22/10/2018

🌼🌻 Review: The Gardens Between "A Time-Bending Tale of Two Filled with Heart" 🌻🌼 #GameDev #IndieGame @TheVoxelAgents

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Game Title: The Gardens Between
Developer: The Voxel Agents
Platform Reviewed: PC (Steam)
Rating: Ice Cool
I must admit that I was subtly blown away by The Gardens Between, its genius crept upon me over the couple of hours that I spent in the world of Arina and Frendt, the two protagonists in this wonderful wordless puzzle adventure from The Voxel Agents.
The game starts with a slow zoom on two houses next to each other, as the camera moves up behind the homes, we see a young girl and boy sitting in a tree house, seemingly miserable as a storm rages around them. 
Following a glowing orb appearing in-between them, we find ourselves transported to a fractured world of water-surrounded islands, each one filled with strange reminders of the real world, a keyboard here, a television there…what is this all about?
The Gardens Between is a high-concept game build entirely around one simple mechanic, the flowing of time. You may think that you’ve seen this before in games such as Braid, but here it’s handled in a different way. There are only three buttons in the game, forwards, backwards and action.
Arina can pick up and drop a lantern which needs to be lit and taken to the top of the stage in order to progress, whilst Frendt has the ability to ring bells and flick switches that allow control over various aspects of the landscape and environment, although again only using forwards and backwards, adding a literal extra dimension to the puzzles.
As I started the game, I thought that this gimmick would run its course after a level or two, becoming bland and samey. Oh, how beautifully wrong I was. What I soon realised was so joyful about having such loose direct control over the characters came from watching their wordless interactions with the world around them and soaking up the rich visuals, replete with items of interest, as sometimes the environment itself acts as the key to a puzzle.
Although I started off working out the basic ‘light the lantern, reach the top’ game play that runs throughout the game, after a couple of stages the true majesty of the game design dawned on me. Aside from the clever puzzles, which always feel the three F’s, (fair, fun and flexible) I was enjoying myself just walking through the levels and drinking in the surroundings.

Each of the twenty stages brought in something new, initially my favourite puzzle involved manipulating a video game on a television, then it was the stage with a calculator and dot matrix printer, later on I couldn’t help but appreciate a section whereby I had to tune in a Walkman to progress, it’s all so good and such a pleasure to play through, it really is.
The music is a gentle, rolling ambience that always accentuates and never overpowers the visuals and game play and the sound effects are sparse and well-used. It was hard to find a single aspect of the game that I didn’t love as it took the concept of time-manipulation, distilled it down to as simple a control scheme as possible and ran with it so well, right up to the very end of the game.
Without giving too much away from the story, I will say that the ending is absolutely worth it and is in keeping with the mood of the rest of the game. I found myself oddly affected by it, a story so well-told through audio cues and visuals that it shows not everything is about budget and scale and the best things can often creep up on you.
Summary
The Gardens Between is a game that I won’t soon forget and I’ll be very surprised if it doesn’t end up on my year-end list of the best games of 2018. If you enjoy puzzle games or a simple story told expertly, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better suit than The Gardens Between.
Right, I’m off to play Silly Old Crow.
 ❄️ RATING: ICE COOL ❄️
Ratings Explained
ICE COOL (Great Game Recommended)
MELTING (Recommended with reservations, one to consider if you are a fan of the genre)
MELTED (Not A Recommended Purchase)