Everyone had that one friend when they were growing up who was ride or die. You were as thick as thieves, and no matter what you were there for each other when things got rough. Over time as you both matured, the relationship grew and stronger and blossomed. This is the key focus of The Gardens Between. A sense of friendship between the two protagonists, Arina and Frendt, who are best friends and who also share a backyard. Whether it is staying out late gazing at stars or filling up a pool full of water and spraying the hose at one another, their adventures are always joyful and fun. However, one night when they are staying out late in their treehouse something happens. They get transported to a new world where they reflect on past memories they have shared over time. Arina and Frendt begin to solve puzzles and reminisce about what they used to have.
The Gardens Between is a puzzle game which has an extremely unique aspect to it, being able to manipulate time. Now, this is not like DontNod’s 2016 Life is Strange, where one sole character has the ability to change time. In fact, it is quite different, you have the ability to move forward time and rewind time with ease. Arina and Frendt are controlled in tandem when one moves the other does, and this allows for a different experience from other games in the puzzle genre. Having the characters be completely dependent on each other is an aspect which makes the puzzles much more interesting because it makes them act together as a team. This adds a refreshing take on the puzzle genre because you have to think about what both characters are actively doing at any given moment.
In addition to controlling time, each character has a unique action they can perform. Arina is typically in front, and she holds a lamp which allows for progression throughout the stage, whereas Frendt has the ability to activate bells and hourglasses. The bells open two types of flowers; yellow flowers and purple flowers. The yellow flower has an orb of light right in the middle of it, which is necessary to cross bridges and complete the level because Arina’s lamp holds the light inside of it. Now the purple flowers are the opposite, instead of providing light they take the light away. Meanwhile, Frendt’s interactions with hourglasses allow for him to manipulate time on certain objects. For example, being able to manipulate dominos on a table only to witness them go back into their original trail or have them fall down. The way each of these characters interacts with each other is special, and it typically varies per level. Whether it is them holding hands when the mood gets tense or when they complete a level and they push the lamp into the gateway together. It is these little touches which makes the connection between Arina and Frendt feel so much closer as friends.
There are three major worlds to the game, and they each vary in theme and color. The first world is green and has spring vibes to it. Almost implying that their friendship is just starting, and that is shown in one of the eight memories that make up the whole game. It shows Frendt helping Arina moving into the house next door, which seems to be the origin of their relationship. The next world has a very summery feel to it, and it feels like their relationship is growing and expanding. Bonding more and more as time goes on, these are the heady sun splash days of summer wonder. After this, the third world is vastly different from the others. Instead of being optimistic and gleeful, something feels off due to the inclement weather affecting the stages. The memories show a different theme than the others, they focus on loss. Which acts as foreshadowing for what is going to be the end of the story of Arina and Frendt.
The aesthetic of The Gardens Between is something which really caught me off guard. The light-greens of a yard really pop when they are put in front of a cityscape which has muted greys and brown tones. It is small artistic choices which really stand out, and these types of artistic choices are scattered throughout the game. The clarity of all these scenes is breathtaking and is one of my favorite aspects of Gardens Between. They feel and look like the actual adventures in which Arina and Frendt would embark on. It is one of the best looking games in recent years, and that is due to how it feels livable. The look is just breathtaking, and this is because the artistic design catches the eye so much. Sharp and contrasting colors pop out more due to the bland backgrounds, and this is something which makes the levels stand out more than any other game. This works with how the levels are presented as well, each level which is an island has a different theme and set of colors attached to it.
While you are playing the levels, rewinding and going forwarding, one element really sticks out. It is the soundtrack which is very piano-heavy, and thus sets the mood whether higher or deeper notes are being played. These melodies are very calming, and make the levels relaxing to play. During the later levels, the sound gets more somber with deeper notes accenting what is happening in the given level. These melodies make the experience more tense as time goes on. Sprinkled into these melodies are little bits of ambient sound, one which really stuck out to me in a later level was the crickets chirping in the background. It was a tiny little thing but it spoke wonders to what the game was aiming for, helping to do a great job of reinforcing the feel of the game. Little touches like this are scattered throughout the game and complement the levels.
The Gardens Between tells a story about two friends, Arain and Frendt, and how they bond and grow over time. Offering little vignettes into how their friendship began, and the memories which they shared over time, the game combines these with a spectacular level design that feels creative and reflects the memories being shared. As time went on, I was more and more eager for what Arina and Frendt would do next, often on the edge of my seat for what would happen next. Their relationship is special, and it captures what it means to be a kid again. Often reminding me of the memories which I cherish from my childhood, where me and my brother would run, leap, and go forth in crafting moments that would last a lifetime.
This game was reviewed on a PlayStation 4 Pro system with a review code provided by PR representative of the title.