If there's one genre that never goes out of style it's the puzzler, and over the years developers have been interweaving new ideas and mechanics into games to make the conundrums continually fresh and exciting. One such game is William Chyr Studio's Manifold Garden, which lets you alter the rules of gravity and physics to gradually unfold a world that looks like it's straight out of MC Escher's brain.
We're given no introduction at the beginning, but we soon learn through a few minimal button prompts that we're able to change the focal point of gravity to whatever surface we're next to, meaning we can go up to a wall, right-click, and that will become the floor. You can't jump either, so knowing which way to manipulate gravity to get to your intended destination can be easier said than done at times.
After a few times changing the world and getting to obscure doorways, it seems as if you've got the hang of Manifold Garden, but the developer is constantly throwing new elements your way. Before long you'll encounter blocks that only fall in one direction, and you'll need to use them with blocks on other walls in order to get them onto switches, which in turn opens doors and activates contraptions.
On top of that, you also have puzzles that require you to rotate blocks and navigate balls through mazes, which is easier said than done when you need to change the gravity of the entire world to make sure the ball gets to where it needs to go.
There's a ton of variety packed in there, and there's also the caveat that you can never die. Even if you fall off a surface, there's an infinite loop in the world that means you fall back to where you were, and that applies to any direction as well. It's a nice concept that stops it from becoming too frustrating and means you don't lose all your progress when you set a foot wrong.
Without any dialogue or written story whatsoever, one might think it'd be hard to keep the momentum going with this journey, but what Manifold Garden does excellently is it continuously presents the player with astounding and neverending vistas while gradually guiding them in the right direction, be it an unlocked door or a cube that needs to go in a keyhole. Each new challenge seems so daunting at first but eventually becomes much more manageable once you realise what's required of you.
The artwork around all of these puzzles is perhaps the crowning glory of Manifold Garden. It's not constrained by logic or reality in any way, and as a result, it's constantly surprising and mesmerising, especially when interiors are bigger than exteriors and you struggle to work out how you got from where you were to where you are now. It's also incredibly colourful, but in a subdued way, much like something such as Nomada Studios' Gris.
The test of any good puzzle game is the balance between challenge and accessibility, and Manifold Garden gets this just right. The biggest danger you'll have when playing is a little motion sickness perhaps, since the world is always twisting and turning, but other than that it's all about working out what needs to be done and what steps need to be taken to achieve that, something which leaves you feeling incredibly smart when you get to the next area (and it all happens again).
There are only a few buttons and mechanics at play in Manifold Garden, but with logic-defying environments and wonderfully varied challenges, William Chyr Studio makes it a game that's easy to learn but at times hard to get your head around. It's a puzzle game that fans of the genre should certainly try their hand at, although everyone else should probably just try it to take in the view.
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