Control the flow of time in this clever and charming puzzle adventure from indie developers The Voxel Agents.
The Gardens Between tells the cute story of two young friends, Arina and Frendt. It begins with Arina and her family moving in next door to Frendt's family and the narrative continues to reveal the adventures they share as they grow older. However, you don't actually control either of the two characters. Instead, you have the ability to control time. Pressing forward progresses time and pressing backward rewinds time while the two characters move along their own predetermined paths.
Each level takes place on a small, mountainous island that's filled with several items that fit in with the narrative. Some of these items are interactive and they're also influenced by the time-shifting mechanic. Upon reaching the top of an island, you will complete the level and unlock an item that plays a role in a narrative animation sequence that's unlocked after finishing a certain amount of levels. To complete each level, you must solve the puzzles placed before the two young protagonists. Arina is equipped with a lantern that can absorb light orbs, one of the very few objects that is not affected by time. In other words, once the lantern absorbs an orb, it doesn't go back or forward in time as it stays in the lantern. You'll use this light orb to clear paths and activate other objects as well as enable the exit portal at the end of each level.
Frendt doesn't carry anything with him but he has the ability to activate certain objects and switches. You'll need to combine Frendt's abilities and Arina's light orb lantern as well as some help from a few of the native creatures to solve each island's puzzles. It all sounds relatively simple but the developers did a great job of coming up with some clever puzzles that test your understanding of the game mechanics. There are only about 18 stages in The Gardens Between and the campaign clocks in at a brisk 2 to 4 hours of play time depending on how long it takes you to solve the puzzles but the length felt just right as it ensured the gameplay didn't wear out its welcome. That being said, no additional modes unlock upon completing the campaign so there's minimal replay value.
The Gardens Between is colourful and endearing. Each island is full of fun items to view and interact with and many of them will provide a sense of nostalgia in slightly older gamers who remember using VCRs, Walkmans, and old-fashioned computers. The only aspect that isn't visually pleasing is the character models which are awkwardly shaped and thus stand out from their surrounding environments.
The primary frustrations I experienced with The Gardens Between were with its movement speed and the fact that many of the puzzles are solved using trial and error. You'll want to find every interactive object in a level then start putting the pieces together of how to get the orb of light to the top using those objects. This involves repeatedly having to go backwards and forwards in time as you test everything out and you'll start to notice Arina and Frendt aren't moving nearly as fast as you'd like them to. A fast-forward option would have been a great addition to help players deal with these slow-moving sequences.
Although a lot of The Gardens Between is focused on its narrative, it also has clever brain-teasing puzzles and an engaging world that will hold the interest of gamers looking for an immersive story as well as those who love a challenge.
- + Beautiful world filled with fun and nostalgia-fueled items
- + Intricate and challenging puzzles
- + Mellow narrative and overall ambiance
- - Slow moving characters make solving some puzzles take longer than it should
- - Puzzles require trial and error
- - Minimal replay value