Have you ever had your mind blown by a puzzle game? Perhaps you’ve sat there in awe at the simplistic beauty of an artistic game? Or maybe found yourself confused and stuck because a game contains many challenging solutions that require you to sit back and think outside of the box? Well, today’s review is for a game that does all three, the visually stunning Manifold Garden which just received its native PS5 upgrade, nine months after the initial PS4 launch last year.
Manifold Garden was both developed and self-published by William Chyr Studio, after being in development for over eight years. It seems to be their first commercial release, launching on all platforms in 2019 and 2020, including PC, PlayStation, Xbox and Switch. The developer and designer, William Chyr, is both a game developer and an artist, implementing his love and skills as both into the game in order to create one of the most minimalistic, artistic, and beautiful puzzle games I’ve ever seen.
After playing the game for many hours, scratching my head and talking to myself when I became confused and unsure of what to do next, it’s time to tell you just how brilliant Manifold Garden is and how every single person who loves puzzles should be playing it right now…
Forget what you know about physics, relativity, and gravity, Manifold Garden rewrites them all with its very clever and thought-provoking puzzles. There doesn’t appear to be a story, you’re simply a faceless being that is trying to escape this strange and wonderful world by solving a collection of increasingly difficult situations based around a single concept – coloured blocks. However, the game never feels repetitive or stale as new mechanics are introduced which takes the single concept and delivers new and interesting ways to find the solutions.
Have you ever played Portal? A game in which you have to travel through portals and use cubes to push switches, block lasers, and weigh-down platforms? Manifold Garden reminded me of this classic game, only instead of trying to escape a test chamber with a bunch of cubes that supposedly contain the rotting remains of the previous test subjects, you’re plucking colourful cubes from trees and using their unique gravitational attributes to unlock doors, activate switches, and invert the world.
I’ve not yet fully completed the game, but I’ve solved a decent chunk of the game. I would have found myself reaching for my phone and following online guides for some of the more cryptic solutions, but instead, the developer has utilised the PS Plus help system on the PS5 (which I’ll talk about later). This isn’t a simple re-launch with a higher resolution, multiple PS5 features have been used to enhance the experience and immerse you within the lonely, isolated, magical world of Manifold Garden…
Manifold Garden is essentially one big puzzle game, there’s no narrative, no enemies, no hazards, and no death, it’s all about solving puzzles and having your mind blown by the way the world works. Initially, you’ll discover that solving puzzles involves picking up colourful cubes and placing them in their designated sockets, unlocking doors so you can proceed. You’ll also learn that pushing R2 when facing a wall shifts the gravitation force to that orientation, allowing you to freely walk on the walls and ceiling as if that’s actually the floor.
Then things start to get tricky. The coloured blocks have arrows on them, showing their instinctive gravitational pull – if you’re not moving on a floor whose gravity is in the same orientation, you can’t lift or move that block. Similarly, the block becomes frozen in time, even if it’s hovering off the ground – like in Minecraft when you destroy the lower parts of something yet blocks remain hovering in the air, as if by magic. This allows you to lock blocks in place to use as shelves for other colours or so doorways remain open without the block simply sliding once you attach your feet to the wall like Spider-Man.
Later levels, ones I’ve seen, also include facilities to change the colour of the blocks you’re holding, blocks with two colours that move in multiple gravitations positions, and there’s even a massive sliding puzzle in the air with Tetris-like pieces that move as you change the gravity. Every puzzle is the same yet different, requiring you to rethink what you need to do and sometimes explore the surrounding area for alternative solutions. The blocks aren’t only there to be pretty either, levels with water allow you to direct the stream with the indents within the blocks, pushing the water in new directions and even freezing it when you alter the gravity, so you can walk on it like Jesus.
I could write an essay on how beautiful and mesmerising the world of Manifold Garden is, but I’ll try to keep it under 3,000 words… The visuals are very simplistic in nature, with texture-less assets being used, similar to The Falcolneer. However, the colours and shading used upon these flat surfaces make the entire game come alive, it’s an orgasm for your eyes. Each of the six orientations has its own colour assigned to it, not only for the cubes but as a subtle glow under your invisible feet to show which gravitational force you’re currently utilising. The entire game looks and feels like you’re within a painting, a piece of modern art that is awaiting the colourful explosions you unleash as you complete a stage.
