Mandagon

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This is a bit of an awkward inclusion for this themed month, but one that I wholly enjoy and decided to keep. In this month where we celebrate Western Europe, it turned out that the Welsh inclusion was a small puzzle game about celebrating Tibetan culture. And how cool is it to see a small team of developers create a passion project, honoring a people that live on the opposite side of the globe. 

Poetic plot

The story of Mandagon is kept deliberately vague, as you start the game without any introduction and find yourself controlling a block with a face. As you ascend a tower towards a door, you are warped to a large, snowy world. Much of the story is then delivered via environmental storytelling and totems, which reveal more of the story without ever stating anything outright or clearly. Still, with a bit of effort, it isn’t too difficult to decipher what the story and gameplay are meant to symbolize.

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As the block-shaped protagonist, you explore the snowy realm in search of answers and ways to progress. You’ll find elevators which require activation of a node to progress, houses containing strange treasures, and mechanisms both scientific and magical. It’s up to you to find out what the purpose of it all is, which I admit leaves the gameplay a bit simplistic. Once it clicked with me what I had to do, the game was over in 5 minutes, but the other 30 minutes I spend on it involved a lot of careful exploration, simple platforming, and was a journey well-worth having.

Indeed, the game clocks in at about 30-40 minutes, making it quite short. While it does remain interesting throughout that short runtime, it also benefits from the simplistic yet effective platforming controls, and a good map screen to help you figure out where to go. The only time I felt frustrated with the game is when I, myself, messed up my thinking and wasted a bunch of time on a fruitless detour. 

Story & gameplay score: 8/10

I feel rested already

The world you are invited to explore is one heavily inspired by Tibetan culture and Buddhist religion, which makes this a rather spiritual game to experience. The architecture and colors here are absolutely stunning and a joy to behold. Despite the small size of the team, the world is lovely crafted and filled with details, animated components, and even a few crafty secrets.

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The background music is light and ambient, with a lot of the soundscape sounding like bells. Sometimes the music feels breezy and free, but as you proceed it also has a more ominous and foreboding side to it that I much enjoyed.

Presentation score: 8.5/10

Verdict

Mandagon is short, free, and an interesting experience, which will take you about 40 minutes and gives you something to think about. If you enjoy artsy games, then this is definitely one you don’t want to miss.

The Good:

  • An interesting story that is easy enough to understand despite its poetic nature.
  • Effective controls.
  • Figuring out the goal is the puzzle and the gameplay.
  • Beautiful areas to explore alongside ambient music.

The Bad:

  • A brief 40 minutes to complete.
  • Little replay value.

82/100

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