App Reviewed on: iPhone XR
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When you play The Gardens Between, time stops. I mean this both in the sense that playing this puzzle adventure is an arresting experience, and that its core mechanics revolve around time manipulation. Simply put, The Gardens Between is a game absolutely worth your time.
The Gardens Between is a difficult game to describe. It opens with a scene in a treehouse between two houses. Inside are a boy and a girl taking shelter from the rain. Then, lightning flashes, a mysterious orb of light appears, and—upon touching it—the boy and girl are suddenly transported to an island.
This is no typical island either. It’s littered with household items and has a stone altar at the top. For some reason, the characters decide they must activate said altar using a special lantern. If that weren't strange enough, time behaves strangely on this island. Your characters are frozen in time until you move them. When you move them forward, time moves forward, but when you move them backward, time reverses. Yes, I know. It’s all very confusing. But in playing The Gardens Between, it feels pretty natural and intuitive. It almost feels like someone took some sections of Jonathan Blow’s Braid and built them out into its own, fully fledged experience.
Each level in The Gardens Between is a separate island, and islands are grouped together by a sort of “scene” they create when combined. For example, there’s a cluster of islands with garden hoses, beach towels, coolers, and inflatable pools making up a lot of the terrain. When you complete these islands, you are treated to a snapshot of a backyard pool scene between the main characters.
Using these scenes, The Gardens Between weaves together a light narrative that operates through visual metaphor. To be honest, the storytelling in the game I found a little vexing until the very end, but it hardly mattered. What I found more impressive was how the new objects in each island would always present new and unique puzzle challenges, to the point that I wanted to see every new and clever thing The Gardens Between could do with its time manipulation mechanics.
I couldn’t put The Gardens Between down because it never stopped showing me new, beautiful, and incredible things. Every puzzle is newer and more exciting than the last, each island is more detailed and visually exciting than the one before, and the story—as sparse as it is—ultimately hits a really strong emotional chord at the end that is pleasantly surprising.
I also can’t speak highly enough of the work put into bringing The Gardens Between to smaller screens. Its gorgeous visuals and ethereal soundtrack are probably best to experience on an iPad, but the game looks and plays amazingly well on a phone, too (and in portrait mode, no less). If you have both a tablet and phone, you also don’t necessarily have to choose how you want to play The Gardens Between, as it syncs your progress flawlessly between both as you make your way through it.
The bottom line
So much of what makes The Gardens Between so great needs to be experienced. Trying to explain it more simply won’t help you get it. Instead, you should just go play The Gardens Between without giving it a second thought.