The Gardens Between Switch Review by SwitchWatch
Developer: The Voxel Agents
Publisher: The Voxel Agents
Release Date: September 20th 2018
Price as of Article: $19.99 USD, £16.99 GBP
Game code provided by The Voxel Agents for review
Children Arina and Frendt have snuck out of their homes to meet in their treehouse in the gardens between their homes on a dark and stormful night. Suddenly an orb of light appears. The girl, Arina, touches it and both are suddenly transported to a surreal dreamscape. There they find several mini garden islands, consisting of everyday items from their memories together. They must now work together to piece it all together and find a way back.
It was a dark and stormful night, in the gardens between…
The Gardens Between is a peculiar case, as in at no point are you technically able to control the children fully. They have a set path they follow along these 3-dimensional linear stages. By either tilting the analog sticks left or right (or by holding ZL or ZR), you either rewind time or push it forward. If you don’t press any button at all, time will simply stand still. As you progress the kids will then eventually stumble upon a puzzle in some shape or fashion, that you have to solve in order to move forward.
Arina has a lamp of sorts that she needs to store a light orb in. Every stage ends with a beacon on top of a hill that you need to bring light to in order to move on. The light orbs are also sometimes needed to move across certain chasms, where you give up your light in order to form a temporary bridge. So the whole challenge is transporting the light to the end of the stage, while maneuvering around the obstacles you come across, and avoiding the black voids that steal your light.
Light the way…
Speaking of obstacles, you may wonder at this point what Frendt’s job is as Arina is the light carrier? Is he just tagging along? No no, not at all. Throughout your adventure, you will come across certain switches that only he can operate. There are two kinds of these: one type of switch turns the seeds, from which you gain the light orbs, on and off. Meanwhile, the other kind is an hourglass that puts your ”main game” on hold and lets you manipulate a particular obstacle without affecting the children.
It is genius and I love how the everyday objects that are littered around each stage, are perfectly intergrated into the gameplay as part of the puzzles. For example, there is a level with a VCR resting over an inaccessible path. You have to pause time at the moment when Frendt curiously puts his hand on the rewind button of the nearby remote. It will then count down to zero and spit out a VHS that they can then use as a bridge. This was also the first level that introduced the gameplay element of not just rewinding or forwarding time to solve some puzzles, but keeping time still under certain circumstances for a brief time, in order to cause a reaction.
A cute detail is that you sail from island group to island group in the kids’ treehouse. When you have completed 2-3 stages (which all share a theme), they combine and form one whole memory that has something to do with all the objects you have encountered. Like a movie night with videogames or having fun in the backyard with ice cream.
Will you be my player 2?
I do have a single complaint though. You do a lot of back- and forth tracking. Sometimes because you are not quite sure how exactly to solve a puzzle, other times because the solution actually requires you to backtrack for one reason or another. As gorgeous as the visuals are, and as much as I constantly found myself rewinding and forthwinding all the time for the heck of it to catch the smallest details… I still would have liked a fastforward (or backwards) function. The game’s main gimmick is already time manipulation, so for those occassions where you have figured out a solution and just want to get a move on, I would have liked being able to speed things up a bit. It’s not a big issue at all, but it did make some stages drag a bit.
This is one of those atmospheric soundtracks that are not something you will be humming after the game has concluded, but fits perfectly with the game while you play it. The tunes make sure that you are 100% engrossed in the dreamlike gameplay. The moment I was greeted with the sound of thunder and falling rain at the title menu I knew I was going to love the rest of it.
My favorite piece has to be the first part of the final island. It was so hauntingly beautiful in a way I struggle putting it into words. But it perfectly set the stage and mood, and made you feel that you were at the final stretch. That it was about to get serious. In any game, music is super important for the atmosphere. It is important that the music fits the theme and mood, and it is important that the final stage actually sounds like the final stage. If it doesn’t, it completely breaks the immersion and ruins the experience, but I am happy to report that the game nails this aspect.
The overall soundtrack is just amazing and although the tracks loop frequently, they do so in such a manner that it feels natural so you don’t get tired of it.
Of course I won’t spoil the ending, but during the credits they even have an actual song with lyrics that reflect the events of your adventure, which I totally didn’t expect. So bonus points for that!
It is clear that a great amount of care and love has been put into every frame of The Gardens Between. I love puzzle games in general, but when I first saw the vibrant artstyle in the screenshots for this game, I just knew it was a game I would love. It had this feel to it, that it was going to be something special, and I am glad I was not proven wrong.
Every single stage in the game is beautifully crafted, offering a nice variety in scenery with an astounding eye for details, making you want to have a miniature garden of your own. The everyday items that I pointed out before are a super nice and a charming touch. Everything has a purpose, everything is there for a reason.
Scaling the mountain!!
All around, the presentation is fabulous and only a few times did it skip a few frames for me. Though a friend, who is also reviewing it, says she had no such encounters. Aside from that it ran perfectly, and neither did I happen on any glitches at all. This is clearly one of those games where the developers have taken their time and utmost care. They made sure their product was finished and thoroughly tested before shipping it out the door, and I am very delighted to see that.
I have been giving the game nothing but praise so far and much deserved I might add. But where I think it falters is in replay. You can go back and forth between any previously cleared stages in your little treehouse boat at any time, but there is little reason to do so. As stated in the beginning, the kids travel on a set path. All you can do is manipulate time, hence the game is going to play out the exact same way every time, as there is only one solution to the puzzles presented.
With a price tag of $20 / £17, I certainly think you get your moneys worth in terms of polish and overall quality. Although even with those things in mind, it is a little much for a game beatable in a single evening with no replay value. Seeing as how the characters traverse these 3-dimensional islands, I would have liked some kind of hidden secrets for you to find. It would give you a reason to go back to previously played levels. Maybe a hidden object that tells you about their personal thoughts and feelings? Or concept art perhaps? I dunno, I’m just throwing out ideas.
Even so, creative masterpieces like this don’t come around often. It is easily beatable in a single sitting, but I would still very much recommend that you buy it, even at its asking price. It’s a bit steep, but if you like visually pleasing puzzle adventures with a ton of personality and unique ideas, then you will most certainly be right at home here.
Tells a sweet story with no words
Lack of replay value
Could have used a speed-up function