Out now on Switch, PC, Mac and PS4, The Gardens Between is a wonderful and enchanting little puzzle adventure by relatively unknown developer The Voxel Agents. We played it on a PS4.
I’ll happily admit that I knew very little about The Gardens Between when I started up the game. I hadn’t met with the developers, hadn’t played a demo and hadn’t read any previews either. I did however see the press releases and the game’s striking and gorgeous art style immediately captured my attention. Luckily, I quickly found out that the game has a hefty dose of wonderful gameplay to back up that art style as well.
The Gardens Between tells a story about a young boy and girl who have to work together in order to overcome various puzzles, and it’s more like Brothers – A Tale of Two Sons than it is like The Lost Vikings in terms of style and gameplay. The Gardens Between’s storytelling is rather abstract and visual, without any real dialogue to speak off. Frendt and Arina find themselves stranded on a series of small islands, and must find their way off – that’s pretty much the extent of the story on the surface.
On a deeper level, however, these two little best friends tell a tale about cooperation and overcoming challenges by working together, and the puzzle mechanic in The Gardens Between is a simple yet clever one. You don’t directly control Frendt and Arina most of the time, but rather control time itself – which moves them across the island (or backwards). The only other control you have is to have the two young ones manipulate objects in their environment, done with a simple button press.
The objects differ from stage to stage, so you never get a sense of having done something one too many times. You quickly learn that Frendt specializes in pushing all kinds of buttons and switches, while Arina plays a crucial role in overcoming light-centric puzzles. Even though the puzzles are all highly original and don’t repeat themselves, they do get more complex as the levels go on – which they do for about three to four hours.
The art and animation in The Gardens Between makes it a game that’s not just a joy to play, but also to watch. It’s a single player game, but its visual storytelling and gentle pace make it a nice experience to go through with another player as well. The controls aren’t intricate, so who’s holding them isn’t even relevant as you discuss how to get past the game’s obstacles. Doing so often tests the friendship between Frendt and Arina, but that’s part of their journey.
The Gardens Between is an enchanting little tale that’s easy to enjoy and almost impossible to dislike. Its puzzles might not be challenging enough for the purist, but this is a game that should be enjoyed by many.