Manifold Garden is a surreal exploration of a world that doesn’t exist, with geometry that can’t exist, and yet, it redefines the way we look at puzzle games as a whole and it manages to do with expertly defined precision.
As you begin Manifold Garden, there is a fairly simple-to-understand tutorial that takes place: It teaches you that you will be flipping gravity, walking on walls, and using cubes to activate switches. Peeks out to the world beyond this area through glass windows showcase a vast, yet barren landscape of nothing but buildings with infinite sets of staircases that stretch upwards and down, as far as your eye can see. Once you escape from the indoor puzzles out into that openness, the game begins to expand — along with your mind — in how to process what is visually laid before you.
Manifold Garden thrives by delivering impossible geometry, a 4D playground that bends the mind and demonstrates a visual representation of math through art. Instead of falling to your death, you fall infinitely into a loop. What is up is also down, left is right, and every law of gaming you thought you knew is broken. Structures are accessible from all sides and while this provides a new set of complications, the game does well at showcasing goals and providing you a general direction. But sometimes, the best part of it all is just getting lost in the wonder of the madness and literally falling into the artwork.
Breaking your brain the first time is a trip, and it begins to become addictive as you venture further into the temples of intricate shapes and patterns. You begin to appreciate the freedom and exploratory nature of it all, and the mere action of solving puzzles — a more linear, interior process — gains you access to the loop, the beauty, and the bountiful wonderment of the sharp-lined world. It’s a joy that never seems to get old.
Puzzles can vary in complexity within Manifold Garden, starting with the placing of blocks to allow gravity to assist you on a different wall, and ultimately lead you to have access to a switch in a room. Eventually, you gain the ability to start leading waterfalls to stream their looping water onto aquatic switches. This part of the game, which is easily my favorite, demonstrates a physics-rendered puzzle that flows just as well as the facets of imagination in this twisted world of broken rules. You can walk on water, too, adding further disbelief to it all, and it distills into this magical feeling that you just can’t get anywhere else.
When you finish a level in the game, you are rewarded with two different spectacles. First, the area you were in compresses down into a singular point where a blossom of color and shapes explode, almost how the creation of a galaxy would be rendered if by polygons instead of stardust. This process creates a seed. Secondly, you pick up this tesseract-like seed and bring it with you into the next area on the other side, which is covered with a shroud of decay and is relatively undefined, a barren harbor awaiting a vessel. Your rainbow-colored seed can change all that, though.
Once you place the seed in its setting, a tree erupts, sprouting upwards and is accompanied by the missing pieces of the world, as they splay off in all directions. To top it all off, a flock of birds celebrates the birth of this new life, fluttering about the tree in joyous accord. It’s enough to crack open the hardest of hearts and let in a little light, and certainly is a gorgeous display that showcases how beautiful the simplest of things can become.
Manifold Garden is a wonder to behold. The puzzles may be nerve-wracking, sure, but they serve a purpose, and each one brings you closer to the finale of birthing new life within the sterile buildings and springing forth an unraveling account of color and celebration. When a game feels this good to play and experience, it feels more like an encapsulation of your personality, and that is it actually you yourself moving your mind through a digital wonderland, never knowing what is around the corner. Manifold Garden is one of the most beautiful representations of art that I have ever witnessed and is absolutely a game worth diving into, with every second showcasing the screaming definition of games as art.
Experience Manifold Garden for yourself on PC, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, or on Apple Arcade. For more information about the design and creation of the game, watch William Chyr’s GDC presentation.