Two friends reunite once more, after years and years of friendship looking at each other from less than a block away. During their friendship years, they built forts with chairs and blankets, play video games together, and just plainly had fun with everything that was nearby. The Gardens Between invites us to relive their stories by literally going back (and forth) in time. These mementos are embedded into islands, each recognizable by their gigantic structures and even a certain personality attached to them.
Back when The Voxel Agents revealed their upcoming experience of rememberance, I was amazed by its visuals and the focus on creating calm and unique atmospheres for each scenario. What I wasn’t aware of, though, is that there’s only two commands to use throughout the entire game. You either move forwards or backwards, and the only action is made through one button, used to interact with objects in the environment. That’s it.
All movements for both characters are already “scripted” from the very beginning. The player only advances or rewinds the island. Rotating not only makes the friends move but also move the camera and changing the general behaviour of the landscape. A giant bowl of popcorn can fall into the couch back and forth, for example, while in most cases this will grant clues to solve puzzles, leading you to think which would be the best way to approach them. It might seem like everything in the islands is set from the beginning, but both kids are required to carry an orb to a mechanism at the end of each. Which is where the difficulty lies, as the game adds obstacles and new objects to interact with.
During the first few levels, taking the orb will only require for the boy to activate a bell of sorts, which will unveil a flower with the floating energy ball. If the girl has the lamp, it will automatically attach itself to it, and we will continue onward unlocking our path ahead until the end of the level. Sometimes, carrying the light will dissipate a mist of sorts forming a bridge, and we won’t be able to go across. In these cases the levels smartly present small boxes with legs that can carry the lamp, and will appear bouncing throughout the island, also in a fixed, scripted way. The challenge is to know exactly when to use them, often having more than a few in a same map that go to different ways.
In one of my favourite sequences, the characters had to climb all the way to the top of the island, while at least five of the boxes could be used throughout the way. And, they only distinct themselves with a color, as there were a few paint containers scattered. The camera, following the friends’ walking paths, will rotate almost in 360°, which translates to these boxes being hidden from our vision during certain parts. To make things more complicated and fun, some of the last boxes will change color twice, leading to a higher confusion and lots of thinking. It took me a while to figure it out, but it never felt unfair whatsoever. And the biggest reward, along with solving the puzzle, was to see the correct box carrying the light throughout the island, knowing it was the correct one. I just relaxed and watched time slowly pass by, until I decided it was the moment to move on to the next level.
The Gardens Between is filled with moments like these. And everything comes together thanks to its calm and fulfilling atmosphere, joined by a beautiful soundtrack and attention to detail in each island. It’s a gorgeous game to look at, and even greater to dive in, discovering the friends’ childhoods and what it means to leave all those moments behind. All without forgetting to remembering them one last time.
A copy of The Gardens Between for Switch was provided by Stride PR on behalf of the studio for review purposes. Make sure to visit the official site for more information.