I’m always both excited by game’s that tease me at conventions, only showing me enough to get me interested and invested, even if the developers aren’t showing much off in terms of mechanics or story.
The short demo of The Gardens Between we played at PAX East left me hungry for more. There’s a really intriguing and thought provoking game hidden in the bittersweet surrealism of this puzzle game, and I’m hopeful that it will delve into the depth it’s main time control hook and the puzzle opportunities it could offer.
The Gardens Between is an adventure puzzle game about friendship, what it means to grow up, what must be let go what should never be left behind. Best friends Arina, a headstrong girl, and Frendt, a boy wise beyond his years, fall into a lush world of mysterious gardens. The vibrant world grows around objects from their past to form curious combinations of time and imagination. Together they traverse a bittersweet story of friendship where the forwards and backwards traversal of time makes cause and effect malleable. Memories surface as the duo stargaze, illuminating the meaning and depth of their friendship.
The Gardens Between works on a surprisingly simple mechanic: you move time forward and backwards, and activate certain interactions. That’s it. It’s a well executed if slightly simple mechanic, and takes the form of moving a lit lantern through the level by placing it on moving elements of the island so as to avoid certain light absorbing obstacles in your way. Certain floors would illuminate the lantern being carried by the characters while other ones would remove that light. Activating the bridges and gates that needed to be open or active to progress required a lit lantern, so it was your goal to keep the lantern lit.
I couldn’t help but feel like these introductory puzzles felt overly easy. Sure, a convention setting isn’t exactly a place that I’d call ideal for showing off a puzzle gave with a ton of tough puzzles: you want to get people in to get a taste of your game and then have them move on. However, I really hope that as it goes on, The Gardens Between ramps up the difficulty quite a bit.
The Gardens Between is absolutely beautiful. The game’s pallet is soft and full of blues, greens and reds that immediately put you in a calm mind space and a slower pace. It’s an incredibly relaxing experience, even if the game has a subtle emotional weight in the story it is telling.
The game’s levels are each small multi-tiered islands with a strange surreal twist. Some islands are made up of computer parts, some have giant planting pot stepping stones. and some are littered with gargantuan reminders of summertime in the backyard. It all underlies what feels like a sad story of childhood friendship, perhaps changed, perhaps forgotten. There’s a definite bittersweet quality to the characters of The Gardens Between, which I happen to find immediately intriguing.
All in all, I’m eager to see more of The Gardens Between. The core mechanical concepts are solid, if not yet fully explored, and I could look at the game’s surreal landscapes all day long. Moreover, the story has me intrigued. I want to know what happened between Arina and Frendt, and why such an air of melancholy hangs over their story.
The Gardens Between is scheduled to be coming to PC and MAC in late 2017.
Want to learn more about the games we saw at PAX East 2017? Check out this page, which lists all the game’s we saw, and we will be updating with links to our coverage as we complete it.