Mandagon: A short but captivating Tibetan adventure (Review)

After some really dark times in the Play Store, we are starting to see a big crop of games that focus on providing an unparalleled experience rather than being a platform built around microtransactions. As consumers, this means high-quality games with experiences that are enjoyable and not frustrating. As developers, this means recognition, customer loyalty, and, hopefully, more money. The latest game to embrace this philosophy is Mandagon, a platformer that does a splendid job in immersing you into a mysterious world thanks to superb visual design and audio effects.

Developer: Blind Sky Studios
Price: $1.99

Overview

Notice how there is no setup section? That’s because this game has no setup. Mandagon throws you right into the action without any kind of tutorial, introduction, or any other artifact that might slow you down.

You have a virtual joystick and the whole screen serves as your jump button. In case that’s not enough, when you get close to specific objects, such as stairs or doors, the game will show a popup on top of your character so that you can enter buildings or activate elevators. Since there is no combat or anything close to it, then there’s no other combinations to memorize.

Because of this simplistic approach, the game doesn’t show you any backstory either, which means that, from the moment the game starts, you might have questions that will go unanswered at first. Where are you? What is your purpose? What are you? There’s no dialogue, no NPCs, no narrator. You are on your own controlling what seems to be a square Pacman made of stone.

In order to tell you more about what are you doing and what is your purpose, there are totems around that will give you some very cryptic messages. However, after reading more and more of these seemingly useless snippets, you get to infer the backstory behind it. I won’t spoil it, but it’s a bit tragic.

General Impressions

Mandagon is, at its core, a platformer. As I told you before, at first you are limited to jumping from one platform to another. However, as you progress through the game, there are multiple external elements that will help you on your journey.

For example, there are a lot of wooden elevators that help you through big vertical distances. There is some kind of underwater geysers that help you reach highers distances that would be impossible with your regular jump. There’s even a weird machine that lets you “fly” through a finite distance. They are all effective in breaking the monotony that would come from jumping on your own through this mysterious world.

Your goal is to get several stone tablets and then place them in shrines. Both elements are scattered throughout the world so you will have to walk through all of it in order to fulfill your mission.

There are no enemies, nor there is a way of dying. This is not meant to be a competitive game, but a relaxing one. You are supposed to sit back, admire your surroundings, enjoy the soundtrack, and have a good time.

Unfortunately, that “good time” doesn’t last long. I’ve seen people completing the game in as little as 30 minutes. I am not that skilled, so it took me a little less than one hour and a half to see the credits. Still, that is rather short, which is a shame. The game creates this intriguing, captivating mood to then end so suddenly.

Graphics and Sound

Normally, pixel graphics and detail don’t go hand in hand, but this is not the case for Mandagon.

This is especially true for your surroundings, which have very subtle details that make them look better than what you would normally find in a regular pixel-style game. Small stuff like vines under platforms, irregularities in the roof of buildings, and very detailed portals make up for an impressive graphical experience.

Even though pixel graphics means that the GPU and processor are being less used, the game still manages to heat my mobile device a little bit more than other games I’ve played. This never became such an issue to become uncomfortable during my sessions, but it was a strange thing to experience nonetheless.

Regarding sound, Mandagon uses eerie, mysterious music so that you really get into the mood of the game. The background track is almost completely devoid of regular instruments at first, just playing to some kind of piano-meets-bell sound every couple of seconds that, frankly, sounds really eerie. Wind blows at all times to remind you of your loneliness in this world. Also, the game reacts to actions like jumping, landing into platforms, and diving into water.

As you progress through the game, the music starts to change and add more elements to it. It’s such a great thing because it coincides with the game giving you more clues about what is going on. Both the visual and music part converge to create a little less uncertainty as you move forward.

It seems like a lot of effort was put into creating a top-notch audiovisual experience, and the result has paid off. Mandagon is truly a superb work in both departments, and they make you enjoy the game more by immersing you into this mysterious world.

Conclusion

Mandagon has one goal in mind: to capture you and immerse you into this world that provides more questions than answers. It manages to create a mystic and enigmatic environment which provides hints as you roam its passages. The only problem? It is too short. You can easily complete it in one sitting, and there’s nothing to be done after it. However, the experience it provides in this small time is truly astounding and worthy of checking out if you are looking for some short but sweet entertainment.

Download and install Mandagon from the Google Play Store.