The Gardens Between puts you in a vibrant and whimsical world where two children (Ariana and Frendt) find themselves having to lead a mystical light across a series of islands that are made up of their favourite memories and thoughts. This world also just so happens to be a little unstable too, with time moving in mysterious ways that the player is able to constantly manipulate as a means to help the two kids reach their goal. It sounds a little strange, right? Well it is, but it also just so happens to be both wondrous and charming at the same time, and one of my favourite puzzlers that I’ve played on the Switch.
The Gardens Between’s gameplay is based around manipulating time forward and backwards to lead the two kids on their trek across each island. You have to keep an eye on their position on the island and what exactly is around them though, with each one able to interact with the island in different ways – it’s all very clever in design and makes for a real test of your wits.
Both Ariana and Frendt also happen to have different powers at their disposal, with the light they’re transporting across the island used to create and remove obstacles. Objects in the environment can be frozen in time too, with one good example of this being the freezing of a tumbling Jenga tower so it doesn’t block your path – that’s just one example of putting your powers to work though, with plenty of different options in place as you lead the children on their journey.
Success boils down to combining these powers with time manipulation and finding the right moment to mix everything together; it might sound a bit confusing on paper, but honestly, it’s so easy going, fun, and makes for a joyous little experience. Sometimes you don’t even have to worry about abilities or the flow of time either, with the player just having to observe the little changes each kid makes and using it to their advantage… you’ll see what I mean if you play the game.
The Gardens Between is such a simple game to play, but the puzzles themselves are so cleverly designed that its simplicity is masked. You’re not controlling the characters directly after all, but instead the flow of time in the world around them – it’s a neat concept that’s executed so well. My personal favourite level saw me manipulating old dinosaur bones to make a path to the top of the island, though there are so many memorable moments to be experienced throughout the game that I could easily pick five or six others. That being said, it’ll only take most players around four hours to complete, so the fun can feel a little short-lived.
Whilst The Gardens Between is fairly simple in design, that doesn’t make it an easy experience – in fact, some levels can be really tricky and will have you left scratching your head for some time. It’s never frustrating though, with the more puzzling levels often just demanding the player look a little closer at their surroundings or simply learn to multi-task better in order to solve them. Being able to follow both character’s movements and observing the actions they perform whilst keeping track of the difference that each time flow brings is imperative to success, and it’s in the trickier levels that it’s most apparent. It’s always satisfying though and at times makes the whole experience all the more mesmerising, especially when a puzzle offers a throwback to your younger years and brings a nostalgic smile to your face. I mean, it’s hard to feel frustrated at a puzzle that utilises toys from your childhood, right? Even if it did leave you stumped for twenty minutes…
The nostalgic throwbacks are apparent throughout in the game’s landscapes, with things like old toys, cassette tapes, and all sorts of familiar sights to be seen in the environment. The Gardens Between certainly embraces pop culture throughout, but the islands themselves also just so happen to be vibrantly coloured and pretty to look at too – it just makes for an attractive package as a whole. The audio design is absolutely on point too, with plenty of charming melodies to be heard as you solve each island’s enigmas. They fit each landscape perfectly and bring with them a peaceful beat that also feels a little playful during some of the more pleasant islands you venture across.
Developer: The Voxel Agents
Publisher: The Voxel Agents
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PC