In all likelihood it’s unlikely you’ll find another PS4 title quite like The Gardens Between this year. A puzzler that deals with bittersweet themes of wistful memories and moving away, The Gardens Between might not be the most challenging, nor the longest puzzler around, but it does possess an infectiously earnest quality that ensures it stays with you long after you’ve beaten it.
A thoughtful and abstract meditation on the relationship of best friends Frendt and Arina, The Gardens Between has players venturing through a number of ethereal, diorama style garden islands that are strewn with items and objects from their childhood.
The Gardens Between Is A Charmingly Inventive Though All Too Brief Puzzler
Viewed from a side-on perspective that follows the pair as they wind their way up and around each island, the basic gist of the The Gardens Between is that you progress from one island to another, uncovering memories and understanding the bonds of friendship that have kept Arina and Frendt such close friends for so long. How you actually progress however, is by reaching the zenith of each island and solving the puzzles along the way that get you there.
Where things get especially interesting is in how The Gardens Between deals with player agency. Rather than a set of basic controls that are divided out into the usual walk/run, jump, duck and other such actions, The Gardens Between is essentially controlled by one button and an analogue stick – with the former used to interact with objects in the environment, and the latter being used to push time forward or rewind it. Basically, time only moves forwards or backwards when you tell it to.
As you might well imagine, The Gardens Between takes advantage of its unique premise to create some fairly unusual puzzles. Because Frendt and Arina move at different speeds and approach the island in different ways from one another, when time pushes forward or rolls backwards, they will always find themselves on different points on the island and it’s here that the majority of The Gardens Between’s numerous conundrums play out.
For example, one situation might require Arina to open a light bridge with a lamp that has captured an orb of light. The problem is, when she approaches the bridge the light from her lamp is stolen by a ball of darkness that has bloomed from a nearby flower. The solution? Simply rewind time and have Frendt pull a switch that closes the flower, thus ensuring that the light in Arina’s lamp is never snuffed out and allowing the duo to proceed onward.
Though such puzzles might seem conceptually trite, The Gardens Between isn’t afraid to get pleasingly inventive with them, even if the challenge never quite reaches the heady levels that more seasoned puzzle fans might expect. In particular, a lot of the later levels focus on using the time flow function to freeze events in place and use physics to achieve your goal; requiring the player to think a little more outside the box than they perhaps normally would.
At just over a couple of hours long, The Gardens Between is not an especially substantive affair that much is for a sure, and its a fact that when coupled with its less than robustly challenging, though highly inventive conundrums ensures that the whole thing is simply all over far too quickly than we’d like.
Nonetheless, with its deeply touching narrative, relatable themes and vividly realized visual style, The Gardens Between nonetheless remains a compelling puzzling curio that everyone should spare a few hours of their time to invest themselves into.
The Gardens Between from The Voxel Agents releases for PS4, PC and Nintendo Switch on September 20, 2018.
Review code supplied by the publisher.