The Gardens Between Review
The Gardens Between tells the story of two childhood friends, Arina and Frendt, who live next door to each other. The two friends find a way to freeze time and relive the best memories of their friendship. You'll join them on an emotional journey as they make their way across a surreal and dream-like collection of islands that together form some of their best memories.
The game's premise forms the basis for its gameplay mechanics and level design. Levels are collected into small groups of puzzles, each of which is set on a small island inspired by some aspect of a memory. When you complete an island group, you'll be shown a short recreation of the memory and see how the theme of each island was drawn from that memory.
The goal and mechanics of each puzzle are the same. The goal is to place a spark of light at an alter that sits atop each island's central peak, and the mechanics require you to play time forward and backward. Arina carries a lantern that is used to carry the spark while Friendt is able to interact with special lanterns that can toggle things in the environment. As you move time forward you'll encounter obstacles that block your path, take the spark from the lantern, or somehow otherwise prevent you from progressing to the top of the island. When you reach one of these obstacles, you'll typically need to flow time in a direction that will put Frendt at one of the lanterns so that you can interact with it, observe the changes that occur, and then move time again in a direction that will help to do what you need to do to move on. The initial puzzles are relatively simple and involve working your way past plants that suck up or cough out the spark. As you progress though the game, though, the puzzles become more involved and the lanterns are also used to move time forward and backward for only parts of the island, allowing you to align objects to open new pathways or cycle objects through several stages. By the time you finish the first few puzzles you'll have a good idea how the puzzles work and won't have too much trouble with the later puzzles. None of the puzzles are obtuse or unfair, and with a little thought you'll be able to progress through the game without too much trouble.
The Gardens Between's aesthetics make for a relaxing and enjoyable experience, albeit a rather short one. You can complete the game within two hours, and once you do there's not really any reason to go back and play it again. If the game were longer and the puzzles more challenging towards the end, it would be easy to recommend the game to puzzle game fans. If you're OK with the short length and approach the game as something that you'll enjoy a quiet evening playing and then move on, you'll probably enjoy the experience.
Final Rating: 80% - A short but sweet puzzle game.