In this article, I give you my quick review of the Gardens Between video game. Childhood memories stay with us our whole lives. Not all of them are good but I’m probably not the only one that often wishes to be able to go back to simpler times. Being an adult sometimes sucks.
The Gardens Between really made me long for a time machine. But, while the whimsical puzzle game does play with the concept of time it sadly wasn’t able to fulfill my wish.
The game portrays the friendship of Arena and friend in a series of beautiful diorama-like puzzles.
I honestly feel a bit bad for this guy. The girl gets a normal name so why does he get this. Maybe someone wanted to be clever but it just doesn’t feel right in a sweet story about the childhood bond between two teenagers or children. I’m horrible when it comes to guessing someone’s age anyway.
Through some magical shenanigans, they get pulled into a different world on their little treehouse boat. They sail from island to island with each of them equaling one level. And one level equaling one big riddle gigantic VHS tapes a dinosaur skeleton and super soaker. Water guns are stacked unto the colorful mountain sites you explore.
The people at the voxel agents clearly let their imagination run wild but what do you do on those islands. Well, your mission is simple and always the same: collect a ball of light and bring it to the altar at the end of the level. You have a grand total of three commands at your disposal to achieve this goal. Right, left, and interact. Yes, that’s it.
At first, I was honestly worried that the Gardens Between would become very boring very fast. However, that changed almost instantly once I realized that the controls don’t actually move your two characters but instead rewind and fast-forward time.
Every single one of the clever puzzles is built around this mechanic. Additionally, Arena and friends have two distinct abilities. She can carry a lantern while he can manipulate the environment making the flowers that hide the glowing orbs flute for example or move specific objects while everything else is still frozen at the moment.
It’s an essential skill but the key to success is actually the lantern. I’m not joking. In it you collect the light which is necessary to finish each and every level. What sounds easy enough can be quite the brainteaser. A decent memory is helpful and so is being able to think several steps ahead.
For instance, let’s take a look at this level. If you just walk straight through you’ll eventually hit a roadblock and you’ll have to rethink your strategy. What do the levels show you a printer number on the spinning column and a calculator that makes numbers appear on the screen when you step on it. So, what next? How about putting the numbers from the column into the PC? That worked. One printed out wind chime later you’re able to finish the level.
While some may say that the riddles are too easy I’d argue against that. Not every puzzle game needs to be full of insane challenges. The difficulty is ramping up throughout this little indie gem but it never gets to a point where frustration takes over.
In my opinion, a clever and fun game design beats difficulty. That just makes you want to throw your controller against the next wall.
The mechanics click fast and while playing I really learned to appreciate arena and friends independence. It gave me time to appreciate the little details as they walk through the levels on preset paths. They react to the environment pointing things out to you and each other. Sometimes they link hands and walk together other times one patiently waits for the other.
The animations are lovely and it’s not always that games that surrender a lot of control to the player flows so seamlessly. It’s also great that you don’t have to be precise when it comes to object placements. In that regard, the Gardens Between is very forgiving and I am so glad about it. The less time wasted on counting millimeters the better.
If I could give you only one tip wear headphones or turn up the volume and share the music with your neighbors. They’ll probably be delighted but seriously both soundtrack and sound effects are a lovely accompaniment to the pleasing visuals.
It’s one of these games that I wish were just go on forever but it sadly doesn’t. The whole thing is over pretty fast at around 4 hours of no rush playtime. It feels even shorter than it actually is because as the saying goes time moves faster when you’re having fun. The Gardens Between is a game a piece of art and a touching story all at once and everything in between.