The Gardens Between (Switch) Review – Not Between Good or Bad
Platforms: PC, Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PS4
Developer/Publisher: The Voxel Agents
Release: 20th September 2018
Friendship can be something magical, full of hardships and great memories. Who doesn´t remember some of the crazy stuff we all did with our best friend? The Gardens Between is a game about exactly those. However, what hooked me onto the game at first glance were the visuals and beautiful islands featured on every screenshot. It seemed like one of those unique, special indie games you´re bound to overlook somehow but shouldn´t miss … and damn, it´s exactly that.
One day the two friends Arina and Frendt are sucked into a mysterious world consisting solely of islands. However, all of them seem to be built out of everyday objects like TVs or paint brushes, creating tiny miniature worlds of their past lives. With every mastered island, they not only come their escape one step closer but also get reminded about their friendship-defining moments.
To progress, those two have to carry a “light” to the top of every island. Naturally, the way will be clustered with puzzles, which is the very core of the game. The Gardens Between isn´t a very complicated puzzler though, relying solely on one aspect: Controlling time. Instead of taking over as one of those two, you can only control the time, while observing how they walk and interact with the objects. Either by rewinding or speeding up time, it´s possible to influence the paths they take, the objects they face or find out more about your environment.
In the early levels, almost everything consists of simply moving time forward, so the two can activate switches, cross bridges or simply pick up lights to activate bridges or the island itself. Obviously, moving forward or backwards without any real option to control them could result in a lacklustre, repetitive experience. Luckily, The Gardens Between quickly solves this problem by throwing new, innovative ideas at you every 2-3 islands, mixing up the whole experience substantially without even altering the gameplay.
Naturally, obvious things like light-absorber or activateable bridges are the earliest to be introduced, adding the first layer of complexity. Yet, for example, sometimes there will be little walking “cubes” jumping all over the place every second. At the same time, you have to keep track of them as they jump into paint pots since you´ll need them to carry the light over the light-absorbers. Another island will have carpets blocking your sight in some passages, forcing you to think around the corner to find out what´s behind them. All of those are very neat ideas, able to add the diversity and depth over time the game needs for its ~6-8 hours of playtime. At the same time, it never really gets very difficult, and nothing should take you long enough to get frustrated. While some things can become quite tedious or annoying at time, otherwise it nails this sweetspot between frustration and enjoyment.
Additionally, for every few completed islands, The Gardens Between rewards you with little “cutscenes” or events from Arina and Frendt´s life, it´s a game about friendship after all. The further we progress the more we learn about them, how they got to know each other, their hardships and reasons for staying such close friends. Given, it may not tell the most original story with its lack of any written text or very short sequences but can nonetheless enchant. Mainly because those two are still young, making their innocent lives up to this point believing and enchanting since everyone can identify with at least a few things about them.
Another big part of why it´s such a happy, enchanting experience are the visuals with their simplistic style. Featuring colourful, bright colours, every cluster of islands has its own theme and mood created through the smart selection of colours. Though only in combination with the architecture being solely built from every-day objects can The Gardens Between truly unfold its full charm. Given, it can be quite stomach upsetting to always rotate the islands due to their limited size and animations tend to be stiff from time to time but everything is built around creating a relaxing atmosphere and succeeds.
The Gardens Between isn´t a mind-breaking game but rather a very relaxing, charming one. It features great puzzles, paired with creative design never requiring more than two buttons to control. Guiding those two friends through their past life and current mystery is a nice journey you wouldn´t want to miss.
[A Review Code was provided by The Voxel Agents]