Developer/Publisher: The Voxel Agents || Overall: 9.5/10
The Gardens Between is one of the most beautifully crafted games I’ve ever played. Creating games that can be appreciated as art can be a bit of a challenge, since it has to be a full package. The graphics, music, story/symbolism, gameplay — every little part of the game needs to be paid attention to, or the risk of not being taken seriously as art becomes a possibility. The Gardens Between accomplishes this very well and only in the way an interactive medium, such as gaming, can.
Each aspect of the title ties into the story, giving you a certain emotional feeling as each level is completed. You’ll soon realize that each level is based on an event, shared between the two female characters “Red Jacket Girl” and “Glasses Girl.” While they technically have names (Arina and Frendt), according to the Steam description page, there is no formal identification of the two girls in-game, nor does it really matter. There are no voices, no text bubbles… the story is told through visuals alone and you get the sense that something happens in their relationship that forces them to take this trip through surrealistic memory lane. After completing each set of levels, you are treated to a more direct reference to what the elements of the level refer to, which builds the relationship between the two girls further as you journey along.
The gameplay itself is an interesting mechanic, as you are dealing mostly with the concept of “time.” You can rewind and go forward, performing certain tasks in a certain order to get through the obstacles at hand. The main mechanics consist of Red Jacket Girl (aka Arina) holding a lantern, lighting it, and using it to get through obstacles. She can place it on certain items to activate them/complete the level, or leave it on little jumping cubes. The pursuit is typically to get the lantern lit when it needs to be, and make sure it isn’t lit when you don’t want it to be. Glasses Girl (aka Frendt) has the ability to toggle certain objects, some of which are simple binary toggles, or manipulating the construction/deconstruction of a portion of the level so that a pathway can open up. These mechanics are used in all sorts of combinations, making for an interesting challenge, but there was never anything that I was stumped at for too long. There were one or two puzzles I had to look up, though; I would never have thought to complete them the way I needed to.
The graphics, and music are beautiful and match each other very well. These two elements also tie into the story quite well, and really sell you on the emotional aspect of the girls’ relationship with one another. There are also nice touches in their animation, where they are visibly frustrated, curious, or affectionate (such as holding each other’s hands for a few seconds as they walk through the level), which gives the girls a lot of personality. The types of things they did also might remind you of an earlier time in your life when you listened to audio cassettes, watched VHS tapes on terrible TVs, and had a household printer that used feed paper. Of course, most people below the age of 25 are probably not going to be very nostalgic for those things, but the aspect of having a best friend when you were younger is a timeless reference.
I really enjoyed The Gardens Between. With about 4 hours of actual gameplay, this is a quick title that deserves another replay just to pay attention to all of the little details one more time. While not everyone may relate to the events that are being relived, the gameplay is unique enough to entertain anyone for the duration.