The Gardens Between is not the game I walked into the booth expecting it to be. It is not Brothers or Journey or any of the countless classic indie titles featuring a wordless narrative. This game isn’t a beautiful take on life or a heartbreaking examination of the bonds of family and brotherhood.
Instead, The Gardens Between is something altogether different. It is figuring out the sometimes frustrating puzzle-solving elements found in games like the Witness. It is piecing together what has happened to these unknown and mysterious heroes who lay at the heart of the game. It is allowing yourself to just soak up the beauty and wonder of it’s world.
The trick is that you never control a person during your time with The Gardens Between, instead what you take control of is time, shifting through the future and past to conquer the obstacles before you. You’ll slowly go forward and backward learning the tricks and clues the game lays for you, with everything brilliantly building off of each other. The way that Garden’s cleverly places the pieces to solve each and every challenge is a masterclass in teaching the player.
That said this is a game that doesn’t hold your hand at any moment, yet it isn’t vindictive or brutally difficult like so many puzzle-solving games. You can’t die. It’s impossible to even fail a stage. The Gardens Between is a game of leisure, of calming melodic tones, and gently reconciling yourself to the fact that the game is far smarter than you are.
You learn in this game only by trying again and again, by navigating the complexities and secrets of the various islands you find yourself on. Those secrets, which are uncovered slowly and through various flashbacks the game uses, helps add context and meaning to the seemingly random objects and clues scattered throughout the world of The Gardens Between.
That story is one that is at times obtuse and slow but that felt intriguing and full of promise during my 30 minute demo. There is so much hidden in Gardens Between, so much that personifies the art house style of games. Perhaps lacking in gameplay complexity during the demo, the game more then made up for it with it’s air of intrigue and whimsical childlike enjoyment.
I’m troubled slightly by it’s puzzle development and progression. I’m perhaps concerned by how invested I’ll get into the characters, but what I played offered a promising look at a dreamy world full of cartoonish elements and mysterious secrets and there is something special to that.