Somewhere along the development path, COMA: A Mind Adventure was renamed MIND: Path to Thalamus, and I suspect this is probably symbolic of the game’s main weakness—a bit of identity crisis tossed in with some misplaced ambition. You see, MIND is actually a rather competent and occasionally inspired first-person puzzler, but it seems to desperately want to be an introspective journey of self-realization and acceptance.
As advertised in the title (either one), the game is ostensibly meant to represent the journey through the mind of a man in a coma as he grapples with his emotional baggage in a quest to return to reality. The problem is ultimately that our protagonist’s personal demons aren’t all that complicated (or interesting) and he could likely be diagnosed in 15 minutes or less by anyone who’s had an introductory psych class at community college. To wit, when I started the game, I began taking notes on the narrative, and at the conclusion of the game, had produced a grand total of four lines, and I honestly don’t feel that I left out anything.
But despite being a bit of a drip, our unnamed protagonist thankfully has an otherwise fine imagination. Your journey to the ethereal thalamus takes you through a series of appropriately surreal mental vistas. Occasionally, the game goes for completely abstract settings (which aren’t all that interesting), but the majority of the game consists of relatively simple and otherwise pedestrian environments—beaches, forests, caves—mixed with just enough surreal detail to give them a familiar yet otherworldly feel, while resisting the temptation to veer off the rails into Dali territory. Of course, it helps that the 3D graphics are fantastically rendered, and while they don’t exactly reach the AAA-level of spit-and-polish, they’re definitely a standout feature of the game.
Music is used sparingly, limited to an occasional piano score or a dreamy / trippy tune that would probably sound at home in an indie film about a group of shiftless, twenty-somethings who take a cross-country road trip that turns into a voyage of self-discovery. Otherwise, it’s a quiet game and the only thing you’ll hear most of the time is the wind or the water or the occasional birds chirping.
Altogether, the graphics and sound design give MIND a distinct dream-like, almost meditative quality, often evoking Dear Esther vibes in me. This comparison might scare a few people away, but while game is sometimes a victim of its own deliberate pace, once you get past the drawn-out prologue, there is a proper game with proper puzzles to be found.
In many ways, this is as much an exploration game as it is a puzzle game. Each “level” consists of a defined area (a cave, a section of forest, a grass field, etc.). As with just about every other first-person puzzler, your objective is to make it to the “exit”, but the game never explains anything. Your only option is to wander about and screw with everything you find until you’ve sorted out where you’re supposed to go and how the puzzle mechanics work.
Most of the puzzles involve learning how to manipulate the environment to make your way through the area. For instance, standing (or placing an object) in a field of glowing mushrooms (or something like that) will turn day to night, which is the only time certain objects or paths are accessible. Similarly, standing in another area will move time backward or forward, causing certain objects (like a broken bridge, for instance) to repair themselves, and so on. Altogether, there are four different effects you’ll discover throughout the course of the game (although the game description says six; it’s probably a matter of interpretation).
The game gradually introduces each concept, setting up a simple scenario to let the player discover how they’re triggered and how they alter the environment, before mixing things up. Once things get rolling, solving puzzles eventually requires combining and coordinating the different environmental effects to clear a path to the exit. Although a few of them can be challenging, they’re rarely frustrating; a bit of exploration, experimentation, and patience is generally enough to solve most of the puzzles. If anything, I felt the game was pulling its punches a bit too often. There seemed a lot of potential to create some fairly intense puzzles, but there were only a few that really took advantage of all the available effects to weave complex solutions. Overall, most of the puzzles felt relatively simple, and perhaps it was part of maintaining the game’s aura, but ultimately I came away disappointed, because it felt as though just when I was warmed up for a proper challenge, the game decided that I’d had quite enough.Continued on the next page...