The Gardens Between would struggle to last an hour, yet despite being modestly challenging and inventive, they somehow feel unimportant in the grand scheme. There is no context for their existence as obstacles other than being opportunities for two friends to cooperate, but the tiny doses of narrative at the end of each island reflect the objects in the scene rather than the efforts used to pass through it.Its sense of measured pace is another. Each puzzle works like a small island around which you’ll guide the two young adventurers like a spiral. By moving the left analog stick left or right you’ll move the camera, but what you’re actually doing is making time move forwards and backwards as the camera moves around each isle. You’re not actually controlling the duo as they move, but you can help them interact with elements they encounter as you guide the flow of time.Time is not a tangible entity whistling past, an arrow through the present’s heart, but the shifting sum of the timeframes created by the objects around us: sunrise and fall, the tumbling of popcorn from an upturned bowl, the tickle of drums in a passerby’s headphones, the bobbing of cans in a flood. An affectionate, if slightly ephemeral puzzler from Australian indie The Voxel Agents, The Gardens Between revels in this thought.
These stop time entirely, enabling you to adjust the entire scene while the friends themselves remain frozen. This technique becomes essential as the pathways you forge become more complex, with you stopping time at precise moments to allow progress when time is unfrozen again, and making use of light-carrying flying boxes that allow you to circumvent light-sapping black flora.It begins with a long, gloomy silence in a treehouse, a metro train screaming across the cityscape to the rear. Then it whisks you away from all that, away from the harshness of the urban night, to a dreamy archipelago under alien stars – the treehouse now a boat which carries the children from island to island.Instead, you tilt the stick to advance or rewind the timeline. Given a clear path your charges will amble to the top of their own accord, the camera circling to keep them in view as they trot along grassy paths and hop between boulders. There’s no dialogue, but the animations speak volumes about each protagonist. Arina is bolder, brasher, more inclined to stride ahead.
There’s the odd wall of purple mist, and bridges of the same substance that disintegrate in the lamp’s glow, forcing you to douse it to proceed. There are dusky seedpods that steal away the lamplight as though sucking the full stop off the end of a sentence.From the way they subtly peep at one another while crossing paths, to the adorable gestures they use to point out helpful objects in the distance, their body language clues you
in to their special bond. They say so much without ever uttering a word. Their cute and quirky selves are infectiously adorable, and before you know it, you’ve tumbled head over heels into their world and ultimately the formation of a new, unforgettable memory by the end of their journey.Most of the puzzles require that I simply observe the passing of time and the movement of useful objects. Some can be solved by trial and error. Others take a little thought, but none are particularly fiendish.Arina can mount her lantern on a block to launch it into the vicinity of an otherwise unreachable light source, scooping up the lantern when next that block crosses your path. There are also bells Frendt can ring to alter something without advancing time, dragging a key prop back and forth like an audio editor dropping effects into a composition. More diverting are the conundrums that involve tweaks to the objects each memory is associated with – fat keypads you can trample over to bash something out on a nearby screen, dinosaur skeletons from museum exhibits that collapse and reassemble, altering the lay of the land, and telescopes that swivel on their tripods, carrying the sky along with them.
And when playing on an iPhone or – preferably – an iPad, the game’s tactile nature and closeness feels far more intimate and suitable than when you’re sat before a PC. In a predictable but bearable show of quintessentially
“indie” nostalgia, some of the best setups involve pieces of ancient gaming hardware, canted across the path like ritual obelisks. I won’t spoil it, but the pick of the litter involves working out how to manipulate something non-linear while reckoning with a control scheme that only lets characters travel in two directions. There is no context for their existence as obstacles other than being opportunities for two friends to cooperate, but the tiny doses of narrative at the end of each island reflect the objects in the scene rather than the efforts used to pass through it. Puzzles are the “gameplay” that allows you to play a part in the two characters’ journey and in a way make the realization of each memory feel earned, but they fall by the wayside when the spotlight is focused on the two teens.
The Gardens Between is one of the bigger surprises I’ve played on Nintendo Switch. The title proved to be a smartly designed puzzler that anyone quickly can understand. Solutions are found by using logic in tandem with the rules of the world. The flow of time plays a major role in all of this and a keen eye can help you all the way through. The only error I can see here is that The Gardens Between ends on a weird note. This is something that could’ve been expanded upon, but the developers left us guessing. The complaint is rather minor in the grand scheme of it all as the experience is one that shouldn’t be missed
The Gardens Between is a great example of a puzzle game with the most simple of mechanics, showcasing how much can be stretched out of so little. Its light story of friendship is sweet (if not a bit too saccharine). It complements the core mechanic of controlling the passage of time, and well, the inevitability of how no matter how much you’d like time to stand still sometimes, it’ll move along regardless.
If time is a composite of the time signatures objects weave about them, this one is valuable for how it slows everything down without putting you to sleep. I found it engrossing but also soothing, like the waltz of leaves on a windy street.The Gardens Between successfully weaves its theme of memory with its mechanic of stopping time, presenting a satisfying story that offers challenge, escapism and magic. It’s out on September 20 for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows PC and Mac.It may only take two to three hours to see everything The Gardens Between has to offer, but the warm and fuzzy feelings from start to finish ensure that your memories of playing it will live on. The expressive faces of the two teens and the relatable memories they share will speak to anyone who’s ever had a close childhood friend, and while the puzzles.