The Gar­dens Be­tween

Games TM - - CONTENTS -

A beau­ti­ful but all-too-brief brain­teaser from an Aus­tralian stu­dio pre­vi­ously best known for games about (ide­ally not) crash­ing trains into each other, The Gar­dens Be­tween fea­tures vivid vi­su­als and a de­li­cious am­bi­ent sound­track, but it’s eas­ily fin­ished in­side three hours. Which is to say: this is gor­geous, gen­tly test­ing the grey mat­ter with mea­sured care, but it’d have ben­e­fit­ted from hav­ing a lit­tle more to it.

Playing The Gar­dens Be­tween re­quires just three con­trols – a pleas­antly low bar­rier for en­try. You move time for­wards and back­wards within each metic­u­lously de­tailed stage with the left stick, while the Switch’s A but­ton sees ei­ther of the game’s pro­tag­o­nists, neigh­bour­ing kids frendt and Arina, in­ter­act with a small ar­ray of in-game el­e­ments in front of them.

these vary wildly, de­spite be­ing in lim­ited sup­ply per level. What­ever the dream­like stage, Arina must deliver an il­lu­mi­nated lantern to an exit point to com­plete it. it’s never al­ready shin­ing, so a light source must be found some­where be­tween A and B. Un­for­tu­nately, there are black hole-like en­ti­ties in the en­vi­ron­ment that will steal this light away – lead­ing to some cre­ative meth­ods of mov­ing the game’s Macguf­fin of choice to where it needs to be.

Some­times the light es­capes Arina and frendt’s own (al­ready sur­real) plane of ex­is­tence, trav­el­ling through twodi­men­sional graf­fiti. else­where, light­ning is used to power elec­tri­cal items to open new paths, while an old-school prin­ter be­comes a more mod­ern 3D ver­sion, pro­duc­ing es­sen­tial equip­ment. fre­quently, cu­ri­ously bouncy cubes must be used to carry the lantern to higher ground.

By playing around with time – the char­ac­ters flow with it, fol­low­ing pre­de­ter­mined routes, rather than in­de­pen­dently by your hand – you quickly see how each level is built from mov­ing pieces that must be in very spe­cific lo­ca­tions, at very pre­cise mo­ments, to line up and un­lock the next path­way. Some­times, the very steps of Arina and frendt must be co­or­di­nated with the world around them, such as to in­put nu­mer­i­cal codes or cross a drain us­ing gi­gan­tic, dis­carded drinks cans.

the lantern can be read as a sym­bol of the pro­tag­o­nists’ friend­ship, flick­er­ing on and off, as they silently (and amus­ingly) get in lit­tle huffs with each other. But it dis­tracts from the game’s core nar­ra­tive, slight though it is, which con­cerns it­self with shared ex­pe­ri­ences and mem­o­ries. All of the lev­els link back to a point in the pair’s his­tory, a snap­shot of which ap­pears once each is com­pleted – and ev­ery­thing ties to­gether in an un­ex­pect­edly bit­ter­sweet de­noue­ment.

ex­cel­lent for its du­ra­tion, The Gar­dens Be­tween isn’t one to rush back to once com­pleted, re­veal­ing its en­tire hand at the first time of ask­ing. But while it un­doubt­edly ends too quickly, as a call­ing card of ter­rific imag­i­na­tion, this game is quite the state­ment of in­tent from its mak­ers. More soon, please.

Above: The game’s sim­ple con­trols make it as quick to pick up as the still-peer­less Mon­u­ment Val­ley (not that this is too far be­hind it), but with­out the same sense of tac­tile sat­is­fac­tion.

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mon­u­ment val­ley

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