Every so often a video game comes around that touches your heart in a way that not many others can. These games are few and far between but the tales they tell always stick with you after playing them. Games like Journey or Flower spring to mind and The Gardens Between is worthy of being grouped with titles such as those. The Voxel Agents may be an indie development studio but the surreal time-bending puzzle game they’ve created truly is a masterpiece.
The Gardens Between is a textless and voiceless tale. The entire story is presented to the player by means of short cutscenes and visual cues. This is done in such a masterful manner throughout the entire game and is consistently superb. In the opening sequence, players are introduced to Arina and Frendt, two best friends that live next door to each other. The Gardens Between is both the title of the game and a description of the vacant land between the two houses where Arina and Frendt stay. In this garden, they share a treehouse and their story kicks off during a storm.
After a lightning strike triggers a trip down memory lane, Arina and Frendt’s friendship is explored by visiting garden islands. Each island focuses on a memory the pair share and in order to progress throughout the story, players will have to manipulate time either forwards or backwards to solve puzzles. The story told by the game is excellent and will keep you interested in it right up until the very end.
The gameplay of The Gardens Between can be described as minimalistic. Players only have access to three controls. Move time forward with the right arrow, move time backward to the left and interact with objects with spacebar. The game does away with complexity in favour of simplicity yet still retains enough actual gameplay to not be a walk in the park. The puzzles in The Gardens Between varying from incredibly simple to mind-bogglingly complex. The later levels in specific will make you think as you wrack your brain trying to solve the time-centric puzzles.
In addition to moving time backwards and forwards, Arina is able to carry a lantern which can capture light energy and Frendt is able to interact with switches that trigger specific events within a level. For example, Frendt activating a switch may lead to a flower opening and releasing energy for Arina to capture with her lantern. Alternatively, it may also lead to a flower opening and spawning a mini gravitational singularity which will drain Arina’s lantern energy when she walks past it. Puzzles involve simple gameplay mechanics but the complexity present in solving them is absolutely remarkable.
The Gardens Between features multiple garden islands and each of these are resplendently gorgeous. The vibrant storybook-esque art style will immediately catch your eye and since it is so visually pleasing, you’ll probably end up taking a multitude of screenshots while playing the game. Upon completing an island, Arina and Frendt release a ball of energy towards the sky which then fills in a constellation that represents a specific memory of theirs. The game then plays back the memory and players will be able to understand what the garden island they just ventured through references.
The soundtrack of The Gardens Between ranges from relaxing ambient music to more fast-paced and atmospheric depending on the garden world you are playing. Thankfully, the soundtrack is just as great as the visual design and suits the game perfectly.
Ultimately, The Gardens Between is an exceptionally good puzzle game with excellent design elements that will leave you in awe at how well it’s been executed. The vibrant storybook-esque graphics and great soundtrack round off the package and the only gripe that can be had is that the game is over far too quickly. The Voxel Agents created a work of art that captivated throughout and it leaves one wanting more. This title is definitely worth supporting due to its amazing quality and is well worth the purchase.