Review – The Gardens Between

I won’t lie, the trailer for The Gardens Between didn’t sell me too much on its ideas. The whole theme of two young friends remembering their fun times together seemed a little on the saccharine side for my personal tastes. However, my curiosity was piqued by the gameplay elements, so I decided to give it a shot. I’m so happy now that I did. The Voxel Agents created quite a fun and sweet little game with The Gardens Between.

As mentioned earlier, The Gardens Between is about two young pals, Arina and Frendt, who are first seen huddling together in a tree house. A light suddenly swoops in and transports them to a series of small islands that encompass themes from specific memorable moments they had enjoyed together. By manipulating the environment around them, they progress onward to the next memory island. After completing each one, you get to see more and more of the fun times they had together and get closer to the reason behind this heart warming recall.

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The Jurassic Park franchise has really gone downhill.

The true appeal of The Gardens Between is the gameplay. While the movement options are incredibly simplistic, it’s how you’ll figure out how to interact with and manipulate the island around you that makes this game a unique puzzler. The only movement options you have are moving left and right, although there’s a catch. Moving right progresses the characters forward as normal, but moving left not only makes them walk backward, it also reverses time. I know this seems like a bizarre control scheme, but it comes into play frequently when trying to figure out how to move on.

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So this is where old computers go to die.

One of the friends, Arina, is in charge of holding the lantern through each area. At the top of every island is an altar where the light is released to complete the level. The other child, Frendt, is the one who interacts with various objects throughout the islands. This results in altering the movement of certain items in order to reveal new pathways, or opening and closing flowers that will either light the lantern Arina is holding, or extinguish it. Certain paths can only be trod if there is no light nearby, so figuring out how to move the light orbs along is part of the challenge.

The visuals and level design in The Gardens Between are beautiful in an abstract and ethereal sort of way. Each island is composed of objects that represent a culmination of items around a specific memory. For example, on the island revolving around a time they had fun watching movies and eating popcorn in one of their living rooms. The whole formation is structured around a giant sofa they must climb in order to knock over a glass bowl full of popcorn to collect the light orb inside. This is but one example of the the clever layouts The Gardens Between has to offer.

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Here is the couch island I mentioned above.

I really enjoyed the mild ambient score that accompanied each level. It was the perfect compliment to the feel of the game, but without being too overbearing as to distract from the curious wonders around you. There was no voice acting whatsoever in The Gardens Between, but I applaud Tim Shiel for providing all the serene melodies needed to create a successful sound design.

My one gripe with The Gardens Between is that the game is relatively short. With 18 islands and one final island broken up into 3 different sections, this game will only take you about 2-3 hours to complete. I felt satisfied with the game dynamics and bittersweet ending, but I was definitely left wanting a bit more. It does however have a fairly low price tag at $19.99 and I will say that I truly think it’s worth your time, especially if you enjoy clever new takes on the puzzle genre. If you’re worried, like I was, that the game about two friends reliving their fun times together will be too sappy for you, then never fear. There’s only just barely enough narrative to give the level designs purpose. The main focus is the environmental puzzle elements and they’re very well done.

 

Graphics: 8.0

Creative level designs featuring household objects enlarged and arranged into islands to explore.

Gameplay: 9.0

Time bending mechanics and environmental manipulation make for a unique puzzle game.

Sound: 9.0

No voice acting, but the calm melodic soundtrack fits the game perfectly.

Fun Factor: 8.5

The limited narrative kept the game from being too cheesy and the game mechanics were a pleasant surprise.

Final Verdict: 8.5

Reviewed on Switch.
The Gardens Between is available now on Switch and PS4.
A copy of The Gardens Between was provided by the publisher.

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