There’s something truly special about video games that are serene, those games that immerse you in a pleasant, peaceful world that feels like a cozy blanket on a cold night, the kind of game you want to play when you want to relax and unwind; The Gardens Between is that kind of game, while also surpassing others of a similar ilk by offering brilliantly clever puzzle design, a beautiful soundtrack, and a surprisingly heartwarming story about friendship, and the memories made along the way.
The story The Gardens Between tells isn’t immediately noticeable, even giving an early impression that it might not be a big part of the experience, however through time environmental storytelling, coupled with some short, charming scenes after completing a set of Gardens, start to unravel the simple yet compelling story of Arina and Frendt, two best friends who find themselves through a magical journey in the form of small islands filled with giant versions of items they have encountered in their friendship. It allows for some really creative, fun puzzle design.
The puzzles of the game are fairly simple in concept, yet developer The Voxel Agents consistently creates a-ha moments throughout the entire two-and-a-half-hour experience. The player controls time with the joystick, moving not only Arina and Frendt, but any objects in movement in the environment as well. While initially, this mechanic seemed simple and non-challenging, as the story progresses and more elements are introduced, the puzzles start becoming a bit tougher to solve, I truly believe the level of difficulty found in some moments offer the perfect balance of difficulty, providing puzzles that are just challenging enough to create an a-ha moment when the solution is found, these moments are consistent in the entire journey, and make for some of the most enjoyable moments of a playthrough.
Serenity is a focal point throughout the entire experience; there’s a special magical feeling when the characters are walking through the island while the beautiful soundtrack is playing, and Arina stands straight to waits for Frendt, and waves at him while he’s making his way to her, tiny little moments like this are plentiful in almost every stage, and they never failed to put a smile on my face. Most of all, The Gardens Between made me feel relaxed when playing it, making me want to — literally — go to my bed, wrap myself up in a blanket, and complete it.
The Gardens Between has no dialogue, yet it perfectly tells a story through animations, environment, and short scenes recalling memories, developer The Voxel Agents truly did a wonderful job at subtly delivering a story, and wrapping it up beautifully in the end. I should also mention I ran into some very minor performance issues, where some frame rates would drop after finishing or before starting a stage, but thankfully none during gameplay.
The Gardens Between is delightful, its soundtrack is beautiful and calming, its art style is pleasing, its characters are charming and expressive, and its story is touching and melancholic, and I found myself truly amazed by the consistently great level design. After initially thinking the time-warping mechanic would get dull after time, I was delighted to be proven wrong by The Voxel Agents, who kept reinventing themselves and providing clever new ways to solve puzzles to keep me on my toes, as well as having a perfect duration of the experience, and ending with a simple, beautiful, and touching moment I won’t forget for a long time.
The publisher provided a code for this review. Our review policy.