The mind is a beautiful, sometimes terrifying, thing. Projecting nightmares, anxiety, flashbacks to embarrassing moments we endured in our lives. In our day to day lives, we’re often able to draw attention away from such negative thoughts and musings with the distraction and hum of daily life. But when you’re trapped in your own head, and there’s nothing between you and the darkest corners of your thoughts, it can be a hell in which there’s no escaping. Sometimes, there’s nothing but a malfunction, a delayed chemical or electrical reaction in the body, that prevents us from leaving such a place. There’s little we truly understand about such conditions. Can one even fight their way back to the surface? Or is it totally down to chance?
The protagonist of Mind: Path to the Thalamus
, only known by the name of Nick, is a prisoner in his own head. His struggle to reach the Thalamus, the part of the brain which controls consciousness, is gorgeously rendered by dreamy vistas inspired by dream art, surrealism, and the culture surrounding the formation of those movements. His internal struggle is a powerful, personal one. Threads of plot are entwined between his younger self dealing with the death of his sister Sophia, an abusive drunk of a father, and the loss of his daughter – whom, perhaps unwisely, he named after his deceased sister. His path to the sacred tree he crawls toward in a disjointed journey is riddled with visuals both symbolic and grounded in the reality of Nick’s past.
Perfectly in tune with the dreamy nature of the visuals are the puzzles, which take advantage of the mind’s ability to transform a scene and abandon conventional logic. Each element of a puzzle is controlled by placing or removing a webbed orb from an environmental cue. Dropping an orb onto a field of glowing flowers will bring about the night. Dropping one near a circle of rocks, which leak water from an impossible source, causes thunder to roar from the sky and heavy rain to pour down. Each brings some fundamental change that you will need to learn in order to solve an area. With the exception of the very first concept, which is abandoned for good pretty much right after it is introduced, every one of the powers is gradually taught to you and then added in progressively more difficult puzzles featuring other powers.
The degree of cleverness varies wildly, from being brain dead easy to requiring some serious ‘outside of the box’ thinking. I’m no Mensa, so a softer approach to the puzzle elements kept me from feeling too frustrated. Unfortunately, this means those who were looking for higher level challenges will be let down. Even the most difficult of puzzles didn’t require more than a handful of tries before the solution would present itself. Even still, it’s fun to watch the leaves change color, or a night sky, complete with rain, to completely change the mood of a beautifully constructed scene.
Some slight texture/detail pop-in marrs the otherwise gorgeous crafted scenery. For most maps, this isn’t an issue. Larger maps tend to have this effect rear its ugly head more often. It’s difficult to enjoy a wide shot of rolling hills when the texture on the hills displays its tiled texture until you’re a few feet from it. It’s only a small mark against the lush atmosphere achieved by the excellent use of color and texture to paint such striking imagery, but one that must be mentioned all the same.
If I were to have any major complaints, it would be directed towards the ever-present monologue provided by the protagonist. The entirety of the game’s story is told through musings and introspective questions. The problem here, I felt, was the lack of emotion and unnatural speech patterns used by the narrator. His inflection, and emphasis on certain words over others, sounds awkward and stilted, getting in the way of my ability to stay immersed in the game’s world. Everyone will have their opinion on how much they can tolerate the voice acting and, while a Spanish voice acting track has been promised to players since before launch, it has yet to surface in the game as of yet.
Part of the reason this review has taken so long hasn’t been because I was in a coma myself but rather due to the constant state of flux the game’s script has been in. After launch, feedback was next to unanimous that the script was very weak. The developers took this to heart and removed a lot of the game’s superfluous ramblings. Many of the sarcastic remarks made by the protagonist were also removed, as were some of the faux-philosophical quandaries. Mood and tone were pretty much instantly improved but the differences still aren’t quite enough to remedy the incredibly stale delivery by the lead voice actor. If I’m to be completely honest, I think I’d need him to be replaced as well. But again, opinions differ and it may not be such an issue for you.Mind: Path to Thalamus
straddles a line between the artistic pursuits of games such as Dear Esther
while tying its themes to puzzles that require thinking about things a different way, a la Echochrome
. It’s a game with big ideas, and a gorgeous art direction, but simply cannot carry itself under the weight of some ever-present negatives. Much like a dream, however, parts are constantly shifting around. The developers are listening to feedback and actually acting upon it. And I hope they achieve the perfect balance to make the game shine, refining the way it speaks about the delicate topics it covers. In some moments, between the bitter sorrow and the picturesque backgrounds, I had small flashes of scenes from What Dreams May Come
. That’s quite a feeling to achieve.
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