The Gardens Between is Mac Game of the Year because: It proves puzzle games can have real heart.
When you’re growing up, time flows differently. A warm summer day can stretch on for an eternity, yet an entire childhood flashes by in an instant. This evocative puzzler is all about exploring the bittersweet passage of time—and not just thematically. Here you literally control time itself.
The game begins with two best friends, Arina and Frendt, huddled in their tree fort. A nasty storm rages outside, and when lightning strikes nearby, the duo is warped to a dreamlike world where they must navigate a series of puzzles while reliving memories of their friendship.
Though the puzzles are clever and challenging, the game’s true appeal is its subtle, stirring narrative.
The heroes move of their own accord. Your role is simply to push time forward or backward. Early in the game, for example, you circumvent a collapsed stack of wood blocks by rewinding time to prevent them from falling in the first place. In another puzzle, Arina jumps on a giant saw that’s stuck in a board; by moving time back and forth, you make her jump up and down on the saw until the wood breaks, creating a path for Frendt.
Each level unfolds on a small, isolated mountain peppered with references to key moments of Arina and Frendt’s friendship. One path winds around an old television set and videogame console, calling to mind the times they played 8-bit classics together. Another is littered with blueprints and construction materials, a nod to their tree fort.
And then there is the mysterious glowing orb. “The light could be seen as a representation of Arina and Frendt’s friendship, says Simon Joslin, cofounder of the Voxel Agents, the Australian studio behind the game. “But there are other ways of looking at it—like the idea that by revisiting and illuminating memories, we make them stronger.”
Though the puzzles are clever and challenging, the game’s true appeal is its subtle, stirring narrative. Poignant details—packed boxes, a moving van—fill the background of each level. “Everything you see has a meaning,” says Joslin.
The Gardens Between is Mac Game of the Year for good reason: It’s the rare puzzle game that finds a way to be deeply moving. Don’t be surprised if it inspires you to catch up with an old friend.