Thursday, 20 September 2018 14:28

REVIEW: The Gardens Between (Nintendo Switch)

Written by RiotArms
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Once in a while you play a game that moves you. A game that engages all your emotions; tugging at your heart strings, inviting you into its story. The Gardens Between achieves this; with its soft expression of dream-like narratives, to its calming melodic musical scores and the perfect articulation of characters. Normally as you know I would be ranting and raving about the games I review but let’s wind it down, dim the lights, and breathe in the beauty that is The Gardens Between.

Born and bred in the culture capital of Australia: Melbourne, The Voxel Agents are no strangers to excellence in the gaming industry. With multiple accolades to their name such as “Best Mobile Game” and “Best Game Audio”, you know their titles will leave you feeling fulfilled and wanting more.

TheGardensBetween Paint

The Gardens Between does exactly that; a single player adventure puzzle game which punts you into a soft bed, sending you off on a journey of the sense. The story revolves around 2 best friends; Arina and Frendt, who share the good and bad times together to you; the player, by means of beautifully articulated but emotional fleeting moments.

Before you start reading on; close your eyes and picture a friend. Not just any friend but a best friend, someone who you share a big portion of your life with. Now imagine what you went through and how you both overcame problems, trials and challenges. You are who you are today in part because of them and what you endured together. Now that you are in the right mind set lets delve into the dreamland that is The Gardens Between.

Don’t wake me up till it’s over

It’s a cold miserable night; the winds howl and the rain aggressively descends from the heavens as the splash screen is revealed. As the camera pans to a simple tree house where our 2 friends awkwardly shift around in their makeshift cubby house, you are drawn into the unsettling ambiance as they avoid each other’s gaze. Suddenly a ball of energy appears. Curiosity gets the better of them as they cautiously touch it. Then... Darkness...

Our 2 plucky besties wake up on a mysterious small island; still dreary from their journey of dreamland inception, littered with random refuse and trinkets. The tutorial kicks in immediately; seamlessly melding into the game with subtle hints and cues to enable the player to inform them on not only how to play the game but most importantly not break the mood that is currently set. This is very important; and The Voxel Agents executed it with perfection, as the game’s core is creating and discovery which must be sustained from the get go.

TheGardensBetween Forge

As you go through the first level I was in awe at the concept; you control time and space by moving the characters along. Right progresses time and left reverses time. As the boxes and objects crash around Arina and Frendt; I soak up the dream like music and the art style this title provides. I reminisce the artwork with Zelda: Wind waker, but with a mature overtone to it. The details and art styles are similar which again ties and draws me to the game. The first level sets your objective which follows you throughout the game; guide the glowing ball of energy within a lantern, carried by Arina to the spire to light it up. This can be interpreted in many ways however what I drew from it was the ball of energy is a physical manifestation of their friendship and taking it to the spire is progressing it or going through challenges together.

After the first level (let’s call them memory fragments because that sounds cooler) is completed, the pair is mythically transported to the next. Within this memory fragment some other elements are introduced such as blooming flowers of yellow light, dark ones and a mysterious charm like switch. As you progress through the level the game allows the player to utilise Frendt; who interacts with the world to assist the duo in pushing the burning light of their bond forward. It dawns on me; something so obvious but subtly conveyed: Arina carries the lantern and charges forward as she is the strong willed brave half whilst Frendt, inquisitive and curious is the brains. Together they make this dynamic duo. This is a story driven game by realising this I can assure you will crack a small smile and feel a kick in the heart as I did. But this was only the beginning...

TheGardensBetween Jump

After a set of memory fragments are completed (from 2 to 3 islands per) they combine to fuse into a full memory which is represented by a constellation, a fleeting moment intimately lived by our 2 main characters. Once a small sequence plays you are free to play and rewind the memory; absorbing the emotions that our 2 characters feel and really be in the moment. But why constellations? Dreams and memories are broad and expansive like space. Constellations are markers for navigators and we are; in a certain way, navigating through dreams and space. Pretty cool right?

Shifting from island to island, memory to memory, you come to realise that the islands have a deeper connection to the memories. Each island and its puzzles comprise of small elements of the entire memory. For example; the first island you experience boxes falling which could be interpreted as unwanted news and their lives crashing around them. The 2nd island consists of letterboxes and doorways, which could be interpreted as starting a new chapter or closing a door on a part of their lives.

The puzzles get increasingly hard as you go through the islands and memories. No longer were the puzzles linked to just environmentals, but also sequences and subtle elements that make you think outside the box. I found the later islands extremely challenging but felt accomplished, like I earnt my place at the front seat to the show that is their young lives unfolding.

I think I have absorbed enough of this game to give you a clear and concise break down.

TheGardensBetween Frustration1

Its over but I’m still dreaming...

It actually does feel like that. As I put down the Switch to write this review I feel at peace and calm as the words flow out of my hands onto the screen. So, let’s talk about this amazing title:

Graphics were on point for the intent. I’m talking about the initial screen setting the mood of gloominess and fear, to the subtle fade and fog of the islands and memories to promote that feeling of a dream like state. The environments and characters have a very specific drawing style which are pleasing to the eyes and senses. No; the graphics aren’t fluid top notch 4k 360 no scope, but they do the job as intended.

Onto sound. Music is a shifting ethereal mix of harps and piano, creating that sense of euphoria when you are in deep sleep. The soundtracks may sound similar from island to island but there are definitely changes which suit the theme and intent of the island/memory. How did The Voxel Agents get this aspect so down pat you may ask; Tim Shiel is the reason, a talented Australian bred music aficionado who has worked as not only a radio announcer but also an electronic musician/composer who has worked with other gaming titles such as Duet (iOS/Android) and Induction (Steam). Sound effects were subtle but effective; with ambient sounds consisting from birds tweeting, to the pitta patter of footsteps, all being melded together to create this feeling one fluid game.

Gameplay is very straight forward with tutorials and explanations of objectives. With minimal buttons to remember the player can just be in the moment without the fiddle. I do fear that the puzzles further into the game may deter some people but again you play these games for the challenge. It’s not a variety of the same; each island has a different obstacle or challenge instore which ties in with the overall story.

TheGardensBetween Couch

Riot’s Remarks

Get it, do it, play it and love it. That’s simply it team. You can see how passionately I wrote about this title. Coming from a shooter specialist; it’s strange to obtain this kind of reaction to me. Besides always supporting our local indie developers, this game has captured my attention and heart. Be captured with me.

Pros:

* Amazing musical scores and sounds
* Live and play an amazingly in-depth story
* Immersive gameplay
* Challenging puzzles that will keep you on your toes

Cons:

* Puzzles do take a few to think about
* It ends

Additional Info

  • Review Score: 4.8 / 5.0
  • Release Date: Out Now
  • Platform: PC, PS4, Nintendo Switch
  • Developer: The Voxel Agents
  • Publisher: The Voxel Agents
  • Genre: Indie, Adventure