It's not very often that a game looks so good it stops us in our tracks, but The Gardens Between certainly fits the bill. Of course, good looks only get you so far, but there's a fluidity and an elegance to everything the game offers up that makes it all but irresistible.
This is a puzzle game about manipulating time, and it uses its mechanics as a prism through which you view the story. It's warm and welcoming, but there's a sadness here as well. Change is the only certainty, and no matter how much you rewind the clock, you still need to keep moving forward.
Time and tideThe game sees you playing as a pair of friends. After an electrical storm hits their treehouse, you're transported to a strange world. Swipe right on the screen and time will move forward, swipe left and it'll move backward. Your two heroes follow the same path, but you can change things on that path to help them out.
There are switches to pull, buttons to press, and a magical light ball to get to a pedestal. Things are almost always easier said than done, though - each level is a self-contained puzzle that builds on the framework laid down by the one before. New mechanics feel natural, like they've always been waiting for you just around that corner.
It's not just the characters who move when you push time on - the world changes too. Hoses blast out sprays of water, cushions tumble onto sofas hanging on bare rock, bowls of popcorn are catapulted into the sea. There are magical bells that let you move little robots around and use them to capture the light you need to progress.
This is a game packed to the rafters with brilliant little moments. Like the best plotted thriller, everything here falls into place at the exact moment you need it to. You'll be feeling a little lost, and then you'll spot something that makes you realise where you've been going wrong - the little thrill when that happens is really rather special.
There are some moments where things are a little bit on the fiddly side, especially if you're playing on a device with a small screen, but even then you're unlikely to be put off - it won't be long before something else amazing happens, and you'll push on to see just what it is.
The freshness on show here, from the clever puzzles to the scenery, from the unfolding narrative to the constellations you're building in the sky, is never short of breathtaking. The Gardens Between often feels like a walk in some strange world, where the air is different and the rules aren't quite the same. The fact it does that on something that fits in your pocket is nothing short of remarkable.
Between you and meThe Gardens Between might have been out on other platforms before, but if you didn't pick it up on one of them, this mobile port is as good a place as any to give it a try. Set aside some time for it though, and use your headphones - this is a game you're going to want to consume at your own pace.
There are only a handful of other games on the App Store that have this level not only of polish, but of confidence and clarity of vision. The Gardens Between is, simply put, a game that should be played by everyone.Click here to get the best opinion and criticism on the most important portable games in our reviews section