From Melbourne based indie developer, The Voxel Agents, comes the much anticipated puzzle game, The Gardens Between on Xbox One; a quaint story about the significance of friendship and memories, what must be left behind and what mustn’t be forgotten. The Gardens Between invites us into this beautiful world of exploration and discovery, doing so with grace and ease.
The Gardens Between starts on a rainy night in a tree-house. It’s set in a garden shared by two neighbouring houses, occupied by two friends seeking shelter from the rain, no doubt sharing stories like so many days passed. These are our two main protagonists; Arina and Frendt. When the storm gets progressively worse, it conjures a small light and forms into a ball, eventually exploding, manipulating time itself, sending our characters into a dreamlike world. This world is set on numerous little islands, each being based on memories from one of our young protagonists and peppered in items of significance to each character. This is when I got to take in one of the most fascinating and beautiful games I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing.
The first element that immediately sticks out is the movement. Like in most games, moving the thumbstick moves your character, controlling where he/she goes as they jump, climb and run around. The Gardens Between, however, is different. When you move the stick right, you move time forward and when you move it left you turn time backwards. Our characters move at a set pace and moving left and right sets off a chain of events that progresses the game. It’s a welcome change of pace and whilst it may feel like you have minimal interaction, it all works in a good way. It’s like being invited along for this journey, just watching everything unfold as these two characters’ bonds grow stronger through their memories.
The small ball of light that initiated this all happening now has a pivotal role in moving forward. This takes the form of the glow in a lantern, to be carried through each world, taken to the highest point of each island and placed in a specific place; this then opens the next island and the next puzzle, eventually leading to the end of the game. This is where the fascinating puzzle elements come into play. By manipulating time, either forwards or backwards, you set off items in this world that can either fall to the ground, open or close something or even move to make a bridge; each of these help you get to the end of each island and progress to the next. The lamp of light is such a soothing element to the game, allowing you to feel hope for these friends, and like their experience, has a deeper meaning.
The puzzles themselves aren’t particularly demanding; usually they are straightforward affairs that don’t involve a lot of head scratching. However, a few throughout my playthrough got me trying a few more variants than normal, with trial and error ensuring success. Normally I would be put off by a puzzle game that fails to really challenge, but in the case of The Gardens Between, it just doesn’t matter. Each world is so beautifully put together and every puzzle works so flawlessly that you really won’t be bothered by how easy or difficult it is. Watching the whole thing unfold is where this game excels.
After each island, the light from the lamp shoots into the night sky and unlocks a new little star in the cosmos. When you’ve unlocked a certain amount, elements from the islands you’ve completed form a tiny story and you will begin to understand the significance of why the items in the world were put there. The Gardens Between is so short that I don’t want to spoil it and give anything away – leaving the tale to be a lovely surprise. I got to experience the story of Ariana and Frendt for myself and, believe me, it’s absolutely stunning and something you should take in.
This is only enhanced by the fantastic sound design and gorgeous visuals. The rolling piano pieces and soft, ambient sounds take you on a journey by themselves, and the aesthetics are, somehow, so bright and so soft all at the same time.
In fact, each island is so detailed and so different that you can’t wait to get to the next one just to see what lies in store. As said before, it’s such a relaxing experience, you get completely engrossed in every action both characters make and truly enthralled by how the world around you unfolds. I completed this game in one sitting, which is both a good and bad thing. It is so short and sweet that it was like a little gift, however, I simply didn’t want it to end. I was so attached to how the puzzles played out and cared so much about both characters that I felt almost lost without them. I found myself wanting more, but that’s just a sign of a fantastic game.
The Gardens Between is simply fantastic, it looks absolutely gorgeous, plays fluidly and the soundtrack is beautiful; you will be gripped with every second of your playthrough. Some may find the puzzles a little simple and as an overall experience it could well last a little longer but please, if you want to take in a new concept which is just lovely, buy The Gardens Between. Now!