I’m sitting here writing about the game The Gardens Between and I’m having second thoughts. On one hand, I want to scream from the highest mountain how beautiful this game is. On the other hand, I want to tell you absolutely nothing about it.
How do you write about a game like this without spoiling what makes it special? How do I explain things like gameplay mechanics and story without depriving you of the surprise?
I would love to tell you all about the amazing environments you will traverse. I want to tell you about the extremely clever puzzle design. Or maybe I should just talk about the clever way the game deals with being a kid and having almost no agency of your surroundings?
There are so many things I want to tell about this game but I will not rob you of the experience. I refuse to rob you the feeling of discovery you will get from playing The Gardens Between.
I knew nothing about this game. Nothing about who developed it, or what type of game it was. I didn’t even know what it was about. I just allowed myself to experience something new. From the elegantly told story to the super creative game mechanics, each moment of The Gardens Between filled me with joy and melancholy. As I navigated each beautifully crafted level, I felt myself being transported to a time in my mind I thought forgotten. It depicts the fragmented nature of my memories in a way that instantly felt nostalgic. The more I played the more I was reminded of the childlike wonder around every corner.
That wide-eyed wonder I once had, especially as a kid, eventually got lost. I see my 4-year-old son discover the world around him and can’t help but feel a little sad that I can’t do that anymore. Now, my thick skull won’t allow me to see anything beyond what it is. A door is a door, nothing more. It’s normal I guess; we get older and our responsibilities ground us. But this game allowed me to feel that feeling once again, even if only for a short time.
While playing this enchanting game my brain suddenly opened up and a door was no longer just a door but a gateway to my younger self. It reminded me how the school monkey bars weren’t just monkey bars but instead my only way to navigate the boiling lava below me. It reminded of how excited I was to see a friend. It reminded me how the world was so small and I knew my place in it.
The Gardens Between allowed me to experience moments of childhood again. Happy and sad moments alike.
So many games now are all about the vast open world or massive multiplayer experiences. Small experiences like this tend to fall through the cracks for me and I’m happy I didn’t miss this one. Normally, I do. When 2012’s Journey released and took the world by storm I was a no show. When Gone Home was stealing people’s hearts in 2013, I was sleeping on it too. Comparing The Gardens Between to those other games is impossible for me, but anecdotally the emotional experience seems similar.
If you have gone this far without reading or watching anything about this game do yourselves a favor and keep it that way. Don’t ruin the experience for yourself. Allow yourself to take a risk and go in blind. The game doesn’t pose a challenge or demand more than 2 hours of your time so the risk is minimal.
The Gardens Between is a special game. It was a game that I had no idea I needed to play but I am so happy that I did. I can’t guarantee you will have the same experience as I did but I hope you do.