Title: The Gardens Between
Available On: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, PC
Developer: The Voxel Agents
Publisher: The Voxel Agents
Official Site: The Gardens Between
Release Date: September 20, 2018
Where to Buy: PSN, Nintendo E-Shop, Steam
There are many types of video games available these days; full AAA time-sinking RPGs, Action-heavy FPS multiplayer games and many other huge projects. While these are all great options, we don’t always want to be switched on and focusing on our “A Game”. This is exactly what The Gardens Between nails – just enough engagement to make you use your brain, but not taxing enough to make you huddle over the monitor or TV, twitch shooting higher skilled opponents.
The Gardens Between, developed by The Voxel Agents, is a beautiful puzzle experience. I hesitate to use the word “experience”, as this usually describes a more hands-off video game. This three button indie game gives its players the ability to control time. Similar to how Superhot handled its mechanics, The Gardens Between enables time to progress while moving forward, alternatively rewinding time when back-tracking.
Completing the controls is an action button; enabling Arina and Frendt – the game’s two protagonists, to interact with the environment. Arina carries a lamp which forms the basis for the game’s puzzles, as carrying light enables the duo to traverse the various obstacles, extending light type bridges and ridding the world of a purple gas type substance. Frendt has the role of switch flicker, using him to shift objects and manipulate levers. That’s all there is to the controls, Forward, back, and action; simple yet functional – the depth of the game comes from how you manipulate these controls.
The Gardens Between makes use of its environments and items in its levels. While not overly difficult, the game’s puzzles do require some thinking; this can lead to frustration if you’re unsure of where to go. Thankfully, the game’s levels are short and the puzzles never require extremely complex solutions. Most puzzles require the manipulation of robot looking boxes, who can carry your lamp, enabling you to reach light sources otherwise out of your grasp. The game is ideal for short bursts on the Nintendo Switch, however, I found myself captivated and plowed through it in one sitting.
The Voxel Agents have created something truly special in the art department. Technically mind-blowing the game’s visuals are not; however, The Gardens Between still looks fantastic. The simplistic approach to the game’s visuals complements the gameplay. Playing in 4k on PC was a really stellar experience. Levels are filled with nostalgic interactive objects, such as a working printer, a giant TV hooked up to SNES like games console, and an ultrasonic sound device. Interactive objects serve as a solution or aid to the current puzzle, providing a real connection to the items on display.
Each scene tells a story reminiscent of childhood memories, like building a tent on the sofa or adventuring through a giant-sized play park; The Gardens Between manages to capture the child-like playfulness of my own childhood. The game’s narrative is fairly non-existent, however, the game is highly relatable and hypnotic in its execution, slowly piecing together the protagonist’s memories in a level by level fashion.
Accompanying the game’s visuals is a soundtrack that complements the relaxing sense of wonder. The whole experience manages to captivate throughout its three-hour runtime. Usually, three hours for a video game is borderline ridiculous and would be a major turn off for me personally, however, the game was such a joy to play through that I wasn’t disappointed when it ended. Ultimately, the game left me wanting more; however, The Gardens Between didn’t overstay its welcome.
I don’t believe a perfect game exists, however, The Gardens Between comes very close. In an industry so full of action and adrenaline, games like Journey, The Spectrum Retreat and The Gardens Between help to provide such unique experiences – a well-needed change of pace. Proving that video games don’t need complex systems and over the top narratives; sometimes a well constructed small experience, ultimately, provides some of the best stories. Letting the player interpret the game’s story based on how it makes them feel, not how the developer wants us to feel.
Verdict: The Voxel Agents have crafted an experience, unlike anything I have played for a long time. The game has charm, beauty and, most importantly, a satisfying puzzle mechanic. The game’s concept is fascinating and really invokes the inner child in me. While no game is perfect, this is as close as it gets. Simple and relaxing, unique and thought-provoking, The Gardens Between has had a substantial effect on me. This is a must play, a great way to unwind and ultimately, a fantastic experience that deserves everyone’s attention.
- Solid Mechanics
- Difficulty not too punishing
- Easy to Pick up and Play
- The length may be short for some