The Gardens Between is a puzzle based video game developed by The Voxel Agents. The game is available for PlayStation, Xbox, Windows and Nintendo Switch. The Gardens Between is also currently available on the Xbox Game Pass.
The Gardens Between centres around two teenage neighbours Arina and Frendt who have become close friends. Whilst in the midst of a storm, Arina and Frendt hide out in a treehouse before falling into a ‘dream ocean’ made up of small islands where each of the individual levels in the game take place. The story is essentially two friends, reliving memories and experiences they have shared together, played out in a series of abstract levels.
There are around twenty of these abstract levels which are all puzzle based and inspired by memories of Arina and Frendt’s friendship. Each character has a unique ability; Arina carries a magic lantern that carries a sphere of a light (which is required to complete the level), and Frendt has the ability to sound wind chimes to open or close flowers that provide light for the lantern. As you progress through the game, more mechanics are added to help differentiate the gameplay and navigate through more complex areas.
What makes this game so unique is that you do not directly move the characters, instead you simply manipulate time, either moving forwards or backwards, which in turn moves the characters with it. Whilst the route to the portal to ‘deposit’ the light sphere appears fairly straightforward at first glance, there are a number of obstacles which require you to control time to manoeuvre them. This time manipulation mechanic is something I have never experienced in a video game before (certainly not to this degree) and it’s this which makes the game so fascinating and special.
Puzzle based games are seemingly a bit of a dying breed in recent years, whilst we do get some games with a lot of puzzle based mechanics i.e. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order or Tomb Raider, the puzzles within these games are never the main focus. The Gardens Between breaks this mould, with each level containing multiple mini-puzzles which must be completed to progress. Some of the puzzles within the game are genuinely quite challenging, requiring abstract and lateral thinking to solve them and it’s the moments after completing these puzzles that produce the most contentment from the game.
Of the twenty or so levels within the game, these are grouped into sets of two or three levels each, each of which are themed. Each level is brilliantly thought out as well as beautifully designed and the mysterious, abstract design of each level is a great representation inside the minds of two teenagers, dreaming about past memories. One of my favourite levels is where Arina and Frendt are reliving a school trip to a museum and have to navigate a huge dinosaur skeleton. This level requires precise time shifting and actually requires you to walk across the dinosaur skeleton in order to progress which is super cool!
The Gardens Between doesn’t contain a single word of dialogue, but by the end of the game, you will be awed at the experience. Through all the puzzles and time shifting, The Gardens Between at its core is a touching story about friendship and shared memories. Whilst being short in length, you can feel the love and care that went into crafting this joyous little game.
With its touching story and unique and abstract level design, The Gardens Between is a magical puzzle based joy, not to be missed.
The Gardens Between is available on Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo Switch and Windows. It is also available to download on the Xbox Game Pass.