Posted on 04 Sep 2017 by Kyle Johnson

PAX West 2017: The Gardens Between

The Defence

Developer: The Voxel Agents
Publisher: The Voxel Agents
Genre: Adventure, Indie
Platform: Mac, PC
Review copy: No
Release date: No data.

An unkempt island rises from the ocean, seemingly meaningless junk strewn about. An abandoned game console; malfunctioning CRT television; a crude boat now rotting in the water, the island has it all. Two friends navigate the jetsam, picking their way along slopes and across makeshift bridges, all while in the shadow of the oversized electronics. One of the pair places a lantern on the central pillar at the summit, and a light shoots upward, illuminating a constellation. One memory explored, many more to go.

This is The Gardens Between, a surrealist puzzle game from The Voxel Agents, and an utterly enrapturing experience at that. I had the pleasure to chat with co-founder Matt Clark while on the show floor at PAX West this year and got some hands-on time with the preview build as well.

The setup behind The Gardens Between is thus: two best friends, Arina and Frendt, by chance have fallen into a world of strange gardens born out of their memories. In these gardens time flows forward as they press on through the islands, but backward as they backtrack. With puzzles to solve and constellations to reassemble along the way, the pair must figure out a way to navigate these bizarre-yet-familiar lands.

A world where consoles won.

The islands themselves are designed as short, easily digestible puzzles that can either be powered through in large swaths or taken individually. Each island requires you to light your lantern and place it on a center pedestal, and each island approaches this in different ways.

At its core, The Gardens Between is a game of movement. Since time only flows when you do, you must either progress or regress through a level in order to solve its puzzles. If this sounds a lot like Braid, you wouldn’t be far off, though Matt relayed that the inspiration also stemmed from Minority Report’s memory-scrolling scene.

Unlike Braid however, “trapping” the characters in time is essential to solving puzzles: ejecting a tape from a VCR to build a bridge with; rapidly going back and forth in time to saw a board in half; manipulating a game playing on a CRT in the background, all these puzzles are wholly unique and make you feel incredibly smart for solving them.

Go forth my brave warriors.

Even though the earlier islands can be solved quickly, the difficulty ramps up considerably as you progress. The final level I attempted (and did not complete) was later in the game and involved manipulating and moving the lantern without the aid of the pair. Despite my failure I was still impressed with the level of creativity shown on the part of The Voxel Agents in keeping The Gardens Between fresh.

Movement felt excellent, as depending on how far you push the analog stick you can either slow the pace to a crawl or jog through the scenery. Not only that, with the constant rotation of the islands as you move, The Gardens Between is a visual delight to behold; with its pastel color palette, soft shadows and lighting, and genuinely gorgeous art design. The music too accents the world of The Gardens Between, with its light and airy direction conveying whimsical beauty.

The Gardens Between is slated to come out early in 2018 to PC and Mac. If the demo shown off at PAX West is anything to go by, The Voxel Agents have crafted something magical and absolutely worth keeping your eyes on.

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