A touching story, fun but unchallenging puzzles and charming graphics make The Gardens Between a perfect game “for the whole family.”

The Gardens Between is a game about friendship in its purest, most innocent form.

It’s a journey through the memories of two childhood friends, turning even the smallest of moments into a beautiful puzzle for you to solve and experience. Each memory appears as an island the two kids walk through as if revisiting a once familiar place.

Best Friends Forever

The story of Arina and Frendt is a typical one you might have gone through yourself. It follows the lives of these two kids from the first moments of their friendship – a friendship that transforms even the most mundane days and activities into an adventure.

The story, minimalist as it is, can be very touching at times, and I think everyone can relate to it at some level. However, it is also very predictable. It’s obvious what’s going on from the very first scene, and you can easily tell what the ending is going to bring. It doesn’t matter though, because, as if often the case, the journey is way more important than the destination.

I love how the game uses the kids’ everyday lives to give each level a unique look with its own puzzles to overcome. One level is inspired by the kids’ field trip to a museum and features a giant dinosaur skeleton you need to climb, while another is based on an excursion down the sewer in search of a lost jacket.

The Gardens Between review: sewer level

There are more than a few genuinely beautiful moments throughout the game. It manages to perfectly capture the feeling of what friendship can mean to a child, and the good times and tests it provides.

Speaking of tests, let’s take a look at the game’s main feature: its puzzles.

Be Kind, Please Rewind

Contrary to what I was expecting when I started playing The Gardens Between, you don’t play as one of the kids. You take control of time itself, moving it backward and forward with a tap on the analog stick.

While this isn’t the first game to use time manipulation to solve puzzles, it still uses it in creative and sometimes delightful ways.

It’s surprising how many different puzzles the developers at The Voxel Agents managed to squeeze out of this seemingly simple, and frankly worn concept. Each level offers distinct challenges, and they don’t repeat themselves too often.

The Gardens Between review: saw puzzle

This is primarily thanks to the fact that time only affects where things are at any given moment, but not their state. When you move time backward, everything goes back to where it was, even the kids, but nothing reverts to its previous state. That is the key to solving the majority of the game’s puzzles.

A cool example early on comes in the form of a giant saw cutting through a plank. If you keep moving time back and forth, the saw slides down and back up again, but the wood doesn’t “regenerate,” so after a few taps, the plank falls, creating a bridge.

Child’s Play

The Gardens Between doesn’t get a lot more complicated than that, for better or worse. Experienced gamers won’t find any real challenge throughout the game, as it is clearly aimed at players of all ages. That means it can be laughably easy at times.

The game is absolutely more concerned about taking you through the story and the experience than offering any real challenge.

The Gardens Between review: together forever

There are a handful of exceptions that do require you to plan a few steps ahead or to be more precise with your actions, but these are fairly rare. Even then, there is no way to lose, and you can never get stuck, so as long as you don’t give up, you’ll get there eventually. This is great for a young audience, or those looking to chill with a few well-made and nice-to-look-at puzzles, but seasoned gamers might get bored quickly.

You can breeze through everything is a couple of hours if you know what you’re doing, and there’s little to no reason to replay it. It does feel like the game could have been longer; There’s still a lot more the dev could have explored, and the ending feels a bit arbitrary. However, it never wears out its welcome, so that may be a good thing.

Creating Beautiful Memories

Even if your time with The Gardens Between is short, it’s still memorable. The graphics have that classic indie quality to them, meaning they’re relatively simple, but always beautiful.

The Gardens Between review: charming graphics

Every level has a unique look, and there are a few that really stick with you, whether it’s thanks to the visuals or a particularly fun and creative puzzle.

I enjoyed my time with The Gardens Between, but I suspect it was mostly because I played with my spouse, who loves puzzles but isn’t much of a gamer. It really is a great game to play with “the whole family” even though it doesn’t technically have a co-op mode.

Passing the controller around between levels and solving them together is a fun experience, but one that might be a little boring without at least one friend at your side.

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