On a rainy afternoon in the suburbs, best friends Arina and Frendt are sat in their tree house when a strange light forms between them. Upon touching the luminous orb, they are warped to a dreamlike isle, shrouded in mist and populated by a circle of islands.
Each island is constructed of elements from Arina and Frendt’s shared memories, and each cluster of islands creates a constellation which plays out a vignette of the complete memory. One cluster of islands tells the story of how they built their treehouse, while another plays out a lazy day they shared building pillow forts and playing video games.
The wordless tale that The Gardens Between tells through these snapshots of friendship is immensely relatable and nostalgic. Beautiful Pixar-esque art design and a soothing ambient score paired with this intimate story of carefree youth and childhood friendship make this experience feel truly magical and deeply comforting.
The levels themselves are meticulously crafted in both the detail of their environmental storytelling and the elegantly simple and satisfying mechanics of their sequential puzzles. With your goal to carry a lit lantern to the levels end, you must scrub back and forth through the sequence, triggering mechanisms and opening to paths.
These puzzles start off simple but new elements are gradually introduced at perfect pace, increasing the complexity of the puzzles. The later levels have you sending the lantern back and forth, lighting an extinguishing it to pass obstacles, while turning black holes on and off, triggering isolated time sequences and splitting Arina and Frendt’s paths to eventually converge at the end.
Every level is ingeniously designed, using elements from the friend’s memories to create unique puzzle scenarios. One has you constructing and deconstructing a dinosaur skeleton from their trip to the museum to traverse the level.
Another has you using technology like printers and arcade games to access robot companions which in turn help you light your lantern. These mechanics never become convoluted, striking a perfect balance between simplicity and complexity.
Completing the circle of islands brings you to the tower in its center; a sublimely designed, multi-stage final puzzle level which demands you use all you have learnt so far and requires you pay full attention to its details. The bittersweet ending to this journey had me welling up, while reflecting fondly on the past 5 hours I had spent with Arina and Frendt.
Arina and Frendt’s journey feels the perfect length, ideal for those whose minimal game playing time is precious. However a handful of fun and creative secrets add some replayability to certain levels, making the game’s platinum trophy relatively easy but very gratifying to attain.
The Gardens Between is a touching story of friendship, full of charm and nostalgia. Original puzzle mechanics, gorgeous art and level design, serene music and a bewitching, cosy atmosphere make this concise experience the perfect rainy day indie game. This essential experience is equal in quality, originality and emotional impact to the likes of Journey and What Remains of Edith Finch.
The Gardens Between PS4 Review
The Gardens Between is a perfect indie game that brings together a touching, relatable story with ingenious puzzle and level design, stunning art direction and a luscious ambient soundtrack.
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Reviewed using base PS4.