The Gar­dens Be­tween


PC, PS4, Switch

De­vel­oper/pub­lisher The Voxel Agents For­mat PC, PS4 (tested), Switch Re­lease Out now

At first, the soft-hued, hel­ter-skel­ter lev­els of The Gar­dens Be­tween call to mind those of Mon­u­ment Val­ley. But it’s time, rather than space, that’s the sub­ject of this wist­ful puz­zler. The tale re­volves around two friends who, across a se­ries of dream­like is­lands, work to­gether to al­ter the flow of time and wan­der through their me­mories of play­times past. Do­ing so is a de­light: The Gar­dens Be­tween wraps its chal­lenges in play­ful, yet pre­cise, de­sign.

Puz­zles cen­tre around a core me­chanic – you can scrub back and forth through time by mov­ing the stick left and right re­spec­tively. The two char­ac­ters move through the twirling level in tan­dem: con­fi­dent Arina in front, Frendt bring­ing up the rear. Arina car­ries the lantern, which must be lighted and placed at level’s end; Frendt can in­ter­act with chimes to con­trol more spe­cific pock­ets of time and change the en­vi­ron­ment.

The gor­geous is­lands are lit­tered with gi­gan­tic toys, trea­sures and me­men­toes that hide imag­i­na­tive puz­zles (the de­sign­ers ap­pear to be fans of Jon Blow’s work). Each is a kind of sur­real chess chal­lenge, solv­ing them a mat­ter of plan­ning the or­der and tim­ing of moves. One puz­zle re­quires you to rewind and fast-for­ward time re­peat­edly as Arina leaps on to and off a hand saw; an­other sees work­ing out how to in­put a pass­code on a huge key­pad; oth­ers still in­volve VCRs, see­saws, di­nosaur bones and pop­corn. But a more con­sis­tent lan­guage of in­ter­ac­tive el­e­ments helps keep things grounded. These might help or hin­der progress de­pend­ing on their lo­ca­tion. Flow­ers ei­ther light the lantern or ex­tin­guish it, and are opened and closed by ring­ing a chime; pur­ple fog can act as a bridge or an ob­sta­cle, and shrinks in the pres­ence of light. Charm­ing cube crea­tures can carry lanterns to places that Arina can’t yet reach, Frendt ring­ing hour­glass-shaped bells to move them through time and around the level.

The Gar­dens Be­tween is at its best when it mar­ries whim­si­cal de­sign with fresh twists on logic puz­zles, each level del­i­cately ex­plor­ing a new idea be­fore mov­ing on to the next. Per­haps the sole ex­cep­tion is a level built around a dis­used pipe: its ex­act­ing puz­zle is sur­rounded by un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally plain de­sign that only serves to make it feel even more un­wel­com­ing and ob­tuse. It’s at stick­ing points like this, as you run Arina and Frendt back and forth to no avail, you might also wish they jogged a lit­tle faster. But then, theirs is a tale about savour­ing ev­ery mo­ment to­gether. As you reach the con­clu­sion, it’s sud­denly clear why The Gar­dens Be­tween is set across a drift­ing ar­chi­pel­ago, its world softly and sadly com­ing apart – in the end, it is a story about space, af­ter all.

One stand­out puz­zle is a kind of three-cube Monte – you must iden­tify the cor­rect one as they hop into buck­ets of paint and leap around the ro­tat­ing is­land, which hides sev­eral switcheroos from view

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