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Review – The Gardens Between

Australian game publisher and developer The Voxel Agents should feel very proud. After taking a risky leap away from the world of mobile gaming into a full-fledged console and PC game release, they have made a truly beautiful adventure-puzzle game in The Garden’s Between. I would even go so far as to say that The Garden’s Between might be the best Australian-made game I have ever played.

When playing this, I felt like I was somewhere between going through a meditative colouring book, and watching a peaceful sunset cascade across the horizon during a camping trip. The synergy of the game’s simple mechanics, interesting puzzle design, beautiful visuals and sound design and the powerful yet relatable story gave me an aura of peace whenever I loaded it up. While the entire game could be completed in about 5 or 6 hours, I think best results would be achieved in spades of about 20 or 30 minutes a night before bed.

Onto the game itself, and what is most apparent is that every level is a piece of art. Every level involves the two friends working their way around surreal islands and solving puzzles with the theme of their memories in a way that connects many themes of a childhood spent with a close friend. Although some of the assets can appear a bit rough around the edges when viewed up close, the level of care that has gone into making the characters, the interactive objects, and the scenery all pop has to be commended. The music and sound effects, while simple, all add to the value of each scene too. I’m honestly surprised that the game is as cheap as it is at $20. For 20 well designed levels, they’d be well within their rights to initially charge $40 for the entire experience, and I honestly think that $20 is a downright bargain for the museum-quality experience that The Garden’s Between brings. Even the level selection screen is a piece of art, with tiny models that represent the memories that each level unlock, and the time of day changing as they are scrolled through. The way that the friends interact with each other and the objects without saying a world is a masterclass of storytelling, and similarities can be drawn between this game and other indie titles like Limbo, Inside and Journey in this regard. 

But of course, all of the great storytelling and level-creation would mean nothing if it weren’t for the inclusion of solid and compelling gameplay. The Voxel Agents wanted to make players feel like they were controlling time itself in working through the levels, as opposed to the players, and as such there are only three buttons required to learn to play the game: left (backwards), right (forwards) and interact. This method of gameplay design allows for the movement of the friends to have been entirely pre-determined by the producers, and it’s beautiful to see them travel the way real curious kids do. Simple things like peering off to look at the scenery, take a moment to themselves, or just get their balance right give a lot of personality to the characters and levels themselves without having the flow of the game be broken. While the puzzles themselves do begin a bit simple and many can be solved just by having the characters interact with every available object as they come across them, and later levels can involve at-times tedious levels of backtracking, it always feels satisfying when a solution is reached. That being said, an option to speed up the walking speed, especially in later levels, would not have gone amiss, and the lack of complication in many of the puzzles solutions can make it difficult to see the allure of a second play-through outside of wanting to experience the artistic level design again.

While improvements can be made, The Garden’s Between delivers one of the most beautiful adventure-puzzle games I have ever seen, and deserves to have the same success that Limbo had 8 years ago. The Voxel Agents have created a beautiful piece of art that brings pride to Australian game design not seen on a non-mobile platform in some time, and is well worth the price and time of day of any gamers looking to try something new. The Garden’s Between will be released on the 20th of September for Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch, PC and Mac at a price of $20. I give it a final rating of 4.5/5.

Review by Trystan Bass

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