System: Switch (eShop)
Release date: September 20, 2018
Developer: The Voxel Agents
Publisher: The Voxel Agents
From the moment I started The Gardens Between, I was immediately and gently guided into a universe of nostalgia and serenity, and these calming yet overwhelming sensations followed me through my entire short playthrough. So effortlessly is the player breezing through the story that encompasses this world, it almost pushes them to believe they’re not controlling the world-but simply, living in it.
The Gardens Between begins by showing you a backyard shared by two homes, with a centerpiece treehouse being occupied by the two main protagonists of our tale. We see two young friends who weather a storm together huddled close in the small confines of their wooden vessel. Suddenly, a glowing orb illuminates the room and shines between them, thus taking them away from their shared yard into a fantasy land cultivated and filled to the brim of visual callbacks to their past. They drift island to island on the floating carcass of their treehouse, and revisit some of the most fantastical moments they’ve shared together.
One wouldn’t be silly to believe that you control this ragtag duo throughout their journey, but that’s not quite the case. It is within that misconception where the greatest part of The Garden Between lies, and it’s the fact that you simply just control the flow of time. Your controls are wholly limited to reversing and progressing the movement of time, and aside from the press of the X button that you mash to grab, release, or alter the magical orb you carry with you, that is the extent of your control. Each island tasks the kids to reach the stone platform at the end and deliver a glowing ball, but to no one’s surprise, it’s never quite that easy.
On their trek to transport the orb, they’ll have to come face to face to some brilliantly designed puzzles that double as throwbacks to their past. By using the flow of time correctly we can help guide the children to knock down jenga towers, rewind through cassette tapes, or even play a round of their favorite game. All of these actions beautifully double as both a means to progress through the island as well as tools to thicken the plot and paint the relationship these two shared. It’s this wonderful concept that is so, so fully realized and created a pace and feel to the game that all during my five-hour playtime got progressively more and more interesting.
One of my personal particular standouts are the levels where they relive when they built their shared treehouse, as the puzzles almost feel like they would never work outside of their context here. At one point you have to rewind and progress time in such a way that the young girl jumps on a saw enough to fully cut a piece of wood, creating a bridge for the boy to travel across to reunite them. It’s simple, precious moments like these that are jam packed into this game, constantly reminding you of your end goal and making sure you’re always behind how dang cute these kids are.
To finish this review without calling attention to art and sound design would be the crime of a century, as nothing in this game would work as wonderfully as it does without this aspect. The visual style of the game is a soft, cel-shaded look that allows for stunning color palettes and distinct images that completely work in tandem with the gameplay. The visuals and progression of the levels are doing this wonderful waltz by allowing you to direct your eyes on an object only when the game thinks its time for you to, making this whole journey feel just so much more complete and full. It’s this dazzling spectacle that never feels the need to look busy, just perfected simplicity.
This works in perfect harmony with the game’s soundtrack – an ambient and gentle orchestra of sounds that almost feel as if it takes your hand and walks with you through the environments. No particular music pieces will pound your ears or cause you to tap your feet to their rhythm for days to come – and that’s just the beauty of it. Calling it simplistic would be unfair, as its complex and perfectly timed notes play a vital role in crafting the world that we see in The Gardens Between.
Playing through The Gardens Between made me feel the sweet nostalgia we all crave from our childhoods. With a story about a strong bond between two people who love each other being so relatable, it quickly resonates and fills you with that warm, happy feeling from the moment you first boot it up to the moment you finish. I know I may sound like I’m just spewing infinite praise, but sometimes a game like this one comes along and warrants it. The Voxel Agents crafted something very special here, and I cannot recommend it enough.
The Gardens Between review copy provided by The Voxel Agents for the purposes of this review.