In recent years, a new genre has developed that has less to do with gameplay than with subtle storytelling and a lot of atmosphere: Titles that move emotionally and take the player into dream worlds to confront him with complex themes. The Gardens Between falls exactly into this category and takes you into the abstract emotional world of two friends who, before their separation, relive the most beautiful moments of their time together in a fantastic way.
In The Gardens Between everything revolves around the theme of time – time together, time that elapses, time you’d like to turn back to relive a beautiful moment – and so you control the whole game by fast-forwarding and rewinding time, either by stick-movement to the left and right or by shoulder-keys. The fact that you can choose freely here is due to the fact that you only need one button in addition to the spool function – to perform actions.
In the individual levels it’s now about opening bridges to active (which serve as checkpoints) and gates (which take you to the next section) with the help of a lantern that you can light on yellow light flowers. So that the whole thing doesn’t just become a run through the levels, however, there are obstacles that have to be overcome with the power of combination: Thus the light flowers don’t just lie around on the track, but have to be reached, dark flowers turn off the light of your lamp again, shadow barriers only let you through when your lantern is lit, while you can only cross shadow bridges when it’s not lit up.
The lamp is only carried by Arina, the female part of your team, while Frendt, the male friend, can activate switches or perform other time games at special apparatuses; more precisely, he can fast-forward or rewind individual parts of the respective level, for example to clear building blocks that block the way back to a tower that no longer hinders your progress. Finally, the lantern may also be parked in small dice creatures that jump to light flowers for you to light your lantern on, or jump past dark flowers and shadow bridges so that you can pick up the shining lamp after them again. All in all you puzzle your way through eight levels with two to three sections each.
Mass Atmosphere, Little Challenge
As mentioned at the beginning, The Gardens Between scores primarily with a lot of atmosphere: A dreamy-fantastic Cel-Shading graphic in combination with emotionally heavy sounds and melodies takes you here into a world that inspires from the first minute with its charm. And this is a good thing, because unfortunately the puzzles themselves are not too demanding. At the latest after two hours you should have already played the game. But it’s not really disturbing – the trip to the dream world of Arina and Frendt is still fun, maybe even because it’s so short.
Nevertheless: You will spend a large part of the game time simply running as far ahead as you can to see where you can find something in the level and need it – a possibility to move the camera freely to be able to do this without walking would have been nice; especially because the two friends are moving quite slowly and there is also no fast forward option.
The Gardens Between is a puzzle game in fantastic environments, which captivates with its cuteness and atmosphere, even if the puzzles themselves will challenge you only a little – and because of the short playing time also not too long -. The abstract worlds, the pretty soundtrack and the emotions created by the story told in hints in combination with the presentation, nevertheless quickly fascinated me. So if you’re looking for a nice game to relax and dream in between, The Gardens Between is just the thing for you.What is The Gardens Between? Atmospheric puzzle game with lots of emotion, but rather little challenge when puzzling
Platforms: PC, PS4, Nintendo Switch
Tested: PS4 version
Developer / Publisher: The Voxel Agents / Future Friends Games
Release: September 20, 2018