Time is a fickle thing, and while many of us may want to turn the clock back to relive times from our past, it’s probably safe to say that none of us can. Arina and Frendt can, though, which they discover while sitting in their treehouse in the rain. Adventure along with them in The Gardens Between, a peaceful puzzle game, with only the ability to move time backward or forward and interact with objects.
Title: The Gardens Between
Developer: The Voxel Agents
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Game Version: Final
Review Copy: Provided by Developer
Interface: Handheld Switch console
Available on Nintendo Switch, PS4, iOS, Steam (PC and Mac)
Best friends Arina and Frendt fall into a series of vibrant, dreamlike island gardens peppered with everyday objects from their childhood. Together they embark on an emotional journey that examines the significance of their friendship.
Manipulate time to solve puzzles and reach the apex of each isle. Follow the duo as they unpack and explore their precious moments spent together, lighting up constellations and illuminating threads of a bittersweet narrative.
Sometimes moments that may seem small to some are huge to others. While most of us don’t deal with saving the world in our real lives, many of us can relate to missing someone. This is the basis for The Gardens Between, a puzzle game where you control time.
The game’s controls are about as simple as can be: you can move time forward, you can rewind time, you can pause time by doing neither of these things, and you can interact with objects if one of the kids happens to be near something that’s interactive. And while the gameplay starts off easy, things quickly become complicated.
Each bite-size level is full of challenges, but the objective is always the same – deliver a ball of light to the end of the level. On the way you’ll find all sorts of obstacles, ranging from tiny black holes that absorb your ball of light, boxes that hop around the area, dark fog that dissipates if you hold a ball of light and more. You never directly control either of the children, but your interaction with other objects will determine their paths. For example, you can deposit your ball of light in a hopping box so that you can walk on some dark fog that wouldn’t otherwise be traversable, or power a VCR player an let Frendt play with the remove control until the tape pops up to use as a ramp.
Even moving time back and forth can solve puzzles in unexpected ways: you can go back and forth in time to make a saw that’s cutting wood cut all the way through it, or pause time as a conductive object is between two cut power lines to temporarily power things. This is the most unique and well-handled portion of the game, paying attention to things in the background and making time work perfectly with them. My favorite moment even involved getting a ball of light out of a video game (video gameception!) and bringing it into the “real world”. Just don’t pay attention to what happens when you steal the bird’s power-up from the game… RIP Super Silly Bird.
Each level is themed, and as you play through them you can take a guess at what Arina and Frendt will be doing. After each set of levels you’re presented with a short animation of them together in an activity related to the levels you just played. For example, one of them has them playing by a kiddie pool, while another has them relaxing in front of the TV playing video games together. This theming brings some extra depth to the levels, and later on it may or may not have had me clutching my Switch a little harder, trying to rush through some of the harder levels while worrying about what the darker, harsher levels would lead to.
The difficulty of the game was absolutely perfect for me. The first levels were a bit too easy, sure, but then things gradually got harder and harder. I usually have to look up the solutions to a puzzle or two in a game like this, and while I almost did on two separate levels, I managed to solve it by messing around enough on my own. The solution is always right there in view, you just have to slow down and pay extra attention sometimes. The variety in the game is astounding, and even though the goal is always exactly the same and the controls are so minimal I never felt that I was doing the same thing more than once. I was a little let down that there weren’t extra collectibles to find or optional challenges in levels, but I definitely enjoyed the levels for what they were.
I was also a bit surprised at the game’s length. While I didn’t count, it seemed like there were 15-20 levels total, and the entire game was over in a matter of hours. While each level clearly had lots of love and polish poured into them, I was really hoping for more… But then the end of the game makes that length fitting. Without spoiling anything, the ending was touching and brilliant, and it definitely hit me in the feels. I’d go so far as to say that most of us will be able to relate to it, and the game will get an emotional response out of a lot of players. The shorter levels also make it a great fit for the Switch; for on the go enjoyment or even short breaks. If you enjoy puzzle games where you never have to worry about dying or resetting levels because you messed up, but still want a good challenge, The Gardens Between will bridge that gap incredibly well.