The Gardens Between Review
Release Date: September 20, 2018
Publisher/Developer: The Voxel Agents
Platform: Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), Steam, PlayStation 4
Friendships are some of the most important bonds we create through our lives, and learning how they work when we are young impact our development. New friends come and change dynamics, best friends move away simply because the parents need to move and can entirely change how you see the world. The whirlwind of memories that come with these changes spin about as we try to figure out what is going on and how to handle the changes in our lives. The Gardens Between attempts to show how those memories race through our brains, depicting the joy and struggles of a lifetime of friendship.
Arina and Frendt are good friends who regularly spend time together in a treehouse in the garden between their homes. They fall into a dreamlike world representative of the memories they have created throughout their entire friendship. Completing a level crafts constellations that depict the scene. Instead of controlling our characters, you control time itself, which flows in ways unknown. For example, Frendt may be able to move a platform while standing still, or Arina can place a lantern in a moving platform and effect the world differently dependent on where the light is. In another level, the characters jump across a giant keyboard. Running forward and backward across the board, stopping and turning around mid run results in a pass code entering in the computer. It really warps your idea of how time works. I'd hate to spoil any more puzzles, but I will say that I frequently got frustrated that there were no strategy guides online yet, only to figure it out five minutes or so later. There are no "fail states," the game will just block you from proceeding, as if a wall is missing or a bridge isn't down.
The game has numerous levels and plenty of scenes to see, but is by and large shorter. I was able to finish my first playthrough over the course of a weekend. There won't be a lot of replay value, given that characters are on auto-walk and you're basically changing routes, but I did find a speed up option after I beat it that would allow you to get through the puzzles without the fast forward/rewind issues. My one beef with the game centered around this. When I didn't know how to do something, the switch to change something may be a twenty second rewind from the point you see the solution, and there may be five combinations to try. The back and forth got tedious at times, but never so frustrating as to quit. There's another unlock that happens, but I'll leave that to be found by players.
The Gardens Between shows how a friendship can weather the storm, and the strong bonds can be tested as we learn about life and where the future will lead us. It's a wonderfully unique take on how memories work, and at $20, is worth the chance to reminisce on our own memories of the true friendships of our childhood.
-Wondrous and unique concept
-Comfortably short-doesn't stay on too long
-Surreal landscapes reminiscent of the memories between the two friends
-Rewinding long distances to change one dynamic
-"C'mon, it'd be easier if you just went to the top path! She went that way, why can't you?"--Controlling characters without "controlling" them is frustrating
-While I loved the retro feel, my kids were confused by some of the tech! I did get to explain the dot matrix printer and such to them. Bittersweet. ;)