Wednesday, September 19

Review: The Gardens Between [Nintendo Switch eShop]

When you come across a game that is special there’s usually and interesting associated feeling, one where you’re dreading the game’s imminent ending, yet you’re on pins and needles to know where will happen. The Gardens Between may be the title where this sensation hit me the hardest so far this year as for me it tells a brilliant and touching story, and yet there’s no dialogue of any kind. The sheer power of the game’s imagery and seemingly universal sense of nostalgia for the wonders of childhood help it evolve from being just a clever puzzle game and into something much more.

You’ll play as two friends, who are a seemingly tween-to-teen-age boy and girl, and every stage represents some portion of their shared childhood experiences together. Whether that involves some dinosaur bones, some video games, or a dip in a kiddie pool every environment is steeped in things most anyone can relate to. Each of these memories is then a building block, helping to strengthen the bond between these two through their shared experiences, but on top of that there are small interactions they have with one another as they work through their journey that reinforce those feelings. Simply put, it is visually quite amazing and oozes the joys of childhood.

Mechanically, while it starts out quite simply, this is a puzzle game that’s going to make you ponder and experiment quite a bit in some inventive ways over the course of the journey. Movement in the game is always tied to time, going right moves things forward, and moving back will reverse it. The girl is able to carry a lantern that can be lit or put out, and while you need it lit to end each stage there are times when you’ll need it snuffed out to get by. You can either go near a spot that has an orb of darkness with it that will suck it in or place it on top of some robots that will appear in some levels and move it around. The boy, on the other hand, has both the power to toggle light and dark, as well as alter time forward and backward independent of your movement.

It’s with only these few basic concepts that so much can happen. While you can get stuck the key is often just careful observation of what’s going on around you and exploring what happens when you play with moving time forwards and backwards in the right places. Special items and elements in the environment can sometimes play a role as well, which can lead to some fabulously inventive solutions. As the experience comes to a close the hints for what will lead to success can be very subtle so be observant and don’t lose heart, there are just some puzzles you need to have a little faith and patience to see through.

While some may not be fond of the game’s conclusion (I personally thought it was appropriate and touching) the journey in The Gardens Between is absolutely a special one. While mechanically a puzzle game, and one that can be tricky in places, as an overall experience it has a remarkably universal quality that I think anyone can appreciate. In a sea of indie (and even AAA) titles it stands out and is deserving of both praise and your attention.

Score: 9.5

  • Incredibly evocative imagery and theming
  • Clever and often surprising puzzle mechanics
  • Does an amazing job of building its characters and their relationship without any dialogue or dedicated storytelling

  • Some may find the conclusion disappointing
  • If you lack patience and careful skills of observation some puzzles are sure to frustrate