Review – What Lies in the Multiverse
The ideas of the multiverse are ones born out of curiosity and longing, mostly the former but plenty of the latter. Humanity wonders and theorizes about alternate realities because, let’s be honest, we’re not totally happy with the one we’re currently in. What if there was another world where things had gone differently? Where life was better, happier, more successful and more harmonized not just for us, but for everyone? It’s a grandiose idea, one that scientists, philosophers and simple farmers have thought about as we look at the turn of the coin, the drop of an apple, any number of minor events that could have spiraled into a nearly infinite number of possibilities. It’s a heavy, heady concept, and it’s one that I don’t think we can ever satisfactorily answer. Even Sliders, the best Jerry O’Connell base TV show about dimension hopping, could only take it so far.
With What Lies in the Multiverse, the development teams of Studio Voyager and Iguanabee attempt not to tackle the greater question of the sliding doors of reality, but to simply add a fantastic, charming foil to a puzzle platformer that’s engaging and engrossing. You star as an unknown child called simply “Kid,” who has worked out, on his circa 2000 Hewlett Packard PC, a program to simulate and ultimately access different worlds. After ending up in a monastery of sorts between realities, you are befriended by Everett, a Willy Wonka type character who first destroys your computer (you are, after all, screwing with the fabric of existence) and then begrudgingly lets you come with him as his sort of dimensional apprentice.
The two of you are out to find something, some kind of signature that shows up as an interference in the multiverse, and he’s going to show you the ropes while actively having you do everything. It doesn’t take long before you find out Everett isn’t the only one who can move between dimensions, and now the two of you must evade capture, work together with some unlikely allies, and figure out who’s behind the ever growing errors that show up in more and more worlds. You get to save reality, make friends and have some great one liners along the way, what’s not to like?
As we mentioned, What Lies in the Multiverse is predominantly a story driven puzzler that presents as you trying to get Kid from point A to point B with various obstacles in-between. Interestingly, for a game that deals with multidimensional exploration, the concepts and mechanics are exceedingly simple: you move and jump, you can push SOME blocks, and, after a few chapters, you can pick up and put down boxes that trigger machines and things like that. The Multiverse aspect of the game comes with Everett allowing you to hop between worlds for some stages, and it’s only one different world.
Despite the title, you won’t have to rifle through an infinite number of possibilities to see what would be best for the puzzle you’re currently tackling: it’s one world or another, and they’re usually the polar opposite of each other. Maybe one world is really warm and sunny, whereas the other is frozen in ice. One world is a peaceful utopia, and the other is a post-apocalyptic hellscape. This, I feel, is one of the few shortcomings from a game like What Lies in the Multiverse. There just isn’t enough variety in where you can go and what you can see. It’s just one place contrasting with another.
Having said that, the use of the dimensional hopping mechanic is a lot of fun and requires some excellent, fast-reflex maneuvering. Take, for example, the frozen dimension. The rivers you encounter will flow freely and quickly in the “normal” world, but be iced over paths in the other dimension. Therefore, you may need to get a running start on the ice, jump, switch dimensions, sail through a waterfall (that is no longer a solid ice wall) and toggle back before you land in deep waters that’ll prevent you from reaching the next platform. Everett’s assistance is tied to a shoulder button, so you need to get into good form for being able to twitch it at just the right moments to achieve success. In this aspect, What Lies in the Multiverse succeeds wildly in platform puzzling.
Additionally, the worlds are well designed, even if they are incessantly bleak at times. The idea that some pathways would grow longer in the overgrowth or otherwise be shorter due to decay make a lot of sense and give legitimacy to needing to access a different world in order to progress. The use of Ubiquitous blocks (things that have become damaged and exist in all dimensions) is fantastic and makes what could be effortless manipulation require some serious thinking in order to line them up right. Now, when I say serious thinking, I mean “take a minute and consider where they should go,” not “bust out the compass and graph paper.” This is a good head-scratcher for a game, but it’s nothing that’ll consume your days and nights. If you’re considering a game that leaves you in agony for what the solution might be, please consider other titles.
Yet it’s the charm and the heart of What Lies in the Multiverse that keeps it moving along so merrily. The pixel art compilation gives it the freedom to be both whimsical and sinister depending on the mood, and fantastic sprite work (with good avatar portraits) means that there’s plenty of expressiveness depending on the moment. Kid has moments of endearing goofiness and strong emotions, reminding me a lot of the kid from Up. Everett has a lot of aloof and coolness, but it’s clearly masking a deeper pain that came from the loss of his first partner and also his strained allegiances with his fellow dimensional travelers. You can see and feel these all as the game develops, whether you’re deep in a hidden lab, on a cross-country train or just stuck somewhere towards the end of reality.
Additionally, the game is fantastically humorous with shots of darkness throughout. This is something where What Lies in the Multiverse becomes incredibly hit or miss. The humor, where there are actual jokes, quips and funny outtakes, land solidly. There’s a hidden achievement called King Douchebag that got a good chuckle out of me given how apropos it came to be. The banter between Everett and the other members of ZENITH (the interdimensional police) is great, even though Nash can be a bit one note in his consistent anger and self-righteousness. But the darkness is something that sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t.
When you’ve moving between dimensions and you’re limited to only two locales (the good place and the bad place), it gets a bit much to see how often bad is really bad. Like, okay, the kind grandmother in one dimension is actually a Mad Max level barbarian in the other, good joke, it works. The couple happily camping together in one place has died together in the frozen wasteland in the other. Sad, but alright. Yet it just keeps happening like that. Merrily fishing here? You drowned due to rising waters there. Trying to have a good father/daughter weekend? Sorry, you resorted to cannibalism when things got rough.
The starkness feels like we’re trying to deliver a message about the “What if” nature of humanity, but it just got to be a lot. There were very few instances where things barely changed, and I think I would have liked to see more of that: the idea that, no matter what, things stay the same. The good part about the darkness, though, is that it does make you appreciate the light all the more.
Lastly, What Lies in the Multiverse has a surprising amount of exploration to it in spite of being a mostly linear and rather short game (probably seven hours total). There are several nooks and crannies to explore that give you both achievements (thanks, developers, no thanks, Nintendo) and also hidden trophies. Putting in the time and effort to end up getting a crude drawing done by a bored construction worker doesn’t sound like a good time, but it was immensely satisfying to know that I went out of my way to interact with this one NPC even though I didn’t have to. It’s what a lot of people enjoy about open world games, and that same feeling of discovery was baked into a game that, inherently, is very closed.
I can see What Lies in the Multiverse becoming a well liked puzzle game for a wider audience with just a little bit of exposure, and I hope it does. It’s got the heart, the mechanics are simple but solid, and the handling allows for enjoyment even on the Nintendo Switch. It never reaches the level of complexity that I found with Braid or Fez, but it kept the narration moving in a way that let me dive into the puzzles while still feeling satisfied and activated. There’s apparently a hidden ending, so I need to go back, check out my collection and figure out what I forgot to pick up along the way. The main ending is satisfactory and ticks off all the boxes, but I’m curious what else could be hiding beneath the surface. After all, there are so many facets to the multiverse…
Crisp, endearing pixel art keeps you locked into both the joy and the dread of these different worlds.
Plenty of puzzle complexity and solid stage design make for some single-shot wins, and some trial and error.
Having dissonant versions of the soundtrack between dimensions was clever, but it was ultimately just ambient.
It’s got heart, it’s got humor, it’s got some poignant messages without being too indulgent. It clicks without trying too hard.
Final Verdict: 8.0
What Lies in the Multiverse is available now on PC, Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.
A copy of What Lies in the Multiverse was provided by the publisher.