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Community Article: Indie Insights - Manifold Garden

Written by John Edwards

Oh, what a feeling, when we're dancing on the ceiling. I don't suppose Lionel Richie has played Manifold Garden, although he may be a massive indie fan for all I know. But I expect his 1986 hit wasn't intended as a prophetic artefact, particularly as there's not much actual dancing in the game, but plenty of time spent on the ceiling.

Manifold Garden sees gravity as being a choice of six options. Any wall can become a floor, any floor can become a wall. Switch your perspective by 90° at a touch of a button and carry on as though ambling along what was just a vertical surface is perfectly normal. Fortunately, the game helps you with which way is up at any given moment by colour coding the various directions which helps with orienting yourself.

You'll come across various trees whose 'fruit' are cubes that you'll want to lug around to solve puzzles. These cubes will be colourless unless you're standing the right way up for them (handily they have arrows on them to give you a guide to which way up you should be). When you're the right way up they'll be a vivid colour and they'll plug into terminals to activate doors and such to aid your progression.

Manifold Garden plays with the reluctance of these cubes to move when you're in the wrong orientation, sometimes you'll prop one up halfway up a wall using a cube of another colour that refuses to move because you're the yellow way up. It all makes much more sense when you're doing it than when you try to explain what you've just done.

A lot of Manifold Garden is easier to demonstrate than to describe. It thrives on recursion. Most of the environments are in an abstract space and if you fall off you'll fall down to the top of the thing you just fell off. It's like that bit in The Matrix Revolutions where Neo is trying to leave the train station but running off the right-hand side of the screen just has him come back in from the left.

But it's not just infinite loops that Manifold Gardens uses to play with your mind. There are doorways where what's through them is not the same as what you see if you walk around them. There are similarities with Superliminal's optical illusions and some clever manipulation of the player's expectations. Manifold Garden's mind-bending visuals really benefit from its photo mode too, giving you a chance to appreciate the intricacies of the abstract world you're in. 

It is a remarkably forgiving game, in this world of infinite surfaces there is no fall damage, no risk for exploration. You may come across a door you want to go through but there's a chasm standing between you and it, no problem! Fling yourself off into the abyss, you'll fall past that door over and over until you finally guide your plummeting form to drop onto the ledge in front of it. Moments like this are revelatory and cement it as a classic puzzle game.

Your main aim is to place a number of 'god cubes' which expand the world and your horizons. But if you look deeper there is a wealth of secrets hidden behind the scenes. It's a game that rewards experimentation. Chances are if you find yourself thinking "I wonder what would happen if I did this instead?" you'll find the developers were a step ahead of you and you'll end up with a new shortcut.

Manifold Garden is a treat for the eyes and the brain, the gravity shifting, infinite recursion puzzling putting it safely up in the ranks of classic puzzlers like Portal. Oh what a feeling, when we're dancing on the ceiling, no wait, wall, other wall, floor.