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Review: Mind: Path to Thalamus

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Review: Mind: Path to Thalamus

Carlos Coronado’s Mind: Path to Thalamus isn’t a subtle game. The title and in-game chapter labels reveal that you’ll be traveling through a person’s mind, specifically toward the thalamus, which essentially bridges and processes the brain’s information, leveraging this between your sleeping and waking self. The narrative doubles down on this, too, needlessly explaining with a heavy hand (and heavy intonation) that ever since a tsunami claimed the life of your beloved Sophia, you’ve been in a coma. (Note: About a week after playing, the audio was patched to remove some of the more redundant/obvious parts, and there are plans to rework it entirely in a future update.) But life isn’t subtle, and sometimes it blows you away—as does Mind, right from the very opening sequence in which a raging storm rips apart your quiet world. The following three hours (or longer, depending on your pace) are filled with similarly beautiful, trippy imagery—as well as some fiendish Portal-like puzzles that help the game rise above walking simulators like Dear Esther or Proteus. (The closest parallel is probably the similarly themed Trauma, though that’s a more simplistic point-and-click adventure.)

Because weather once shattered the protagonist’s life, the “path to thalamus” is littered with environmental triggers that alter your surroundings. Stepping into a glade of trees will shroud you in fog (making once solid barriers permeable), a patch of white lilies will turn day to night, a circle of stones brings about heavy rain, and time itself can be reversed in a few select areas to restore broken objects. Getting through each area, be they mirage-filled shores, icy caverns, or autumnal forests, requires you to master each, especially in the way synaptic orbs can be placed to maintain an effect long after you’ve moved on. (Remember that balls roll.) The difficulty maintains a perfect curve, and by the finale, you’ll have to find ways to simultaneously juggle between multiple effects.

This beauty only occasionally stands in the way of the game itself (and I don’t just mean because you’ll be hitting the “save screenshot” button so frequently). Many of the puzzle zones are overly large, and because there’s no sprint button, you’ll spend a lot of time walking from trigger to trigger, especially in the planning stages, in which it’s a chore simply to find every interactive object. (The balls, which are made from a mesh of light blue synapses, can be particularly difficult to pick out from a distance.) Coronado clearly put a lot of work into developing the game, and the scenery is a big part of that, but there’s more to transportation than the extremes of rushing and crawling. This is especially true in the few timed sections of the game, including an irritating boss encounter with a colossus (your psyche’s representation of your father, his literally elephantine feet looming overhead) who is unreasonably hard to avoid.

Still, even with a few chapter-reset-necessitating bugs scattered here and there (to be expected of a one-man project, really), there’s nothing game-breaking in Mind. Instead, there’s just an ever-surprising and scintillating series of mind-breaking visuals, from illusory architecture (in which the shadows never lie) to jagged frozen ponds, waves frozen mid-crest, and haunting hospitals that jut into the cloudy sky like an infinite middle finger. If this is what the protagonist’s world looks like, no wonder he hasn’t yet woken up from his coma.

Mind: Path to the Thalamus is now available on Steam from Carlos Coronado.