The Gardens Between
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.
CAPTAIN toad: treasure tracker