The Gardens Between Review
The Gardens Between Review
by Dylan Blight (PS4)
The Gardens Between is a surreal puzzle adventure that follows best friends, Arina and Frendt, as they fall into a mysterious world of beautiful garden islands. Manipulate time to solve puzzles and discover the secrets of each island.
Some things in life we don’t have control over, like time for example, and as much as you may wish you could manipulate things and go back to relive moments of your childhood days spent with your best friend, you can't. In The Gardens Between, however, you’re given the ability to relieve memories of VHS players, late night gaming sessions on CRT TVs and adventures around town. You’re also given control of time, if only for a moment.
Arina and Frendt, best friends, are traversing a magically set of islands made up of their memories and treasured moments. You don’t control them though, apart from some interacting with objects on their predesignated paths; you are just in charge of time. Move it forward. Pause it. Move it backwards.
On the beachy shores of the first island, The Gardens Between introduces the time-manipulation mechanics simple enough. Rewinding time rebuilds a structure atop the island, allowing you to progress. In the level following, you’re given a lantern that can collect balls of light which can be used to open up bridges or clear paths of darkness. They’re also necessary to finish each level. Soon after you’re introduced to garden friends, they're small, square, alive creatures that have the ability to carry your lantern. In conjunction with the garden friends and time-manipulation, you’ll need to solve puzzles to carry your light over objects that can steal it and around things blocking your path to the top of the island. Waiting on top of each and every island is a pedestal, waiting for the light ball to be placed and progressing you onto the next island.
I was never pulling hairs reaching for an answer as I attempted to solve any of The Gardens Between's puzzles. In my first night playing the game, I reached a stage where I was lost for the answer. I searched and tried many different things -- even began to think I had encountered a game breaking bug -- however, I came back the next morning to solve it within a minute. I had been looking at the island all wrong, and the answer had me laughing at how smart it was and oblivious I was. The solutions are always clever, but not always easy to recognise.
The Gardens Between does some of the most interesting stuff with time-manipulation I’ve seen since Braid. Several times the solution to a puzzle and solving how to interact with the world brought a smile to my face. True ‘a-ha!’ moments filled me with joy as I not only was proud of myself for solving the puzzle but also admired the game design.
Each island is beautiful in its own right, from the more eye-popping colours of an island portraying autumn adventures in a treehouse, to the darker, sinister feeling of an island capturing the adventures in the rain and losing items down a sewer pipe. The Gardens Between is full of stunning art, vibrant colours and magical mini-worlds to explore and adore.
One of the best things about The Gardens Between is the pause screen. I say this only because the camera slowly pans around the beautifully designed islands giving you a wonderful screensaver,a market developer The Voxel Agents could take The Gardens Between to next.
The design of each island is focused on a certain subject, for example, a VCR player and an old-school video game system. Playing with these objects in conjunction with the time-manipulation is a lot of fun, but I’ll let you find that out yourself. For anyone old enough to remember their memories in conjunction with something like an old-school VCR player, or the assortment of objects that litter the islands surrounded with a never-ending sea, The Gardens Between may inspire some reminiscing of years gone by, as each island tells its own story, and may stir your own.
Accompanying the beautiful colour pallet and design for The Gardens Between is a wonderfully peaceful soundtrack from Tim Shiel who had previously worked on the soundtrack for Duets. The game also has great sound mixing so I endorse wearing any headphones to get the best experience out of The Gardens Between.
Shiel also produces a song by Ben Abraham that closes out the game with the emotional kiss the story builds up across all the islands. I’m not sure if I was oblivious to the approaching stories climax, but the ending with the help of Abraham did get me misty-eyed.
Even if the nostalgia of the objects littered throughout the islands is before your time the emotional resonance of The Gardens Between should work for everyone in some regard. Memories from being younger, simpler times. The ending is bittersweet, but the journey there is every bit rewarding through interesting mechanics and subtle story-telling.
Developer: The Voxel Agents
Publisher: The Voxel Agents
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PS4 (reviewed), Windows
(The Gardens Between code provided by the developer)