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The Gardens Between Review: Time after Time

/ Oct 10th, 2018 No Comments

The Gardens Between Review

Adolescence is characterized by minor tragedies that feel like trauma, but they are all part of growing up. One of the hardest things as a kid is having a friend move away. Even if it is only a city away or a new school, it can feel like they moved across the globe. For many of us, it is the first heartbreak we experience.

The Gardens Between explores the hurt of this loss through inventive puzzles. Placing the memories of two friends on islands symbolizing their relationship and memories results in imaginative gameplay and a moving story.

Back and Forth

In the gardens between two children, Arina and Frendt explore fantastical islands based on their memories. Adventures range from enjoying a blanket fort at a sleepover to exploring a dangerous sewer drain at night. By exploring these levels, you’re re-creating these memories and shedding light on what happened to them.

The game’s narrative and gameplay is firmly intertwined. There aren’t cutscenes or long moments of dialogues; what you learn about these two characters and their relationship happens as a result of solving puzzles. While things can be a bit nebulous with no long preamble or character delivering exposition, the further you get into the game, the better idea you have of what’s going on.

The Gardens Between is about how moving can tear apart a friendship. It explores the melancholy of losing a friend to distance. What the narrative gets perfectly is the hurt that happens when someone close to you moves away and how it can feel like you’ll never see them again. More than anything, it nails the sense of wistfulness that can only come from childhood.

Since the game is about the friendship of two children, you control both the raven-haired Arina and the bespectacled Frendt. Each has their own part to play in solving the puzzles on each island. Arina can manipulate objects around the island with her lantern. Mainly, she is responsible for using the lantern she carries to move light around the island. This is vital because the only way to solve the mystery of an island is to light a braiser at the heart of it.

Time is a powerful force. One of the greatest assets in The Gardens Between is the ability to move time at your will. Frendt’s ability is to manipulate time with his movements and interact with objects that can deliver or take away light. As he moves forward, so does time. When he moves backward, time reverses. It also changes the space around them as certain events trigger only when time moves forward or backward. This is a crucial element for puzzle solving as most puzzles require major manipulations of time.
 

The Gardens Between Review

The core conflict in The Gardens Between is the fact that Arina is moving away.

As all good puzzle games, The Gardens Between eases you into its mechanics. The early islands mostly involve you moving time forward while only having to put one light into your lamp to light the final braiser at the end. As the memories become more turbulent, more elements are introduced, including creatures that can hold your lantern and move it around a level and dark orbs that eat your light to prevent you from moving forward. These elements build slowly, but soon you find yourself having to contend with a ton of obstacles to reach your goal.

Some of the more tricky levels involve manipulating multiple elements. For example, one of the storm drain islands requires some very specific time/space manipulation. You must use dripping water to spark an electrical current while using rapidly disappearing light to dissipate fog in order to move forward. The early levels can seem like a cakewalk, but these later levels truly put your puzzle solving to the test.

In one of the levels, you encounter multiple dark orbs on your way to the final braiser, meaning you are not able to bring a lit lantern directly there. This level also involves paint cans and multiple lantern-carrying creatures constantly moving forward as Frendt moves forward. Figuring out exactly how each creature moves and how to best position the lantern onto them to reach the final braise with the light in tact is quite a chore. Utilizing the particular nature of each island becomes very important later in the game because it often holds the key to solving a tricky puzzle.
 

The Gardens Between Review

Not all the memories you explore are turbulent.

The Gardens Between’s difficulty rises in concordance with the complexity of its islands. The more elements that can move and change, the tougher the puzzles are to solve. It forces you to think in time and space and figure out how all the various puzzle elements work within those two principles.

One memory involves a falling fossil of a T-Rex that you have to navigate and manipulate while figuring out how to move forward with a lit lantern through a dark orb. Another sees you moving back and forth to enter a code on a keyboard found later in the level on a typewriter.

Getting to the hearts of these islands is not easy, but solving tough puzzles is worth it. The way the story, music and gameplay work together is very evocative and effecting. It keeps you wanting to move forward.

Overall

The Gardens Between is a unique puzzle game with fascinating mechanics. It tells a wordless story about the friendship between two children. What results between the excellent level construction and narrative is an evocative experience with a delightful touch of whimsy.

The Gardens Between was reviewed on Nintendo Switch with a code provided by the developer.
 

Kalvin Martinez

Kalvin Martinez

Senior Editor at Gaming Illustrated
Kalvin Martinez studied Creative Writing at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He writes reviews, prose and filthy limericks. While he is Orange County born, he now resides in Portland, OR. He is still wondering what it would be like to work at a real police department. Follow Kalvin on Twitter @freepartysubs
Kalvin Martinez

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THE GARDENS BETWEEN REVIEW: TIME AFTER TIME

Gaming Illustrated RATING

Overall63%

GAMEPLAY8.5

Visually there is a lot to love about The Gardens Between, much of it is the result of fantastic level design.

GRAPHICS8.5

The puzzles in The Gardens Between are imaginative and the inventive gameplay mechanics result in some real challenge.

SOUND8.5

The mix of ambient sound with the right blend of stirring music creates an excellent mood for the game’s gameplay and story.

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