• Developer: William Chyr Studio
  • Publisher: N/A
  • Platform: PS4, PC, macOS, Linux, iOS, and tvOS
  • Price: $20.00
  • Reviewed On: iPhone XR/iPad (2018) via Apple Arcade
  • Review Code Provided: No

After 7 years of development, William Chyr’s Manifold Garden has finally sprouted, and it’s obviously been very well tended to. A physics-based puzzle game, Manifold Garden aims to challenge you — but not in a frustrating “what the hell am I doing?” kind of way. It sets its crosshairs on developing a gradual difficulty curve, turning it up only one notch at a time so you never feel overwhelmed. It wants you to understand the rules of its world and for you to get creative with how you apply them in practice. Combine it’s innovative gameplay with a serene soundtrack and a rather distinct visual style, and you get Manifold Garden; a carefully crafted game from all angles.

The setting of Manifold Garden draws heavy inspiration from the works of Dutch artist M.C. Escher. Escher’s works often explores the concept of infinity, and that’s what this game is about: exploring a landscape that replicates infinitely in every direction, and it makes one hell of a first impression. When I first started the game, I found myself atop a building before too long. I took a look around my surroundings, but couldn’t quite figure out what I was supposed to do. “How big is this game?” I thought to myself. As I stared out into an abyss of nothingness filled in with infinitely repeating buildings, I thought maybe I needed to go to one of the other buildings — maybe grab something and bring it back to my starting point. Without too much of an idea of what to do, I decided to see what would happen if I just walked off of the building. So off I went, not sure what to expect.

As I was falling, I realized that below were copies of the building I had just walked off of, and it became clear that I didn’t have to go anywhere else in this vast setting — I should have everything I need on this one building. So, after about 2 minutes of free fall, I landed on the same platform I walked off, found a nearby wall, and shifted gravity around until I was able to find what I needed. This is the beauty of Manifold Garden’s level design — it doesn’t expect you to immediately know how to conquer every challenge you face, but it does expect and encourage you to try looking at said challenge from all angles, similar to a jigsaw puzzle, or a complicated math problem. If you want to make it through this game, you’ll certainly have to think both outside of the box, as well as the laws of physics.

On the surface, Manifold Garden’s gameplay seems simple. You can walk around, pick things up, put them down, and push buttons. The crux of Manifold Garden’s gameplay is the ability to manipulate gravity; rotating the game world to pull things down on whatever surface you desire. This one gameplay mechanic meshes very well with these other relatively simple actions in order to create an entertaining, interactive 3D puzzle game that will bend your mind, but never really break it. Playing this game for extended periods of time felt akin to studying, or taking a test — and that’s not a bad thing at all. Similar to both of those academic feats, Manifold Garden feels like a mental exercise. After every session I had with the game, I was able to walk away feeling as if I learned something about the game; as if I really worked for and earned whatever progress I had made in the game during my time playing, and it felt great.

The carefully crafted gameplay and level design of this unique title are aided by some just as meticulously crafted art direction and a soundtrack that sounds like something you’d either study or relax to. The absence of a heads-up-display ensures that nothing will be getting in the way of your view of the game’s beautifully designed architecture, no matter where you’re looking in the game. Certain parts of the game can be so awe-inspiring, visually, that you just have to take a moment to stop and look at your surroundings. Part of what makes these moments so special is the soundtrack, which, without lyrics, manages to communicate to the player to relax at all times. It’s soothing nature never made me feel rushed, and the way it crescendos occasionally when you discover a new area or complete a level only add to those special moments. Safe to say, Manifold Garden manages to achieve a lot on both the audible and visual fronts.

This game is available on PC, but, given that this is one of the feature titles to be featured on Apple Arcade, I decided to review it on my Apple devices, alternating between my iPhone XR, and my iPad (2018). I’m happy to say that this game runs well on both of those devices. You won’t get 60 frames-per-second, but what you will get is a stable 30 at most times. There were a few moments where the frame-rate dipped below 30 due to the amount of things happening on the screen at once, but those tended to be far and few between. I would recommend a controller as the main way to play on your Apple devices, as it allows for a level of precision when positioning objects or messing with gravity that may be a little harder to achieve with touch controls. However, the touch controls are not bad by any means; they feel comfortable and natural the whole way through, and there are few experiences as comfortable as laying in bed with your headphones on while playing this game.

However, one gripe I have with the Apple Arcade version of the game is transferring save data from one device to another. It worked without a hitch most of the time, except for one instance where save data from my iPhone had simply disappeared from the cloud when I was trying to sync it with my iPad. Fortunately, I still had that save data on my iPhone, I just wasn’t able to transfer it to my iPad at the time. I was able to do so later, but it still proved to be a bit of an inconvenience. Granted, this one was occasion, and I’m sure that this is something that can be patched in future updates, but just a forewarning to be careful when you’re importing data from one Apple device to another, and don’t fret if your save data isn’t showing up when you’re trying to import it, it’s probably still on your other device. Despite this gripe, Manifold Garden is a wonderfully abstract experience — even on mobile. 

While I was playing Manifold Garden, there were many times where I audibly said “I can’t believe this is playable on a mobile device,” and that still rings true as I write this. A wonderfully weird puzzle game, Manifold Garden will challenge your mind, and bend it in ways you didn’t think it could, but it will never break it. Even with some mild performance issues, and cloud save problems, Manifold Garden is certainly a title worth getting lost in. As part of the Apple Arcade lineup, it’s another example of what mobile games could be; and as a game, a visually striking, mechanically sound piece of art that expands our definition of what games can be.

9.5/10

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