PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


MIND: Path to Thalamus

The game earns a trust that allows you to let go of your worries and to just let the mood wash over you, vagaries and all.

MIND: Path to Thalamus

Publisher: Carlos Coronado
Platforms: PC
URL: mindpathtothalamus.com/
Price: $12.99
Players: 1
Developer: Carlos Coronado
Release Date: 2014-08-05

MIND: Path to Thalamus has ambitions of being a deeply personal and dreamy metaphor for loss and life, but its amazing dream imagery overshadows its poor narrative.

MIND cares deeply about its story, but you won’t. The protagonist/narrator seems to know what all the symbolism means, but he doesn’t let us in on those meanings. Instead, he teases future revelations, briefly mentioning things likes “the caves” or “the ice fields” long before we ever see them, and by the time we do see them, we’ve forgotten what we were supposed to be expecting. The narration seems to exist outside the game. The voice over is omniscient, yet it’s you who’s talking. Having a protagonist narrate his own story is fine, but MIND doesn’t make this clear up front, so you’ll spend much of the early game lost and confused within the vague story.

The one upside to this vagueness is that while it contributes an overall sense of confusion, the puzzles are designed to be a life raft amid that confusion. They’re built around dream logic and that dream logic helps us make sense of the world. This may be a strange place, but it’s not an illogical place.

Exploration is central to most of the puzzles because there are key locations that act as buttons: a dome of dead trees control the fog, a circle of stones control the rain, a patch of flowers determine day and night, and more. We can’t even begin to solve a puzzle until we find these key locations, and they can be rather well hidden within some of the environments, but the brilliant level design ensures that we always stay on track as long as we simply trust the game to lead us.

The smallest of clues often mark the proper path. Footprints in the sand, the sound of music, a vague outline within the fog, these are all things so subtle that at first you might think that you’re imagining them. But you’re not. Over time MIND trains us to follow these minor visual cues, to trust that their circuitous path will take us to the one important location we need to solve a puzzle. The game earns a trust that allows you to let go of your worries and to just let the mood wash over you, vagaries and all.

Partway through the game there’s a “boss” fight. MIND is not the kind of game that should have anything even resembling a boss fight, but it works. It strikes the perfect balance between thoughtfulness and excitement. This moment is a slow puzzle of timing and spatial awareness as well as a thrilling chase, and it even evokes a surreal beauty. It represents MIND at its best.

Yet despite all these good things, MIND ends on a low note. There’s another boss fight with a more traditional structure and pacing, which is immediately disappointing, but to make matters worse you fight an enemy that yells at you and mocks everything that was good about the game. Up until this point MIND embraced the idea of subtle, surreal beauty, so this loud and obnoxious ending is the antithesis to everything that made the game compelling and immersive.

It’s particularly sad because this boss is presented as a voice of brutal truth, so when he mocks the game’s art, imagery, surrealism, and puzzle design (all the things that make it special), it feels like the game is betraying itself -- and you. All those good things ease you into a state of unquestioning acceptance, and then the final boss insults you for letting yourself be duped. It’s as if the game doesn’t understand what makes it good, and it’s a sad, sour point to end on.

It also doesn’t help that the game continually crashed as soon as I “hit” the boss for the last time. I technically beat the game three times, yet I had to watch the final cut scene on YouTube.

MIND: Path to Thalamus is at its best when it’s not trying to say anything, when it just is, when the world is just allowed to exist and you have to figure out the how of this place. Those are the moments when the art and design do the talking, and they create a better, more interesting world than the narrator does when he speaks and turns the abstract imagery into a metaphor for personal trauma. MIND wants to be a story about death and memory and obsession and how to let go of the past, but all of these themes get muddled and lost in the vague narration. You won’t care about this protagonist or his past or any of his introspective thoughts, yet the game ends highlighting these lackluster points.

It’s an ending in which it’s clear that developers and myself care about very different things. They care about the story, but it left me bored and annoyed. I adored the art and scenery, but to them it was clichéd. Thankfully we’re able to meet in the middle for 90% of the game, and a poor ending isn’t enough to ruin those good memories.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.


Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.


Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.


Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.