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‘Manifold Garden’ Review: An Utterly Gorgeous Brain-Buster

If you only play one puzzle game this year, seriously, make it this one.

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Developer: William Chyr Studio | Publisher: William Chyr Studio | Genre: Puzzle| Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, Mac, Mobile | Reviewed on: PlayStation 4

Creating a compelling game in the puzzle genre has to be one of the greatest challenges in game development. You have to come up with a solid set of mechanics, an intuitive system that others will understand and something that makes your game different from others in the genre. The delicate balance that makes for a great puzzle game is demonstrated with effortless ease in Manifold Garden.

The beautiful mind-melter from William Chyr Studio, Manifold Garden challenges players to free their minds from the conventional realities of gravity, physics and finite resources. An elaborate world of impossible shapes and improbable designs is yours to explore as you bend your brain around an infinite landscape of increasingly challenging puzzles.

Utilizing a mechanic which allows the player to rotate rooms, and change gravity with each rotation, Manifold Garden is a lot to take in at first. The sheer power of having access to such a massive shifting mechanic from the jump can make the game a little daunting at first, especially since there are no breaks in the world to close you off from the rest of the “garden”.

This can make Manifold Garden feel a bit intimidating, as players are first getting used to the game and how it works. Soon enough, though, you’ll be reworking your brain and how it processes reality in order to make some headway through the game. The initial learning curve can be a bit much (almost nothing is explained and the player is left to intuit much on their own) but once you’ve figured out how things work, you’ll be flipping switches, opening doors, and falling hundreds of miles through the infinite world to accomplish many fantastic feats.

Manifold Garden is one of the best puzzle games of this generation.

Naturally, the game expands out from there, introducing new mechanics, power sources and rotating structures for the player to figure out and master along the way. Each area is coded to a specific color and generally introduces something new that you haven’t encountered yet such as portals, magic mirrors and transcendent flowing liquids that alter how you can traverse the landscape and solve its many puzzles.

This gradual Rubik’s cube unfolding of the world is one of Manifold Garden‘s greatest strengths. While learning the nuances of each new mechanic and strategy can be a serious challenge, the game staggers them out to the point where you’ve always got a solid grasp on the previous ones when a new addition is trotted out.

It’s truly exceptional, and it doesn’t stop with the level design or puzzles either. The look of Manifold Garden is totally awe-inspiring. Designed and directed by artist William Chyr, the endless, labyrinthine “garden” of this world utterly pops via a brilliant color palette and a gorgeous art style. You will be sighing and gasping over and over as the game takes you from one improbable room to another.

This is probably Manifold Garden‘s biggest and best trump card. Since players will be routinely stopped in their tracks by a problem that they can’t immediately solve, the fact that the game looks so wonderful and inspires such wonder will make players want to stick around and figure it out, no matter how long it takes.

Of course, it’s worth emphasizing that this is indeed a difficult game to finish. For purposes of this review I had to refer to a video walkthrough on YouTube several times to figure out some of the tougher puzzles. Still, Manifold Garden is absolutely worth powering through, even when it becomes frustrating, just for the sheer joy and wonder of seeing what’s around the next corner.

One of the best puzzle games of this generation, Manifold Garden can stand proudly among puzzling greats like Portal 2, The Witness and Thomas Was Alone. If you only play one puzzle game this year, seriously, make it this one.

Mike Worby is a human who spends way too much of his free time playing, writing and podcasting about pop culture. Through some miracle he's still able to function in society as if he were a regular person, and if there's hope for him, there's hope for everyone.

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