The Gardens Between is one of those games that draws you in with its art style first. Its soft, whimsical look set to background of teal and twinkling stars, with bright splashes of color along the game’s tiny islands, make for a visual treat. Even the way protagonists Arina and Frendt walk, climb, and hunch over as their wait for each other to catch up is appealing to look at it. It’s a very pretty little game.
The Voxel Agents’ latest game is also immediately accessible in the way some puzzle platformers are not in their beginnings. The game’s first puzzles are small and simple, and take the time to teach you what to look out for as you make your way to the top of each island. It takes the time to show you how to unlock bridges and complete puzzles with balls of light — and what kind of switches and levers to pull to make sure creepy-looking plants don’t gobble up that light first.
Carrying balls of light from point A to point B isn’t the core mechanic, however. It’s definitely part of how you complete each puzzle, but for The Gardens Between, it’s not about the destination: it’s about the journey. Instead of controlling the movement of the two characters, you control the flow of time.
You must carefully “scrub” through each puzzle, going backwards and forward in time to remove a toppled obstacle or flip a switch blocking the light-eating plants. Some add more layers of complexity, such as having to go all the way to the end of the line to plug in a power cable, then go all the way to the start of the island in order to interact with the various electrical gadgets in your way. It’s a simple concept that adds up to a lot more gameplay variety and types of puzzles than you may think.
The story of The Gardens Between is also in the vein of focus on the journey over the destination. Arina and Frendt are best friends, and throughout their journey on these magical islands they will learn more about how they’ve shaped each other’s lives — and how growing up and leaving childhood behind will affect them both.
The Gardens Between will launch late next year for PlayStation 4 and on Steam.