The Voxel Agents, heard of them? Maybe not, unless of course, you have played Train Conductor World or Puzzle Retreat on mobile platforms. Well, this is the team responsible for what I consider to be one of the finest puzzle games I have ever played in my 41 years upon this planet.
Looking at a screenshot of The Gardens Between, you could be forgiven for assuming that this is a run of the mill platform game ported from mobile. Developed for PS4, Steam and Nintendo Switch, The Gardens Between is a stunning, immensely clever, time-based logical puzzle game.
You take control of the passage of time for two friends, Arina and Frendt. You have no direct control over the characters other than pressing the A button to make them activate lanterns. The world which they inhabit is a rotating 3d island, which changes with each stage. Beautifully crafted with excellent attention to detail, silky smooth animation all in a vibrant dreamlike, yet familiar world.
The premise of the game is to light a plinth at the end of the level. You do this using Arina, who can carry a lantern, which she can light from various flower like orbs placed within the world, moving the left analogue stick to the right to progress forward in time. The problem is that there are black hole like flowers which suck the light from your lantern. Enter your friend Frendt, by activating other types of lanterns across the level, with a press of the A button when you are next to them, he can move time forwards and backwards, again via the analogue stick. The difference being in that when Frendt moves time, only the ambient objects within the level move, not the characters. When Arina moves time, only the characters react.
I’m not a great fan of puzzle games as I find that in many instances the programmers get lazy and you end up solving non-logical puzzles through either trial and error or by resorting to a guide. Not the case with this title. Whilst the puzzles get fiendishly clever, they always make sense, and once you finish that level you end up with an immense feeling of achievement, believing yourself to be a god damn genius. And it’s the genius of the level design and sense of achievement, which makes you wish to continue on to the next level.
Playing on the Switch in the handheld mode with headphones, the game has delightful graphics and an understated yet excellent soundtrack. How this would look and sound on a TV may slightly detract from the immersion.
In short, you should buy this game. The best indie developed game of the year and the best puzzle game I’ve played.
Beard Score: 9/10
Genre: Puzzle, Adventure
Publisher: The Voxel Agents
Format: Steam, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch