A travel through memories that brings out the best in all of us.
The Gardens Between has a stunning art style but being a moody puzzle game, it gives off the air of being just one of a slew of similar games that have dotted the indie scene over the years.. That’s not the right way to think, though, because you might ignore one of the best puzzlers of the year. The game, developed by The Voxel Agents, is about exploring islands filled with objects to interact with. These islands need to be tread carefully as they hide pieces that push you to the next step. The Gardens Between tells a rather abstract story about what binds two people together.
Explaining what The Gardens Between is proves difficult as there is really nothing else like it. You don't control the friends, Arina and Frendt, directly but rather the flow of time surrounding them. By moving the stick left and right, the characters move where they need to go. Every other interaction comes from objects on the island, which you interact with courtesy of the A button. This ranges from messing with a remote control to splashing water on an electric cord, and so much more. The Gardens Between has a few familiar and recurring objects, like an electric hourglass that puts the island in a previous state, but the way they are used differs in each stage.
The controls are kept simple, deliberately so. The initial puzzles help you through the basics before letting go of the leash. From that point onward, you are on your own. The handful of levels take time to sink in before you notice every detail. The difficulty becomes harder, but it is presented in a consistent upward trajectory. The Gardens Between was just an extremely pleasant to get through and I rarely got frustrated or lost.
That being said, the game is a bit on the shorter side. At maximum, it took me about four hours to see everything in The Gardens Between. While I do think it ends at a well-chosen moment, it is still an abrupt conclusion. That final piece could've been explained a tiny bit better. With that out of the way, I think the story is a strong one. It goes deeply into the trials and tribulations of a friendship, and the various levels underline the overall mood of the character. What helps to bring the point home is the presentation. The simplistic tunes and lush environments are a sight to be seen.
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.