We first caught a glimpse of William Chyr’s Manifold Garden game at E3 2015, back when it was known as Willy Chyr’s Relativity. This was mostly one man’s creation, featuring puzzles where gravity could be shifted on-demand by the player, set amongst MC Escher-like structures in a world that repeats infinitely. It was almost immediately nominated for one of our “Best of” awards for the convention that year—remember conventions? Anyway, almost six years later, the game has landed on the PlayStation 5 after myriad other platforms, but does it deliver a mind-bending experience that won’t soon be forgotten? Find out in our Manifold Garden PS5 review.
Manifold Garden PS5 Review – Changed Perspectives
The layout of each level in Manifold Garden is mind-bending. MC Escher comparisons will no doubt be made, as the world exists as a white, infinite space, and the levels are orderly collections of endless staircases, squared off segments, and occasional windows that let you glimpse at the outside, repeating world. Any time you are close to and face a surface, the cursor lights up a particular color. Pressing R2 causes gravity to shift, and the surface you were looking at will become the floor as the world orients to reflect this new reality. Most of the game’s puzzles involve moving colored blocks, or plucking them out of trees (which can also respawn those blocks should you lose one into the infinite abyss or on a ledge you can no longer reach), and placing them on sensors or in enclosures to move on. These blocks have arrows which indicate which direction gravity affects them—shifting gravity to a color other than their own causes them to drop if currently elevated in relation to their reality’s gravity, and stay in place otherwise. Knowing how and when differently-colored blocks will fall depending on your manipulation of gravity is half the battle of most of these puzzles, and it’s rewarding to figure everything out on your own.
Beyond the gravity-shifting mechanics, all of Manifold Garden’s levels are infinitely repeating. Generic game elements such as health, fall damage, lives, etc. have no place here. A timed element is introduced when transitioning between levels, but only when a particular block is dropped in the wrong spot. Falling off the edge of a structure into the white abyss below simply allows the player to loop back around and reach the top of a segment that was previously above the player. It’s tough to explain, but a joy to experience once you figure out that every area of a puzzle can be reached by either shifting gravity or purposefully falling beneath it…above it…you get it.
If it sounds complicated, it is, but at the same time Manifold Garden’s puzzles unfortunately don’t get too involved. There are a total of six “levels” to explore, plus a bonus trippy ending sequence, all of which collectively took me just over five hours to complete. Just when things start to get more complicated, the adventure is over. There aren’t any true head-scratcher level puzzles to speak of, unlike say Portal 2 which had puzzles that went several layers deep in terms of using the game’s mechanics on top of one another. Then again, William Chyr Studio only had a handful of people working on Manifold Garden as opposed to the hundreds toiling away on Portal 2, so naturally things will be more limited in scope here. All I can say is that for any experienced puzzle gamer, you’ll be left wanting more by the time you’re done with the levels on offer. There are a few hidden trophies that force you to go back and complete the game in different ways, but outside of that, once you’ve solved the puzzles, there is little incentive to return other than to appreciate each level’s layouts.
Manifold Garden PS5 Review – A Beautiful Trip
All of these complicated, endlessly repeating structures run quite smoothly on the Unity Engine. The PS5 naturally has no problem keeping the frame rate at 60 in 4K, though a small bit of slowdown can be encountered when picking up a special rainbow cube once a level is complete. Loading times are just a handful of seconds when continuing a saved game, and any loading when transitioning between levels is well hidden behind a few trippy animations. The DualSense is used for vibrations at certain times, and its other features are unused. This isn’t unexpected, because Manifold Garden doesn’t feature any guns or other mechanics that might benefit from the adaptive triggers.
Manifold Garden sure took its time to reach us, but the wait has been worth it. This is a beautiful puzzle game that stretches your spatial reasoning, but not immensely so. The difficulty could have been increased, but designing and then developing these complex spaces that loop forever was no doubt a huge challenge on its own. Play Manifold Garden to engage your brain in a different method of thinking. While short, completing this puzzler will give you an immense feeling of satisfaction, and it is well worth the $19.99 asking price. Get ready to think with relativity.
Manifold Garden review code provided by the publisher. Version 1.002 reviewed on a PS5. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.