling and contains some of the most beautifully trippy imagery that feels right at home with this game.
Manifold Garden is eight years of development made completely worth it as it harnesses all of the great artworks and mediums its inspired by and all of the artistic vision that Chyr has put into this experience. It’s unique both in the gravity-based gameplay that elevates puzzle solving to new heights and imaginative architecture that would make the likes of Escher immensely proud. Those that having been craving a third entry in the Portal series NEED to give Manifold Garden a try as it’s a strong spiritual successor worth delving into while Valve still figures out how to count to three.
*All Photos Used Here Were Taken by the Author