E3 2016: Tripping Through the Manifold Garden
This year's Electronic Entertainment Expo was full of amazing visuals. It makes sense given that most games shown off this year are developed on the cutting edge of console power, pushing the systems to their limits for robust, eye-catching graphics. It takes a special kind of game to stand out from the cluttered crowd, particularly at Sony's PlayStation booth, which was brimming with some of the most talked about games this year. Whether it's the amazing architecture or incredible detail on the repeating structures, there's just something special about Manifold Garden that makes it pop.
Of course, Manifold Garden's visual design is just the thing that gives you pause when wandering the floor. It's hard not to get hypnotized by William Chyr's kaleidoscoping world. The subdued color palette works to its favor, but that's doubly true on the E3 show floor where every game is bursting with vibrancy. Don't get us wrong; Manifold Garden implements color very well, but as you walk by, the diffused aesthetic draws you in and allows the outrageous world construction to shine.
Manifold Garden is a puzzle game that tasks you with shifting the perspective of the world in order to advance to the next area. As such, the stages are designed to perplex while also showcasing some remarkable architecture that just wouldn't be feasible in the real world. As you transition from plane to plane, the colors of the stage adjust accordingly. Where once you were standing on a blue floor, after shifting, that blue fades as it becomes a wall, and you now find yourself standing on a red floor. The plane of existence you find yourself on provides all the color for the world, and as you can see in gameplay and screenshots, it makes for a rather dramatic accent.
It also helps you figure out which way is down or up when you take a dramatic leap off any of the edges. What's great is you can't die, you just get stuck in something like a Mobius strip, where the world continues repeating ad nauseum until you guide yourself back to land. Wherever you land, the geography will be exactly as you left it. Even if the puzzle perhaps tasks you with finding a way to the other side of the map, you can leap back and forth between both and find that kind of consistency. It's hypnotic to watch and nearly as entrancing when it happens while you're playing. Sometimes it also helps give you a lay of the land, seeing the structures and maps from multiple perspectives.
Through and through though, Manifold Garden is about finding you way through the game's various areas, each of which has a distinct new puzzle element added. At first you just need to move colored key blocks to the right porthole, but as you get deeper into the garden, things get a bit more complex. You'll have to shift multiple perspectives at a time to move things around; you'll have to find strange trees that grow the key blocks in order to progress; you'll have to shift perspectives to create new pathways with moving, Tetris-like blocks; and eventually, you'll have to manage rivers. The water that flows follows the same rules as the rest of the world, and it's only active if you're following the correct perspective. Change your alignment, and the water freezes, creating a walkway to a new area. It's so simple but absolutely brilliant. Clever tricks like that abound in Manifold Garden, and we've only seen a mere handful of stages.
Solving the puzzles in Manifold Garden is immensely satisfying, but mostly because we know one solution opens up even more exploration. There's a lot to appreciate about all the technical details in Manifold Garden, and often while playing we just got caught up in looking around. Games with worlds this clear and memorable don't come around often. What makes us hungry for more is knowing just how little of this sprawling puzzle game we've seen. Dozens of similarly styled areas await in the final version, and with no wrong way to find a solution, we sure to get lost along the way. But that's okay. When something looks as good as Manifold Garden does, you don't mind a few extra minutes of wandering around.
Manifold Garden is due out on the PlayStation 4 and PC in late 2016.