Developer: The Voxel Agents
Platform: iPhone & iPad
There are plenty of visually impressive games on the App Store, but there are only a few you could call downright beautiful. The Gardens Between firmly belongs in that prestigious category. No wonder it won an Apple Design Award.
This time-manipulation puzzler takes place in a stunning dreamworld filled with items from the shared memory of two young friends, Arina and Frendt. Across each compact island level you’ll weave your way past VHS players, squeaky bike-powered pulley systems, classic games consoles, giant Jenga sets and more.
The game’s mechanics are equally pure, combining movement and action into one brain-warping system. Our two plucky heroes will make their way to the peak of each island of their own accord. All you need to do is touch and drag right to scrub forward through time, or left to rewind.
Your aim is to have Arina light a lantern and carry it to the exit point, but various obstacles will stand in your way. Thankfully, not all of the level’s furniture will obey the linear flow of time. Frendt can interact with certain strange artifacts and robotic helpers that operate on their own isolated timeline, enabling you to construct dizzying time loops and physics-defying lamp relays.
The Gardens Between is a port, having originally launched on PC and console, but you wouldn’t know it to play it. The whole simplified screen-scrubbing control system makes the game feel completely native to mobile. Even the way you can play in either landscape or portrait, with no particular advantage or shortfall either way, screams of a mobile-focused game.
Only some occasionally spotty performance on our iPhone X really muddied our impression of the game. It’s not a deal breaker given the sedate, cerebral nature of the action, but it inevitably leaves the slightest of scuff marks on such a polished game.
The game doesn’t always make its solutions completely clear either, and you’ll have to grit your teeth and trial-and-error your way through some of the challenges. But The Gardens Between makes a virtue of wide-eyed experimentation.
Besides, with presentation this stellar and a sublime soundtrack to match, there’s really no such thing as wasted time in this dreamy world.