STAFF REVIEW of What Lies in The Multiverse (Xbox One)

Thursday, March 17, 2022.
by Adam Dileva

What Lies in The Multiverse Box art What lies in the multiverse? What is a multiverse? Well, if you’ve been watching the latest Marvel movies, you’ll know that this is quite a hot ‘thing’ right now. Maybe you know them as parallel/alternate universes or dimensions, but the core idea is that there’s an infinite amount of these universes where anything in our world that could happen, would, each playing out in a different way. What if you chose one option in life instead of another, that would be a completely different timeline, and things get messy when you start to deal with multiverses, as reality could shatter if they intersected or crossed over somehow.

What Lies in the Multiverse, by indie developer Studio Voyager, plays off this concept in a lighthearted way, telling a surprisingly interesting story and using 2D platforming and puzzle solving as its core gameplay elements. I’m all for stylish pixel based 2D platformers, which would have been a decent game in itself, but developers Studio Voyager and IguanaBee have crafted a puzzle game that has a narrative and characters that I actually cared about and wanted to spend more time with. Also, just because the cartoonish and bright colorful pixel art may have you assume What Lies in the Multiverse is meant for younger audiences, there’s some subtle dark themes present within.

You play as the Kid, an unnamed child that is tinkering with his computer, trying to simulate parallel universes. Of course something goes wrong and the kid’s world starts to glitch. Transported to some sterile lab he then glitches out and ends up in a lush green world, unaware of where this actually is. You meet an eccentric man named Everett, easily distinguishable due to his overly sized purple hat that looks like a mix of Jamiroquai and Cat in the Hat’s... uhh... hat.

Everett’s personality comes through in the written dialogue instantly, quickly showing the humor that is laced throughout the kid’s adventure. From hilarious one liners to smart banter, you can expect great dialogue and writing all the way until the credits roll. It seems the kid instantly accepts what Everett has to say and why he must help find his partner, Ez, though you’re never sure what Everett’s true intentions really are until much later.

Everett has a cane with a skull on it called The Voyager, the gadget he uses to warp within this new world seemingly from one dimension to the next. As you search for Ez and help Everett along the way, you’ll gain power from The Voyager, able to shift yourself between worlds, but doing so will have a different effect depending on which area you’re in. It seems people are after Everett though, a group of people called ZENITH. Why are they chasing him within the multiverse? What does Ez have to do with it? Why does the kid keep getting zapped? Why does someone get ran over by a pickup truck? These questions become answered eventually with a story that constantly shifts between humorous and serious tones, yet never feeling out of place. With a runtime of roughly six or so hours, I don’t want to spoil much more of the narrative as it’s easily What Lies in the Multiverse’s greatest aspect.

If you’re a fan of iconic platform puzzlers like Fez or Braid, you’ll feel right at home with What Lies in the Multiverse. Its core mechanic has you able to swap between two worlds to maneuver across a world to reach the goal. Of course with the multiverse concept, this plays out in really unique and interesting ways. Some levels will have you swapping gravity, others will put you in the ‘past’ or ‘present’ which has their own barriers that you’ll need to navigate both to get through. Each of these worlds have different ‘rules’ when it comes to the multiverse, but you’re given the tools to learn the concepts each time they are added before becoming more challenging in the later half.

As a puzzler game only, there’s not all that much challenge here. Sure there were a few sections that had my scratching my head for a while with trial and error, but I eventually solved the puzzle and felt smart after coming up with the solution. This is the multiverse though, so you can expect the unexpected. Each level has its own biome and tone, making for some variety as you progress in your quest to find Ez with Everett.

Can’t reach a ledge? You probably need to move a box to get on top of it to jump and reach. No box to be seen? I bet if you went into the other universe there probably would be one. This is where swapping between worlds comes into play and affects one another. Switching between worlds can be where the dark side of its story starts to show itself in subtle ways. For example, maybe in the present you’re walking within a town and see some kids playing. When you switch universes all you see is a pile of bones from two individuals. The same goes for a dog or cat you pet, where swapping over shows a corpse that’s been there for quite some time. It’s dark but in a subtle way without spelling it out or directly saying anything, so there’s lots to see and admire if you pay attention.

Now and then you might see objects or blocks that seem to be glitching, seemingly stuck between both worlds. This is where some of the more unique puzzles start to appear, as you’re going to have to figure out how moving it in one world affects it in the other. Another world will have the present world full of thick bushes that can’t be bypassed, but swapping to the other multiverse has vines appear that can be climbed but also has poisonous air, so you’re only able to stay within it for a few seconds at a time. One level has you able to invert gravity back and forth, also changing how blocks and objects are affected in the world, adding another level of complexity for the puzzles. Be curious and you may find secret paths and hidden collectables, giving you some background information and lore about the world and its people.

As you get further in the story, it seems that Everett and the kid’s jumping between worlds is causing multidimensional rifts to appear. These cause certain areas to prevent you from swapping between worlds, which is a whole other puzzle mechanic in itself. Certain glitched areas may appear, and going through these is how you change from one dimension to the next. These puzzles were the most unique and challenging, roughly halfway through the game, causing me to sit and think for some time of the best way to proceed. There are even a few levels where you’re unable to use The Voyager to swap worlds on the fly, for narrative reasons, and these levels become more about platforming and basic puzzle solving instead. I thought these levels might fall flat considering it isn’t even using the main draw of multidimensional gameplay, but they held up on their own quite well.

Even though its 2D pixel based, there’s a good amount of fine detail, not only in the artwork, but animations as well. There’s a surprising amount of body language and tone you can get from simply looking at the characters movements and reactions, usually playing into the humor aspect. With eight different chapters, you can expect a handful of different backgrounds and environments to explore, all unique from one another in color pallet and tone. Even the audio is done quite well, as swapping between worlds also changes the background music to meet the feeling of that world as well. There’s no voiceover sadly for the dialogue, but the sound effects for jumping and platform movements are what you’d expect for a retro looking game like this.

If I’m being honest, I was completely expecting another run of the mill 2D platformer before playing. Even within its opening moments, I found myself smiling from its humorous dialogue and I loved every moment I got to see the kid and Everett chat and interact. By the time the credits rolled, I was fully invested with its characters and wish there was more story to unfold. Lasting just the right length, I came away more than impressed with a completely satisfying platform puzzler full of laughs that also had a worthwhile narrative.

**What Lies in the Multiverse was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 8.7 / 10
Gameplay: 9.0 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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