PAX Aus 2017: The Gardens Between bends time and reality to puzzle you

Feature article

PAX Rising is a staple of PAX Aus which each year seems to encroach more and more on the rest of the boundaries of the the AAA developers and hardware developers. The Indie Showcase takes up the back wall of PAX Rising, voted by a panel of industry veterans the showcase is designed to highlight Australian and New Zealand Indie Developers that are making waves in the scene. It’s here that I got the absolute pleasure of playing The Gardens Between.

Developed by The Voxel Agents, The Gardens Between is a surreal puzzle adventure that follows best friends, Arina and Frendt, as they fall into a mysterious world of beautiful garden islands. The player can traverse back and forwards in time to discover each garden’s secrets and, along the way, reveal a story about friendship, childhood and growing up.

The Gardens Between is immediately arresting with it’s beautiful simplistic art style. With colours that pop the small maps filled with details it is as much a pleasure to watch others play the game as it was to take part in it.

One of the things that really stood out is where so many games feel the need to show all their particle effects The Gardens Between offers streamlined effects that are reminiscent of neon lighting. Something about this crisp white effect against the soft backdrops of the rotating puzzle islands.

Each little island sees you take control of the pair of friends who will either move forward or backward in time depending on the direction you move the joystick. The puzzles start simple as Arina collect light in her lantern to generate bridges between the small pivoting islands.

These simple puzzles though start to become more complicated as elements of the island start to steal the light from you. Pair this with the need to control multiple different localised time anomalies and you will find yourself challenged but never unfairly overwhelmed.

Thankfully as you move your characters backwards and forwards through the space you get to enjoy their charming interactions with the world. While at first you do feel like you are controlling Arina, who quiet often takes lead, you start to see that you are not controlling them directly and rather their movement through time. This means they move very organically and a lot of their character comes through in the animation.

I really enjoyed the time I had with The Gardens Between. I got to enjoy a few of the early puzzles before being jettisoned to a much harder puzzle. While trying to make my way though the harder level the games director, Henrik Pettersson, did admit that he has questioned including these harder puzzles.

I for one loved the harder level;  while the game is beautiful if the puzzles don’t reach a high enough level of challenge it can leave the game feeling like it is all for show. I made sure to let Henrik know that I loved the harder level and that at the end the feeling of joy at solving it completely outweighed any feeling of frustration it could have potentially caused.

The Gardens Between just exudes charm — from the art to the soothing soundtrack. Each little islands feels self contained but part of a larger idea and with the waves lapping at their edges you are transported a million miles away. All of this along with the “Just One More” progression style that we would all be familiar with shows exactly why this title deserves its place in the Indie Showcase.

The Garden Between will be coming in 2018 to Mac, PC and now PS4, as was announced at the Paris Games Week Conference. Be sure to check out the games official website for more information and join the mailing list for updates and “other surprises”.