Making my way through a consistently shifting world, Bound’s protagonist elegantly shifted her weight while navigating a narrow beam. There’s an elegance to her movement – a gorgeous harmony tying together stunning motion capture with one of the more unique takes on simply movement a game has mustered in a long time. But even with its powerful narrative and interesting approach to platforming, Bound is never given the space it needs to breathe life into itself. And seems confused as to what direction it wants to go at times.
First and foremost, Bound is a narrative game. One that comfortably fits into the growing subcategory of games reaching for high art, conveying a story of trauma and loss in engrossing cutscenes. These scenes, which accompany each of the six levels in the two or so hour experience, are extremely effective at conveying the traumatic experiences that can take place within a family. Themes of loss and abandonment are vaguely alluded to at first, but the pieces start falling into place near the end for a powerful (if short-lived) conclusion.
Given its frequency in society today, it’s likely that Bound will connect with a lot of players on this level alone. It did with me, while I continue dealing with a similar style of trauma brought up by a person you’re told is meant to be your best friend. But even if it doesn’t hit on a raw nerve of emotion for you, it’s likely that Bound’s story will captivate you from start to finish. As it starts linking up in a fantastic way as it draws to a conclusion, Bound gives you the option to let its message direct its ending. It’s a strong decision, but one that sadly doesn’t live up to the built up that gets it to that point.
This narrative is smartly contextualised in a twisted, constantly moving world, where you’ll spend most of your time in Bound. Taking control of an elegant dancer, you make your way through platforming stages that look incredible complicated to traverse. Gravity folds on itself at times, with stairways twisting in all directions as you climb them. But levels never really aim to tax your logically, nor do they offer any real challenge. Bound is less interested in platform design and more with narrative exposition, with each level linking to its corresponding thematical themes in some extraordinary ways.
It does, however, mean that at first Bound offers up no real challenge. At times it even felt as though I was just gong through the motions. A few jumps here, a ladder climb there and the same (albeit gorgeous) ending to each. Where games like Journey offer up little in terms of mechanics too, they offset this with grand set-pieces and changing environments to keep things interesting. Bound may mix things up every now and them visually, but each level doesn’t feel distinct enough. And when there’s little to play around with, it settles into the mundane far too quickly.
There’s an attempt to address this at the end of the game though, when a speed run mode is unlocked for players looking for a greater challenge can tackle each of the levels again with an array of on-screen tools. It attempts to add longevity to a game that seems at odds with what its trying to be though. A game that is so concerned with an emotionally charged message transitioning into one about speed runs was simply strange – as if Bound itself was confused about what it truly wants to deliver with its mechanics.
If it’s a challenge you’re looking for though, this is likely the only place Bound will offer it up. Jumping back into completed stages will open your eyes to the paths it previously hid (and all new ones that wen’t there in the first place). Bound pivots here into a distinctly challenging platform that demands attention and dexterous movements. Shaving seconds off the clock can lead to multiple playthroughs if you’re captivated by speedruns and Trophy hunting. It’s just a shame that it changes the entire tone of Bound as a product, and feels oddly out of place.
Still, there’s a hook to be found in the unique way Bound represents its main character. Although caricatures of memories brought to life, Bound’s protagonist is one of the more unique characters I’ve taken control of in a long time. Capturing all motion from a dancer, your character effortlessly skips with the grace of a ballerina, struts with, confident sultry steps and otherwise looks gorgeous in motion. It’s strange to focus so much on the animation of a single character, but it’s a testament to how big a difference this makes when cleverly implemented.
Bound’s character motion never loses its magic throughout the game, and the same could be said for the light attacks you’re able to deal out to minor (and relatively harmless) enemies you encounter. Holding down R2 allows you to dole out scripted dancing moves, while building a aura of protection around your dancer. Sometimes the transition between these and normal movement can be a bit strange, but alone it remains consistently entrancing. Even if it’s actual impact on the game is, disappointingly, underutilised.
It’s Bound’s overwhelming problem, which is just depressing given the unique setting its characters find themselves in. its twisting dream world is brought to life with a unique aesthetic, combining striking, bold colours with a voxel based theme. There’s distinct structures erected in the sea of moving blocks, begging you to explore them as you draw closer. The camera work in particular is a standout too, with walks breaking apart to keep your character in view. And although repetitively used, the way each level ultimately ends in a interactive fly by of the entire environment is simply sublime.
The music plays into this wonderfully too, with a delicate mix of haunting piano notes with some old-school synth in the more fast-paced sections. It helps elevate the emotional impact of some of the game’s more important moments emphasising periods of sorrow and happiness in equal measure perfectly. It’s another example of how frighteningly integral music is to games of this ilk, and how much weight it adds to the story a game like Bound is trying to tell.
Which just exemplifies just how confused Bound seems to be at times. It’s a generally strong narrative adventure that perhaps might have hit higher notes if not too focused on providing a replayable, platforming intensive experience after the fact. The same way that it might have been a captivating platformer alone if that was the sole focus. Despite being pulled in two different directions though, there’s enough in Bound to justify a purchase. If only to explore it fascinating world with its one of a kind protagonist.
Last Updated: November 2, 2017
A gorgeous platformer with an exceptionally unique protagonist and powerful narrative, Bound offers up all the elements of a compelling title that fits in with the growing list of games reaching for high art. Its confusion about whether to fully commit to this is sadly to its own detriment though, sullying the underlying message and begging the question of what could’ve been.
|Bound was reviewed on PlayStation 4|
August 15, 2016 at 16:23
This is one for the PS+ monthly games :3