However, this isn’t the most interesting thing about this strange new world…
In Manifold Garden, the world is infinite. I don’t mean that the developer has created a massive universe with new puzzles and discoveries around every corner – no, I mean the world is literally infinite. If you jump off a building to see what lies below, you’ll notice something strange, you’ll see the same structures repeat over and over. If you land on them and investigate, you’ll realise that the game isn’t repeating a similar environment, you’re literally falling down and coming out at the top of the same area, resulting in an infinite drop. This is used as a means to cross gaps and reach new areas as you can’t die, you simply fall and manoeuvre yourself so you land on the other side of the same area. It’s awesome.
The use of this unique and fun mechanic is imperative to solving puzzles and progressing. The game also has areas where a single structure will be replicated not only above and below in this physics-defying environment, but also to the left, right, and above in a diamond-like gravitational set up, requiring you to shift the gravity so you can explore all four versions. These, unlike the infinite drops, are usually filled with their own puzzles and rooms, they just have the same outside visuals to match the beautiful symmetrical layout of the game.
If I had a say, in terms of video games releasing these days, I’d demand all games had a photo mode of some kind – it allows people to capture the game at its best and proudly show them off to everyone on social media (as long as Sony doesn’t think you’re swearing…). Some games have a basic set of options, some have a nice robust variety of settings, and Manifold Garden has something I’ve never seen before – a random photo mode. The mode itself has a bunch of different settings such as different filters, the ability to view in first-person or as a blueprint-like side-on view, the colour of the lines and background, and other aspects you don’t usually see in the mode.
But, the biggest flex of the mode within this game is the R2 ‘random’ option. Simply find a view that looks nice and hit Options, go into the photo mode and disable the UI. Now, each time you push R2 it instantly randomises all of the photo mode settings – as we see in games with a character creation mode – allowing you to casually browse an infinite number of images that are all based on the same view, yet every one of them looks very different from one another. I’ve posted a few images above, they are all the same scene yet the settings have been randomised by pushing R2.
One of the settings you can manually change allows you to zoom out and see the replicated buildings above, below, and to the side of the one you were standing on. It’s mind-boggling to think that they’re not actually there, as it’s simply one structure that is replicated infinitely in all directions. It’s crazy how smooth and seamless the world is.
I mentioned above that Manifold Garden isn’t simply an increased framerate and/or resolution version of the PS4 game. Let’s see why…
First of all, yes, the game does have an increased resolution, now hitting a native 2160p (4K) at 60fps on the PS5. I haven’t noticed any drops or issues, not even when I’m falling and looking at the buildings as I go. I believe the PS4 version may have been 1080p (even on the Pro), but I’m not sure, I do know that the framerate was 60 on all platforms other than the Switch, which is 30fps. But, there are a few new features that a lot of games haven’t fully embraced yet.
Haptic Feedback – there’s no Adaptive Trigger support, but the game fully supports haptics (not just a rumble). As you open the doors, you’ll feel the gritty stone rub against the doorway as they open, providing a deeper impact the closer you are to the doorway as it lifts. You really do feel every cube you drop, the doorway you open, and impact as you land after a long fall.
Activity Cards – as you play through the game, there is a single Card that updates as you progress. This card tells you what part of the chapter you’re up to and offers a quicker way to start the game from a cold boot. If you ‘resume’ via this method, the game takes around 7-9 seconds to boot, load your save, and get you back into the game. This is one of the few games that skip all title cards automatically and loads without any input from you – some developers haven’t utilised the fact the cards allow for a speedy boot – Manifold Garden does.
