Manifold Garden has been described as a 3D puzzle game, but everyone who says that is wrong, because it is actually a horror game. Oh, it might be in disguise as a puzzle game. It has special doors and pressure pads, and you manoeuvre the right coloured blocks onto the right coloured things by walking up walls and changing the gravity and what have you. But it is a horror game nonetheless.
Manifold Garden frightens me in a similar way to Fugue In Void. You, alone, run around weird architecture, accompanied only by the slapping of your feet. The eponymous gardens you’re running through are strange M.C. Escher temples, which repeat forever and forever and forever. When you look up into the sky you see the building you’re on above you. And to the left, and to the right, and below. You can hurl yourself off a ledge and land right back where you were standing. This isn’t always the case, though. There were a few times that I was stymied because I assumed I was running down identical staircases, and doubled back on myself to find the puzzle that would free me, only to eventually discover that I was just… supposed to walk downstairs.
The two key themes for Manifold Garden are perspective and colour. Simple themes, done well. You can walk up to any wall that intersects with the surface you’re standing on, and decide to walk up it. Think of it as being able to change which direction the floor is in, at will. This is quite fiddly (you can do it on tiny surfaces, like steps, and it’s annoying if you ever do it accidentally) and quite disorientating.
There are also different coloured pads or keys that need you to plop correspondingly coloured blocks on them. These blocks have their own gravity, indicated by an arrow, which you can’t change, and you can only interact with them if you’re on the same plane as them. You can’t reach up and pick up a blue block above your head, for example, because its floor is your cieling. Getting the blocks to where you need them to be requires a lot of thinking and experimentation.
Say you need the yellow block to stay on a pressure plate, but the plate is on a wall sideways to the block’s gravity. You might notice there are some red blocks you can stack to keep the yellow one in place. But even this, a simple puzzle compared to later ones, will require you to 2001-A-Space-Odyssey your way up one wall and down the other side again, placing the red cubes before the yellow one and making sure you don’t accidentally end up on a green wall and balls the whole thing up.
As is the way with puzzle games, more elements are skillfully introduced. The coloured blocks are, it turns out, sort of geometric fruits that grow from big blocky trees. There are fountains that sploosh little rivers out, and you can use the water to grow new trees! I really enjoyed this the first time it happened. There’s a bit where you can also divert the water over paddlewheels to make a door open. But to reach the door, you have to strategically fall off the building from a different angle.
The goal for each area is to release a kind of nega-block, clearing some vague black corruption blobs by doing so, and gaining access to a god cube of one of the primary colours. The god block creates a peaceful little garden with a flock of weird angular birds flying around it. These gardens were the only time I felt a sense of rest in the game. I thought “At least here I wouldn’t starve to death, because there are waterfalls and I could probably catch some birds if I tried.” I imagine this was not exactly the thought process intended for the player.
Like, don’t get me wrong, Manifold Garden is beautiful. It’s also one of a few ‘you’re on the wall now lol’ games that makes me marvel at the skill they must require to design. Making a puzzle that needs you to think in a lot of different dimensions must require the ability to think in even more dimensions to dream up. Still, the challenges so start to get a bit rote after a while, with perhaps too much time left in between new things being introduced.
But most of all, Manifold Garden makes me break out in a cold sweat. I cannot help but imagine myself, trapped in an endless kaleidoscope. Running through corridor after identical corridor. Walking out of a room and finding myself on a pyramid of steps without end. Just running around the same strange building, and only seeing more of that building. Forever. I cannot imagine a worse horror. Argh.
Good puzzles, though.