The Gardens Between is a beautiful game about the strength of friendships and the memories that define them.
From the opening moments until the very end, The Gardens Between is a wild ride into the surreal. Each set of levels delves into a specific memory, complete with objects and activities relating to it, and tangles that recollective tapestry around islands, forming a diorama from each one. Your lantern — a brilliant light in the darkness of the fuzzy memories of years past — is both your tool and your guide.
In the midst of a rainstorm, two kids named Arina and Frendt hide away in the shelter of their treehouse. Frendt turns on the flashlight suspended from a string in the middle of the house and, just as they are about to reminisce, a lightning strike flashes across the sky. The rain stops falling and slowly starts going in reverse. Suddenly, an orb of light appears before them and as Arina reaches out and touches it, the world outside fades away and they enter a dreamworld of oversized, treasured objects from their memories.
Each level in an area focuses on a part of a bigger story, with some objects moving and some static, embedded in the rocky bedding of the island’s structure. As you move through each wonderland, you will move forward in time, but you also have the ability to move backwards in time by moving back to the left. With every object following this definition of time, you are able to peek into a small glimpse of the idea behind Arina and Frendt’s interaction at that point, sometimes not truly grasping the purpose until the final part of the puzzle is laid into place.
The metaphors used within the game certainly aren’t lost on me, as I know all too well that our perception of the past gets more and more fragmented as we get older. Even fond memories with loved ones can take on holes and tears as the years pass us by. The Gardens Between deals with this in a more literal way, as both Frendt and Arina have their own paths within each level, intertwining often, but following particular pathways that only they can travel. They help complete the memory by revisiting it over and over until it makes sense, and use their own unique abilities to do so.
Frendt has his task in activating chimes and literally altering the sands of time through an hourglass-shaped mechanism. Arina carries the lantern and the light of illumination to their story. She almost always takes the more scenic route and is often the first to take off to explore in each new area. Both of them lend to furthering progress and it often shows how they couldn’t have done it without each other.
The art within the game is stunning, with expert attention to detailed palettes, various moods and even seasons denoted by props and foliage. Every object is given a low-poly design, but is full of defining colors showcasing the purpose behind it. With each new discovery that Arina and Frendt uncover, you can see the whimsy in their friendship through the animation and emotion on their faces. Things as simple as the two waving to each other while on separate paths showcases the bond between the characters that is bound to remind a player of a similar childhood friend greeting them when they met up.
The music is a soothing, synthy blend of simple, ambient tunes and curious melodies. It certainly works well for this unique puzzler, as it helps capture the particular peculiarity of it all. I found each track pleasant and fitting for the season or environment it was tasked with portraying. Overall, it’s a really nice soundtrack that would be perfect to listen to while studying or hanging out.
The Gardens Between is a game that defines its own genre with its unique storytelling and intricate time-manipulation mechanics. It’s a stunning visual journey to behold, both in spectacle and graphics, and each scene is as much of a delight to look at as it is to play. The deep inspection into the delights and sometimes complications of what makes friendships great is a worthy tale to experience, if perhaps only to give your heart a nostalgic kickstart.