The Garden Between (Switch) Review
With so many action-packed games out on the Switch, it’s nice sometimes to be able to sit back and soak in the atmosphere of a game. Where it’s not kill or be killed, and instead just tells a story. The Gardens Between is a lovely and touching game, telling a story about friendship. Experiencing this adventure between two friends you’ll find yourself solving puzzles that require messing with the flow of time.
Arina and Frendt start off in a treehouse during a storm. A mysterious light appears and whisks the treehouse with the kids inside on a journey across islands built on their memories. Almost immediately you’re given the power to manipulate time. In fact, the only controls you’re given for the whole game is to rewind time or to make it move forward, as well as a button for interacting with objects. Even late into the game, it feels strange not having direct control over the characters, especially when you’re pressing forward or back to change time. While you are mostly seeing the level play out, there are obstacles that keep you from moving forward. To end a stage you need to capture a ball of light in a lantern that Arina carries. Puzzles ultimately hinge on whatever you need to do to get the light to the pedestal at the top of the level. Obstacles come in the form of flowers that will steal the light away should it get too close, and dark fog that either needs to be kept as a bridge or removed.
The dark fog forces you to find ways to keep the light moving towards the goal in less conventional ways. Each island/level completed adds to a constellation in the sky above the island. Usually, two or three islands are enough to complete a brief story in the constellation created, which gives you a little more insight to all the objects you’ve found strewn throughout the islands. To get to the end of each island, Arina and Frendt will have to work together. While Arina carries the light that they need to progress, only Frendt can activate switches that change elements within the level. Usually, this leads to Arina clearing the way so Frendt can get to what he needs to activate so you can both push forward. While busily trying to solve the puzzles, it’s easy to forget that the narrative that The Gardens Between is telling is a tale of friendship and a moment in childhood that will resonate with many. The further you go along in unlocking the constellations, the more you get a glimpse into this friendship. Even though it is all being displayed in images and short memories shared, it’s really good at stirring up emotions. It isn’t the longest journey but it is a lovely and heartfelt one as well as somewhat bittersweet.
Visually, The Gardens Between looks lovely. Each island is a surreal dreamscape made up of items that hold some relevance to the friends. Once the islands are completed enough to make a constellation in the sky that ends in a scene, you’ll find how all these items fit together from a moment they both shared. Amongst these scenes, there are lots of interesting ways of manipulating these objects to help solve the puzzle. It’s not always obvious straight away how you can manipulate these objects outside of the flow of time. When there seems to be no other way forward, it’s time to slowly go back through what you’ve done and really pay attention to the island around you. It could be simple as using the flow of water to mess with other elements.
There are phones, old walkmen, lightning and other objects that require you to find out how they can be used to change the level so you can finish it. The rewinding and use of time, in general, is another neat visual touch. Just like the dream-like islands made of memories, the movement and how everything moves backwards or forwards also feels dream-like. With a setting like this, music also plays a big part in building up the atmosphere. The music is largely relaxing, peaceful and mostly in the background (as music generally is of course). When you spend some time stumped at some puzzles, the music helps to keep things calm. Overall the visuals and music make for a pleasant and relaxing experience, even when the narrative in the background is a bit turbulent.
The puzzles vary from the easy to quite difficult. There is a nice gradual introduction to the different ways the mechanics work. The game never outright states what you have to do to, things that will need to be manipulated are often visible enough. Levels are sectioned in a way that you only need to solve one or two smaller things in order to keep moving forward to the next puzzle moment. It doesn’t take too long to get a good idea of what you need to do to get the light to the pedestal at the end of the level. If you want a good challenge, then The Gardens Between delivers. There isn’t a hint system or even any text to explain anything. There is an action button when the relevant character is in front of an object only they can use, but outside of that, it’s mostly messing with the flow of time. If you’re ever too stuck it is worth looking at what is happening in the environment around you and having a double check if you’re inadvertently interacting with anything in the background. Over 3-4 hours, you’ll have several different kinds of puzzles. While it’s a shame the game isn’t longer, at the same time by the time you reach the last island, fatigue of some puzzles become a risk.
While for the most part, the game is a delight to play, there are a few minor issues. While it is playable on the handheld mode, there can be levels with lots of moving parts that are hard to see combined with often being in a dark setting. You can still work it out, but some levels are better built for having the Switch docked. Another minor issue is how the manipulation of time can really drag down the pace of some levels. Once again it’s not a big thing, but when you’re stuck on a puzzle, having to rewind and go forward, it can feel like a crawl when the kids are performing slow actions that they are slowed down further.
Now, value is subjective and we could discuss/argue all day about how much a game should cost. There are real pros and cons for the price point of The Gardens Between, up front the game is lovely and I hope the review reads as overly positive. Ultimately it’s still a three hour game at a $30 price point. On the Switch, it’s not that uncommon for shorter narrative experiences to cost as much, but the value is still important when you want your money and game to last. Regardless, I would recommend The Gardens Between if you can get it. It’ll be over before you know it, but it is such a lovely time journeying through this friendship.
The Voxel Agents have made a really touching game with The Gardens Between. Without any words you get a glimpse into a childhood friendship that may hit close to home, remembering friendships from your own childhood. If the narrative doesn’t interest you so much, there just so happens to be a fun puzzle game that allows you to mess with time in a non-catastrophic way.
- Lovely story
- Time manipulation makes for some good puzzles
- Nice visuals within a surreal landscapes
- Puzzles are the right amount of challenging
- Puzzles with lots of back and forth can be too slow
- Over before you know it