My experience with Xbox Game Pass this year has been pretty evenly split between AAA games and surprise little indie gems. One such gem was The Gardens Between, which I played through blind on my Twitch stream.
The Gardens Between is a puzzle game by The Voxel Agents that tells a story of childhood friendship. Rather than controlling the game's pair of protagonists directly, players advance the characters through each stage by manipulating the flow of time around them. Certain key objects can be locked in place within the timestream to modify the sequence of events and open new paths.
- The game's time manipulation mechanic is used in a variety of clever ways. By shifting time forward and backward, structures can be erected and collapsed, plants can grow and wither, and the characters route through the environment can change completely.
- In addition to the puzzle aspect of the level design, I appreciated how each level's appearance was an abstract representation of the characters' memories. This helped add depth to the game's otherwise simple story.
- The general aesthetic of the game reminded me of Life is Strange. I guess there's something about that compromise between realistic and cartoon graphics that just works for coming of age stories.
- The Gardens Between is just the right length. I felt like it used its mechanics to their full potential without burning me out.
- Some of the late game puzzles get a little fiddly for my taste. On a few occasions, I found that I had figured out how solve the puzzle but minor variations in my execution of the solution (like having two objects in the correct position but slightly misaligned) would seemingly cause the game to indicate that I'd done something wrong.
- While the way it was presented was interesting, I felt that the game's story itself was anti-climactic. At times it seemed to be building to a major dramatic event that didn't end up happening.
If you enjoy environmental puzzles, I highly recommend trying out The Gardens Between. While I may have found the story a little lacking, the gameplay and art direction were more than enough to cement this as one the best puzzle games I've played in quite some time.
Completion Time: 3 hours, 15 minutes
- This review was written as part of the Chic Pixel community's #PuzzleGameMonth event. You can find the Chic Pixel blog and its accompanying podcast at Chic-Pixel.com
- I downloaded this game per the recommendation of the This Nintendo Life podcast. You can find them on Twitter @TNLpodcast.
- Images in this post courtesy of The Voxel Agents.