All regular readers of Geeky Hobbies will know that puzzle games are regularly featured here as they are probably my favorite video game genre at this point. The Portal series is arguably one of my favorites of all time. As there likely will never be another Portal game I have been on the lookout for the next great puzzle game which is one of the reasons that I have played so many different puzzle games. When I saw Manifold Garden I was really intrigued. Originally released as a Epic Store exclusive last October, last week the game made its way to consoles and will make its way to Steam in October. As soon as I saw Manifold Garden it reminded me a lot of Portal while adding in inspiration from MC Escher paintings. It is sometimes easy to get lost in Manifold Garden, but the stunning world and clever puzzles creates one of the best puzzle games that I have played since Portal.
If I were to quickly describe Manifold Garden’s gameplay I would say that it feels a lot like what you would get if you created a game out of MC Escher’s famous infinite staircases painting. Basically Manifold Garden’s world is infinite. Travel far enough in any direction and all of the elements will repeat themselves. The game uses this to create a puzzle game that feels quite similar to games like Portal. Most of the gameplay involves figuring out the path forward, activating switches, moving blocks around to activate switches, redirecting water flow, and performing other tasks to open up the path to the next puzzle.
Most of the puzzles utilize two main gameplay mechanics. The first is that with the press of a button you can change the direction of gravity. When looking at a wall you need to just press a button which turns that wall into a new floor. This is easily the most important mechanic in the game. Manipulating the gravity plays a huge role in most of the puzzles as you will rarely be able to solve a puzzle without manipulating the gravity at some point. As the blocks are connected to one side of the world in order to move them you need to have the gravity properly aligned. The game is quite clever in this regard as it assigns a color to each direction which makes it a lot easier to figure out how you need to manipulate the world.
The other major mechanic in the game plays off the fact that the world is endless. This means that if you jump off of part of the stage and fall for long enough you will eventually return to where you jumped from. This becomes a pretty big element of many puzzles. If you are stumped on what you are supposed to do you should probably consider using this gravity mechanic as it likely is the solution to your current problem.
On the surface these two mechanics seem pretty similar to other puzzle games that I have played. I have played quite a few other puzzle games that are built around manipulating gravity and twisting and turning the world around you. What really distinguishes Manifold Garden is how it uses these mechanics. The game does a fantastic job utilizing these two main mechanics along with a few others to create a truly unique experience. The number of different ways that the game finds to use these mechanics really make the game. The game builds on skills learned in previous puzzles to create even more challenging puzzles. Manifold Garden does a good job keeping things fresh where each level feels different.
The puzzles are what really make the game. The game does a great job utilizing its few mechanics to create really compelling puzzles. This is because the puzzles are designed in a way that you have to keep using the mechanics in new and interesting ways. This forces you to think outside of the box. The game’s puzzle design is really clever. For the most part I would say that Manifold Garden is moderately difficult. Some of the puzzles are kind of straightforward and easy to solve. Some of the puzzles can be pretty challenging as they require you to carefully analyze the situation and utilize the mechanics in new and unorthodox ways. The game never becomes frustrating though. It does a good job finding the right balance where it isn’t too challenging or easy. You feel a genuine sense of accomplishment when you solve the puzzles.
To this point I haven’t mentioned Manifold Garden’s story. That is mostly because the game doesn’t have much of a story. Any story that the game does have is quite abstract. While it is a little disappointing that the game doesn’t have a story, it still does a great job with the overall atmosphere. The game’s overall style takes a lot of inspiration from MC Escher. Much of the style is based around architecture and mathematical based geometry. In some ways the style might seem kind of simple, but it looks really good. There are some truly stunning parts to the game and it does a great job utilizing the repeating style. Anyone who has any interest in this style of artwork should love this element of the game.
I really liked Manifold Garden as it is a great puzzle game. The game does have a somewhat significant issue that impacts the game from time to time though. Due to how the world is designed the game actually gives you a lot of freedom of movement. In many ways this is a good thing for the game. Generally the puzzles can only be solved in one way, but this freedom of movement makes it feel like the puzzles are more open than your typical puzzle game. This creates issues where you don’t always know what you are supposed to do. With the ever repeating world it is not that hard to get lost in the game. I genuinely got lost a couple of times in the game as I didn’t know where I was supposed to go. This leads to it not always being clear what you are supposed to be doing. Most of the times I got stuck in the game were due to not being able to see what I was supposed to do next.
As for Manifold Garden’s length it is going to depend on a couple of factors. The first is how good you are at solving the puzzles. The game actually features quite a few more puzzles than I was expecting. If you struggle with the puzzles the game is obviously going to take longer than if you solve them quickly. The other factor is going to be if you encounter the issues I mentioned above. If you get lost it can add a decent amount of time to the game. Heading into Manifold Garden I was a little worried about the length as these type of puzzle games are generally kind of short. The game was longer than I expected though as I would expect it to take most people around 5-8 hours to complete. Like most puzzle games though there isn’t a lot of replay value to the game. Most if not all of the puzzles only have one solution so there really isn’t any reason to try to solve the puzzles in different ways. Therefore the only replay value you will get out of the game is replaying it from the start. I really enjoyed playing the game so I plan on doing this at some point, but it will probably be a while as I would have to forget how to solve the puzzles.
I came into Manifold Garden with pretty high expectations. I am a big fan of puzzle games and it seemed like the type of game that would be right up my alley. Despite my expectations I was still kind of impressed by the game as it exceeded my expectations. On the surface it seems similar to many other puzzle games that allow you to manipulate gravity and the environment. What makes the game shine is how it utilizes these mechanics though. Manifold Garden does a fantastic job creating really clever puzzles that find new and unique ways to utilize the mechanics. The game finds a really good balance where it is challenging and yet avoids becoming frustrating. You feel a real sense of accomplishment when you solve the puzzles. This is combined with a great atmosphere as the game does a fantastic job utilizing the MC Escher style. The only real issue I had with the game is that it is not always clear what you are supposed to do so you may occasionally get a little lost. Manifold Garden is a fantastic puzzle game though and easily one of the best that I have played in the last couple of years.
My recommendation for Manifold Garden is really simple. If you dislike puzzle games I don’t Manifold Garden will be the game for you. Otherwise I would highly recommend Manifold Garden as it is a great puzzle game that most puzzle game fans should really enjoy.
Buy Manifold Garden online: Nintendo Switch, PC (Epic Store), PlayStation 4, Xbox One
We at Geeky Hobbies would like to thank William Chyr Studio for the review copy of Manifold Garden used for this review. Other than receiving a free copy of the game to review, we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation for this review. Receiving the review copy for free had no impact on the content of this review or the final score.