Puzzle games are not new in gaming with titles such as Tetris in 1984, Myst in 1993, and The Room in 2012, to name a few. However, The Gardens Between by developer Voxel Agents takes a simple puzzle game into an intuitive experience that contains an interesting story and tests the player’s logic and reasoning.
The Gardens Between centers on the journey of two young friends who embark on an adventure on several garden islands to carry a sacred light. The characters can manipulate time, which serves as the central mechanism to progress through the game. The story is exciting and straightforward, but the main attraction in this game lies with the intricate puzzles standing your way. You’ll soon find yourself on several islands, each containing its own mystery that you must solve to move forward.
Each island contains the same concept. Players would start at the bottom and must make their way to the top while carrying the sacred light, which must be placed on an altar of some sort. Although this may look like an easy task at first, every level will present several obstacles that would prevent the player from reaching their goals.
The sacred light has the power to clear the fog that blocks the way, and that fog can also be used as a bridge to cross gaps. Several jumping lamps may also be available on multiple islands that players can use to transport the light, which is useful when mini-blackholes that may suck the sacred light away from the player is present in the path ahead. This concept is pretty much similar throughout the game. However, each island will contain unique challenges and obstacles and players must strategize on how best to manipulate the time when to use the jumping lamps or other in-game objects. In the end, the player must safely transport the sacred lamp to the altar found at the top of each island to clear the level.
Probably what sets this game apart from other puzzle games is how it tackles the very essence of friendship between the two characters. The islands on which the player find themselves in, are themed according to objects or activities that make up one’s childhood such as video games, sports, pop music, and so on. Every time the player clears an island, an icon representing that area’s theme shoots up to the sky, and are interwoven to the story that delves into the bittersweet reality of transitioning from a child to an adult.
The game’s visuals sport a dream-like fantasy world that combines seamlessly to its soft and enchanting soundtrack that somehow reminded me of the music in The Great Plateau in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The game’s simple story yet complex puzzles makes for a relaxing and entertaining experience that made me think of my own childhood as I traverse the islands and solve puzzles.
The Gardens Between brings together an extraordinary puzzle experience that utilizes the player’s observation and logical skill. Although the concept of each island remains the same throughout most of the game, the player must still observe how time influences objects in the environment and must carefully strategize on how to climb their way on top of the islands and safely transport the sacred light.
The game was short but sweet and delivers a beautiful puzzle experience married with the nostalgic memory of one’s childhood and the importance of building a strong friendship. The Gardens Between is available now on Steam, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch.