Mandagon is a free to play platforming title just released on Steam August 3rd (three days before this post). I had a chance to play through Mandagon last night and was pleased with the experience. The product page describes the game as:
A world inspired by Tibetan theology and philosophy. With a focus on life and death, discover what it means to make a true sacrifice.
Traverse a vivid interpretation of Bardo, the Tibetan word for limbo. Learn what experiences brought you there and what forces pull you through . . .
I would say that description is an accurate summation of my experience with Mandagon. My total play time was around thirty minutes with 100% achievements earned (there are five cheevos in Mandagon).
As suggested in the description for Mandagon, the story is a journey through life and death as presented through Tibetan lore and belief. Though I am no expert on the Tibetan culture, Mandagon seemed to be true to its inspiration, and offered an honest and respectful look at said beliefs.
The story itself is presented through words of wisdom provided via totems you interact with, and later, with what seems to be Namkhai Nyingpo, although I could be mistaken as to the exact god represented. Anyhow, these wisdoms often actually give you advice on how to progress in the game, since the Mandagon and the Tibetan philosophy it espouses are often one and the same.
All that said, the story overall is one of self discovery, and as such you are encouraged to find your own meaning within Mandagon. In a sense the game is as much about you as anything else. Will this help you to find inner peace? Debatable. However, Mandagon will likely remind you of Buddhist tenets or teach you about them if you previously lacked knowledge on the topic and that might help you to find a greater understanding of self.
The gameplay in Mandagon is solid. I found zero issues in this regard. It’s essentially a simple run and jump 2-D platformer with a small open world to explore. You cant die in-game so you might as well try different jumps and such. By holding down the jump button you will actually float a little, slowing your descent and allowing you to aim your jumps better. However, it’s pretty simplistic in this regard, and nothing is really challenging.
You will interact with objects in Mandagon. Totems will offer wisdom, there are a couple of statues that will grant you a limited power of flight and there will be tablets that power “light” elevators. These are basically elevators that grant you access to or from areas you otherwise would be unable to access (or leave in a couple of instances). There are also normal pulley elevators as well. In a few areas there are windchimes and birds. As you interact with the birds they fly into the windchimes creating some pleasing sounds.
There are also houses which you may enter in Mandagon and these will contain tablets you will need in order to finish the game as well as more totems. There is also a secret area of the game (I would say spoilers here, but even a cursory glance at the Steam hub for Mandagon will reveal this fact anyway and the area doesnt really have any impact in the game other than offering more depth to the story).
I mentioned above the need for finding certain tablets to finish the games. The areas you place said tablets are also fast travel spots. As you wander the small map in Mandagon you can cut down your travel times substantially by making use of this small network of fast travel points. This was pretty well thought out in my opinion.
The graphics were nice in Mandagon. They looked a little like Saturday morning cartoon graphics (if you remember those days). The developer(s) took great care in making certain almost everything was soft toned and placid to further enhance the Buddhist aspect of this game and provide as zen an experience as possible. Although the graphics weren’t a truly noteworthy aspect of Mandagon, they were still effective in conveying this sense of gentle introspection.
As with the graphics, the audio such as it was in Mandagon serves more as a subtle means for conveying a sense of peace than anything else. Of particular note was the windchimes/birds I mentioned in the gameplay section. This was something I played around with for a little while, trying to get different tone patterns. I thought it was a nice addition to the game.
Overall, the audio was subtle but effective in leading you down the path created for Mandagon. I liked them and thought anything more would have been a distraction.
Mandagon is a surprisingly solid title well worth your time. It is free to play, well crafted by a small team who put a lot of love into their vision, and is designed to give you a greater understanding of certain aspects of Buddhism while also allowing you the ability, to a lesser extent, craft your own tale.
My final verdict is 8.3 jumps made to a greater stream of consciousness out of 10 possible.