The Gardens Between is a charming and interesting game about two kids who are sucked into another dimension to solve puzzles. Every level is thematic, and some can be rather challenging. So get your thinking caps on!
In the opening of The Garden Between, you meet two kids, Arina and Frendt, sitting in their tree house. When a storm approaches and breaks, lighting strikes and time halts. The sky train behind them pauses before beginning to go in reverse. With that, the two are teleported into another dimension. As the game progresses, you figure out that these two are best friends and that all the puzzle levels in the game are reminiscent of their friendship. The levels are in the form of tower-like islands where you must reach the summit. Each level is unique and has items or styling that represents a time in their lives. After you complete the puzzle, you get a memory which then turns into a constellation, and you can move to the next puzzle or world. The memories are heartfelt, and you genuinely sense that these two are close.
After completing seven adventure-filled worlds, you get to the final world. You see items from all the previous worlds, and as you race to the top of this tower, the remnants of the worlds fall to ruin as lightning claps. When you get to the top, you get your final constellation. This will teleport the kids back home where you learn that Frendt is moving away and Arina is left alone. The gardens between their houses were where they spent all their time and created all their memories. The constellations represented that they made memories together and that no matter where they are they will have something to look back on.
All of the game-play in The Gardens Between is based on time manipulation. It made a very intriguing take on puzzle gaming coupled with the unique level design and attention to details. Every puzzle island is based on the memories and the friendship that the pair share. The items found in each level are part of their life together. Arina and Frendt travel between puzzle worlds in a little floating boat that is modeled after their tree house from the beginning of the game.
As you navigate each island, the camera will pivot you around in a circular rotation. You have the ability to move time forward or backward, and everything moves in a linear fashion on the islands. Your character walks a specific path unless something is triggered (like a platform in their way). Similarly, little light robots which inhabit the levels will move in a particular trajectory unless a switch is activated. The goal is to get through the puzzle in each level and then place a light orb in the pedestal at the top of the island.
There are multiple mechanics on the islands other than time manipulation. Light orbs are used to advance and are sucked into a lantern that Arina carries with her. Dark orbs negate the light orbs and destroy them. Frendt can ring bells that will activate various mechanisms. This may get rid of dark orbs along the path or allow objects to be moved out of the way so the pair can cross. Arina can also allow her lantern to be carried by a light robot so it can collect the light orbs for her. Robots do this when they cross the path of the light orb on their trajectory as you move time forward or back.
Light orbs are used to activate light bridges that Arina and Frendt travel over. However, once the pair have crossed a bridge, they cannot go back, even if you rewind time. There are also cloud bridges, which require Arina to be lacking light in her lantern so that the clouds do not dissipate. Using all of these mechanics and learning their workings will allow you to solve each puzzle. Each island will have a different mix of these mechanics. The earlier levels are more forgiving in the puzzles and the farther you get, the more intricate the level design is.
Through having the characters work together and the manipulating time, you can solve all the puzzles. There will be a lot of time manipulation and testing out how each puzzle/mechanic works. Sometimes you will get to the next stage of the puzzle only to find that you have a light orb (and do not need one) or do not (and you need one) and will have to go back. Some puzzles will require you to stop and think about it, and others seemed like a walk in the park.
Each island is based off memories that Arina and Frendt have together, making each island unique and thematic. The thought put into each level is amazing. The little details truly stand out. Arina and Frendt will stop and look at key items, and wave at each other if the path has diverged. The lighting is also related to each level, with most being upbeat and cheery until the story takes a deep turn.
In the later levels, there are number puzzles that are strikingly creative once you’ve figured them out. There are TV monitors in certain levels that may require you to go into them to solve the puzzle or watch what is on the monitor to figure out the solution. Another interesting mechanic was murals on the walls of specific levels. There may be a situation where you have to go into the mural and move along in the 2D atmosphere to activate something in the 3D puzzle. For example: bouncing off a sawhorse in the 2D mural to pivot the real sawhorse in the 3D puzzle so the pair can get across.
The visual/level designs are simple, but that lets you get into the puzzles without getting distracted by the graphics. You are still able to see the details, but they are not overbearing. This doesn’t take away from everything in the level tying together nicely, and the game presents a cohesive image of the island and the memory at the end of the puzzle.
For having such a simple tag of indie puzzler, this game was terrific. The eureka moments you have when you figure out a puzzle are exciting. Every couple of levels there seemed to be a new mechanic added, or some degree of difficulty ramped up. Seeing the pair get closer and learning their story legitimately makes the ending have emotion. In conclusion, if you like relaxing puzzle games, I definitively recommend picking The Gardens Between up for yourself.