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The Gardens Between

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Puzzle
Developer: The Voxel Agents
Release Date: Sept. 20, 2018

About David Silbert

I'm a recent college graduate from Boston, MA. When I'm not writing for WorthPlaying, I'm probably researching Celtics trade rumors or struggling to keep up with the growing library on my Nintendo Switch.


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Switch Review - 'The Gardens Between'

by David Silbert on Oct. 26, 2018 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

The Gardens Between is a breathtaking puzzle game where best friends, Arina and Frendt, find themselves in a surreal world of garden islands.

Buy The Gardens Between

Of all the tried-and-true gameplay concepts in video games, time manipulation has to be one of the most popular. From slowing down bullets in Max Payne to rewinding platforming segments in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and traveling through entire eras in Chrono Trigger, there's no shortage of titles that let players experience their fair share of time-bending antics.

The Gardens Between, developed and published by The Voxel Agents, is the latest addition to this particular subset of games. A puzzle game focusing on the story of two childhood friends, The Gardens Between offers a refreshing take on the genre, tasking players with reversing and forwarding time in order to bring an orb of light to the top of a series of mountains.

Despite its short length and easy difficulty, The Gardens Between manages to stand out in a crowded genre thanks to its clever puzzles, satisfying mechanics, and gorgeous presentation. It may not be the longest of journeys, but The Gardens Between is an excellent experience and the best time-bending puzzle game I've played since 2008's Braid. Yes, that Braid.

In The Gardens Between, you play as Arina and Frendt, two teenagers who have grown up as next-door neighbors and close childhood friends. One night, as the boy and girl sit glumly in a tree house adjacent to both of their homes, a bolt of lightning causes time to suddenly reverse. After touching a glowing light that appears before them, the teenagers are whisked away to a dreamlike world, where a lighthouse sits on an ocean. They're surrounded by several small islands, so the players navigate a small boat from one island to the next — The Gardens Between's form of worlds, with each world housing a different set of levels — to make their way to the lighthouse.

Each of the levels on these islands takes the form of a small mountain. The friends start at the base of the mountain, with the goal of making it up to the summit. However, there are a couple of twists.

First of all, time has seemingly stopped; the world remains static along with Arina and Frendt — until players move, that is. By moving right, the boy and girl begin their ascent as time progresses; by moving backward, time reverses, as do the teens' movements as they backpedal down the mountain.

Secondly, parts of the mountain are accessible only by activating several bridges of light, which is done by transporting an orb of light — held in a small, metallic magical lamp — and depositing it at the edge of a bridge. Furthermore, the summit of each mountain also requires an orb to grant the teenagers passage to the next level.

It's the application of these two ideas that makes the gameplay of The Gardens Between so compelling. Arina can acquire orbs in a variety of ways, from budding plants to tiny little robots that hop around the mountain; however, orbs can just as easily be lost, mainly from walking near plants with dark-colored orbs, rewinding time, or activating bridges. The main challenge of The Gardens Between comes from manipulating time — forward, backward, and sometimes "sideways," for lack of a better term — to keep your lamp lit so you can progress up the mountain.

The Gardens Between's levels are as surprising as they are satisfying. From playing with electricity to creating makeshift bridges out of clouds or crossing a river filled with floating debris, puzzles are varied and unpredictable. The puzzles are challenging without feeling simplistic or overly complicated.

Rather than gradually layering concepts and ramping up the difficulty of puzzles in a linear fashion, the game throws a lot of different ideas at the player at once. The game moves at a brisk pace, introducing players to new gameplay hooks at a rate that prevents puzzles from feeling stale.

On the other hand, this also means that the game doesn't really present a challenge. While this may be seen as a detriment to some, given the balance that games like Braid have managed to achieve in the past with their difficulty, the lack of difficulty is more than offset by the sheer ingenuity of the puzzles.

The Gardens Between is further bolstered by its incredible presentation. Graphics are crisp and colorful, with environments that come to life, even within the small confines of the Switch's handheld screen. The character models for Arina and Frendt are animated beautifully, from the way the teens clamber up parts of the mountain to more personal touches, like how Arina and Frendt wave to one another when the two end up separated at certain parts of a mountain. Meanwhile, the soundtrack, while not nearly as memorable as the visuals, provides some welcome background music to supplement the on-screen gameplay.

In terms of the story of The Gardens Between, don't expect too much. Far less of a narrative than it is a backdrop for the game, The Gardens Between's tale details a coming of age of sorts for Arina and Frendt, albeit in very broad strokes. At the end of each world, players are rewarded with static snapshots of the protagonists' childhood, from hanging out in their tree house to visiting a local museum. Aside from a cut scene at the end of the game that predictably wraps up the story, there's not a whole lot of payoff, nor is there much reason to feel invested in the characters or their personal journey. Of course, the story is never made out to be the focal point of the experience, but it feels like a missed opportunity to cover new ground.

While The Gardens Between's difficulty may be easy and its story underdeveloped, the title's greatest flaw is ultimately its length. It took me a little under two hours to complete the entire game, and aside from a particularly crafty puzzle that forced me to sleep on the solution for a night, I was able to complete the whole thing in a single sitting. The puzzles are great, but with the game that retails for $20, I wish we had more of them.

As an experience, The Gardens Between is a journey that's well worth embarking on. Its puzzles are gratifying, and its world is gorgeous and filled with personality. Its price may be too step for those looking for a meatier experience, and veteran fans of the genre might wish for tougher puzzles, but those hankering for a small game with a big heart will find plenty to love in The Gardens Between.

Score: 8.8/10

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