A game about the flow of time and memories, the Gardens Between is an evocative puzzler that is sure to draw you in as soon as you pick up the controller. Not only does it feature unique controls, but its detailed environments, characters, and charming design made it one of our highlights from this year’s PAX East.
Right away you’ll realize you don’t control protagonists Arina and Frendt, but rather, you control the flow of time. You can make time go forward or backwards depending on which direction you press and are essentially watching these two friends navigate their way through island-like gardens figuring out where to go. Another great quality of the game is the winding camera that follows you upwards and around providing some verticality and depth to your ascent.
Moving time forward isn’t the only way to make progress in each garden and you’ll soon discover Arina and Frendt possess abilities that are crucial to their journey. Arina , for example, carries a lantern that holds light needed to open the gate to the next garden. Your path isn’t straightforward, however, as plants that steal this light dot your way so you need to play with time and use Frendt’s bell to disable them every now and then. Arina’s light not only dispels clouds that can act as platforms but it also activates bridges. As you can tell, you’ll need to play with these actions at the right time to successfully complete each garden.
Your environment is also alive and will feature moving parts and even animated blocks that are keys to solving each garden. You can leave your lantern on these blocks and they will jump to a different part of the stage with it letting you travel through areas where your light would have been taken. Other items like a saw, dominoes, and a VCR can be interacted with at the just the right time to change your environment or provide the footing you need to move forward.
These random items further build on the theme of memories and each level itself is like a physical manifestation of these characters’ pasts. Gardens are made up of remnants of the real world and feature clothes lines, picnic tables, and even board games. A thick mist surrounds each garden but you can make out windows, chairs, and other objects in the distance that seem out of place but add to the whimsical nature of each world. There was no text or dialogue in the levels we played, but we could make out a semblance of a story through these motifs.
It’s these mysterious elements along with the soothing nature of its gameplay that makes the Gardens Between a wonderful experience. Despite our brief time with it, we were able to understand the core components of the game and watch it get more complex as it progressed. We can’t wait to see more when the game comes out later this year for PlayStation 4 and Steam.