by William Thompson
reviewed on PC
When growing up, there’s always that one friend that you do everything with. Going to the beach, playing sport, watching movies and even camping. The Gardens Between features two such friends – next door neighbors Arina and Frendt – who are inseparable during their childhood only to be torn apart when Frendt’s family decides to move to a new house. The game reminisces about the adventures they had together and relives the fun times, all set in wonderfully retro 1980’s themed scenarios. Indeed, many of the scenarios brought back personal memories of my own.
Although the game is much about friendship, The Gardens Between is a wonderfully designed puzzle game. Each scenario has the two friends collecting a glowing orb inside a lamp (not unlike an old kerosene lamb) and then taking the orb via a spiral path to a sundial-like monument at the peak of the level. It sounds very easy, and starts off as such, but as the friends progress through each scenario, new features are added into the levels that make proceeding to the exit more difficult.
Tethered…as friends often seem to be
Players control the two friends, who seem to be tethered together with an invisible rope as they move through the scenarios. Each of them has their own skillset though and can manipulate various sections of the locations. Anita carries the orb lamp and Frendt performs the action sequences in the game – namely ringing the special bells located around the levels. Anita and Frendt will only move forward and backwards though, and as they do so, certain objects within the scenes move too. Walking forward moves time ahead, whilst walking backwards reverses time. Similar to Braid, these interactions and manipulation of time is the feature of the puzzles.
The scenes have been well thought out. Children of the 80’s such as myself will be able to reminisce with most of the settings, and I particularly enjoyed how the environment in each scene played a part in how the puzzle is solved. OK…so slight spoiler alert there. But the puzzle elements are simple, and likewise, the controls. Forward, backward and the action button for each of the characters. It makes The Gardens Between playable by all ages. The settings are delightfully abstract but fit in perfectly as a way of telling the dialogue-free story. As mentioned previously, each level represents an adventure taken by the two friends together. With an 80’s theme, the settings represent watching movies, playing in sewer drains and picnicking in the park and staring up at the stars.
The game is wonderfully relaxing, with the musical score brilliantly keeping a mellow tone. The piano and string composition create a haunting theme that produces an atmosphere in which you never feel rushed. Gamers can work their way through the puzzles at their own leisure. The puzzles themselves and generally not overly difficult, but I did find myself scratching my head over a couple of the levels. It was in these levels that the puzzles required some small visuals hints that I did not pick up on straight away and had me moving back and forth several times before I finally noticed the clue.
A strong bond
The Gardens Between is a beautiful game and combined with the relaxing atmosphere set by the wonderful soundtrack and simple controls make it one worth checking out. The story of the two friends’ adventures is told without the use of any dialogue and although it is a little on the short side, it did leave me wanting more - which is always a good sign. The puzzles are not overly difficult, and the lovely story of friendship told within the environments where their adventures occur, make The Gardens Between a game for all ages, but will be especially nostalgic for those gamers who grew up in the 80's.
Wonderful settings, puzzles and a relaxing atmosphere
A little on the short side