Valleys Between is the sort of game that’s so beautiful I would probably play it even if it wasn’t any good. I’d play it just to look at it, listen to it, be around its world and its art. Happily, it is good. Part tactical game, part curious bucolic spin on the endless runner, I have never played anything that combines its various parts in such a way. And there’s more.
Really though, it is terribly pretty. This is the natural world idealised, with purple skies, distant mountains delivered in simply, dreamy pastels, and woodland of cyan and pink, light green and sandy yellow, all divided into hexes.
Your job is to bring water from the ground, by striking a hex and pulling upwards. Water will flood and pool and gloop around, and grass with spring from surrounding hexes. Water feeds the grass, and the grass encourages a fox to travel with you, moving from hex to hex as long as there’s something underfoot and taking a turn to make each short journey.
Once you have enough grass, you can start to draw trees out of the ground, and then link trees to make forests and link forests to make houses. That’s about as far as I’ve gotten with this stuff so far, although it’s sort of a shame to make houses so I try not to do it too often. Then there are dangers – fires which require water to put them out and stop them spreading, obelisks which need a bit of magical nature jazz from the fox to stop them exploding. The more land you make, the more your world becomes a corridor, a conveyor belt, fresh hexes emerging from the bottom of the screen while odd hexes disappear into the distance.
What I like most, though, is the rate of change. Valleys Between moves through seasons, but each new layer of hexes, each movement from trees to forest, is measured in years. Years! This is a game that moves to the rhythm of tree-time. It has a slightly inhuman sense of scale, and there is, wonderfully, not much space for us in its vision of nature.
And so the fox moves on, the waters pool, the grass turns from green to yellow. I’m still at the very start of this journey, just a few bus-rides with its company so far. There’s so much in the trailer even that I haven’t yet seen! But Valleys Between is already a bit of a gem: the perfect game to play at this time of year. Make the most of it.