Childhood friendships are a huge milestone when it comes to growing. You start to build a little network outside of your family, creating relationships and in turn creating stories through the events you experience together. A lot of the time they don’t last forever, whether it’s from changing schools, naturally drifting apart as you grow up, or moving away. It’s this journey of childhood friendship and the events that bring children together that The Gardens Between explores.
The Gardens Between is a puzzle game where you manipulate time to solve the challenges ahead. Each of the puzzles is a fragment of a memory shared between childhood friends Arina and Frendt, and is shaped like a tower that has to be ascended with a glowing orb. The puzzles have many different obstacles from paths that disappear while holding the orb, to finding specific information within the environment that needs to be input elsewhere. And of course it’s all about the movement of time to get the solution.
The time mechanics are simple. When you move the characters forward time follows suit, while if you move back then time reverses to start resetting the level. It’s a feature that has been designed really well – though some may remember a similar idea within Braid – adding a dynamism that makes each movement mean a lot. There’s no limit on how many times you can play with time, which is helpful for some of the more challenging puzzles, and they’ve been designed so you can focus on one part at a time to make progress. There’s no overwhelming deluge of information which allows you to narrow your focus, and which in turn leads to those eureka moments.
The puzzles aren’t especially hard for the most part and will usually take only a few minutes to complete, and while it can be completed in around two and a half hours, making it a rather short game, the length fits it perfectly. The plot of the game is told through the memory fragments but it isn’t a plot that requires a lot of exposition or depth as each memory is a time the two protagonists spent together doing things friends do. There’s no dialogue to speak of, with interactions between the characters coming through their actions and movements.
The design of The Gardens Between looks great with puzzle environments standing out for their colourful palettes, and the animations of the world. The musical score is also well composed and lends an otherworldly vibe, which is perfect for the abstract world of memories the two friends find themselves in. On PS4 there were only a couple of issues when it came to performance with a slight freeze between the end of a puzzle and the transition to memory, but other than that The Gardens Between runs very well.
The Gardens Between is a short and simple adventure that holds a lot of charm. It plays upon the nostalgia we all have for childhood and focusses on experiences we’ve left behind in adulthood. It’s also distinctly bittersweet in how it deals with the nature of change within relationships. While it’s not the longest game, it’s perfectly put together, and though the puzzles aren’t too difficult, the way they’re crafted should be praised as should the whole package.
Version tested: PS4. Also available on PC, Mac, Switch