The Gardens Between is a narrative puzzle game centered around two teenagers, a girl named Arina and a boy named Frendt. The key mechanic of The Gardens Between is that you control both characters at the same time by manipulating time and changing the environment of Arina and Frendt, who move in a predetermined direction. All of this takes place in a very surreal, dream-like world.
The gameplay of The Gardens Between is that of a puzzler. Every puzzle is essentially the same, with our two heroes finding a way to the end of the stage. However, this is not as simple as it may sound. As you progress through the game, new mechanics will be introduced. Light, shadows and time manipulation, and it’s up to you to learn how all the mechanics play into each other.
The level design is near perfection, with each stage being unique, featuring themes relevant to Arina and Frendt’s lives. The stand out examples for me would be the Computers level where you are required to move time back and forth in order to type a security code on a keyboard and the Electricity level where you need to manipulate time in order to close an electrical current with a falling drop of water. These stellar levels show off the game’s time-bending mechanic in a way are a unique fashion.
The presentation of The Gardens Between is just as unique as the gameplay, with a storybook inspired art style which adds to the surreal aesthetics and contributes to the story about childhood memories. Although music is appropriate, it comes across as a little bland and does shine like the visuals and level design.
This game’s story focuses on Arina and Frendt, childhood friends and partners in this adventure. Together they travel to different islands to solve their mysteries. After each island is completed a short scene of Arina and Frendt in the real world will play. This is how the bulk of the narrative is presented, and it works. The scenes, in isolation, are touching, but to experience the true impact you need to complete the game.
The Gardens Between is a truly special game, filled with charm and it is clear that developers The Voxel Agents poured their hearts and souls into making this game special. The creative time manipulation mechanics coupled with the incredibly diverse levels makes this a perfect way to spend a half-day.