Hints – within the Activity Card, there’s a full video walkthrough for every single puzzle within the game (if you’re a PS Plus subscriber). If you get stuck, press the PS button, click on the card, pick which part of the puzzle you’re up to and then play it for the solution. You can even pin this video guide on the side of the screen, so you can watch it as you play the game, or simply watch then close it. Again, only a handful of games have used this feature so far so I’m delighted to see an indie developer make full use of it.
Loading times – As stated above, loading via the cards is around 7-9 seconds from cold boot. However, if you’re loading the game from the main menu, it’s around five seconds. It’s a little longer from a cold boot as it has to load the game, then load your save. However, once the game is loaded, there is no loading screens at all – there are some colourful interludes as you complete a chapter, so the game could be loading behind them, but there are no obvious loading screens.
Manifold Garden ran perfectly on the PlayStation 5 – I did have one crash last night but my console has crashed in every game this week so I’m putting that down to an issue with me and not the game itself. The framerate never seemed to dip or drop, the visuals are amazingly crisp and clear on my 4K TV, and the audio is a treat for your ears.
Speaking of, the music is very relaxing and calm, with a shift in tone once you pick up the inverted cubes that make the game turn into ‘night mode’ when you’re looking for the final placement to generate a new world (the next chapter). If you pick up the digital deluxe edition of the game on the PS4 (remember, it has a free upgrade to the PS5 version), then you get the soundtrack and a PS4 dynamic theme as well. We were kindly provided with the deluxe edition which included the 27-track digital soundtrack.
In terms of the soundtrack, if you’ve not had one on PSN before, you need a USB thumbstick or drive with a folder named ‘MUSIC’ on it. Then, you load up the soundtrack and it’ll place the 27 separate MP3 files into a new ‘Manifold Garden‘ directory. You can now move these to your PC to play or place on your audio device, or simply play them through the PS4/5’s media player.
There was one thing that I wish the developer would have utilised – the light bar. Sure, most developers have scrapped using it on the controller since they moved to the PS5, but this game is colour-coordinated, having you use different coloured blocks and change the orientation of gravity by shifting it to the walls that are also based on colours. As such, having the bar glow the same colour as the orientation you’re currently set to would have been a nice touch. It’s not a negative, but I have noticed a number of devs simply disable the light when they move their game over to the PS5, which is a shame.
40 minutes of gameplay in full 4K/60 on the PS5:
Manifold Garden is a puzzle game that’ll blow your mind, challenge you, and please both your eyes and ears. Despite looking very simplistic in still images, the game is stunning with its perfect use of subtle colours and non-textured design, delivering a unique-looking experience that will stick with you for a long time. The infinite nature of the game will leave you in awe as you fall into the never-ending depths, forcing you to think outside of the box in order to discover the solutions to the many, many increasingly difficult and tricky puzzles. If you consider video games to be art, Manifold Garden is a masterpiece.
If you like puzzle games and are looking for something fun and unique to play, consider picking Manifold Garden up today. On PlayStation, you get both the PS4 and PS5 versions in one purchase, with two trophy lists and all the enhanced PS5 features I mentioned above. On Xbox, you get the Xbox One and enhanced Xbox Series edition in one sale, as well. You can also pick it up on the Nintendo Switch, PC and even itch.io and Apple Arcade!
I know some of our readers prefer physical items over digital purchases. If that’s you, you’re in luck! iam8bit is selling a physical edition of Manifold Garden on the PS5 and Nintendo Switch. These both come with the game, reversible cover art and a pop-up art piece. They are also selling the soundtrack on a double LP! If you want to check these out, click HERE
However, if you want a standard edition of the game on either the PS4 or the Nintendo Switch (the PS4 should upgrade to the PS5 version), then Playasia have two physical Japanese releases which are published by Playism. They can be purchased here: PS4 | Switch
- - Beautiful visual design and atmosphere
- - Very relaxing soundtrack
- - Creative puzzles which make you think
- - Fully utilises the haptics, Activity Cards, and Hint system
- - The random photo mode option gives some incredible pictures
- - It doesn't utilise the light bar, for some reason
- - It's a shame it isn't in VR
- - The above don't impact the score I gave it, I just couldn't think of any negatives!