|Publisher||SIE Santa Monica Studios|
|Release Date||August 16, 2016|
Bound is the strangest game I’ve played in a long while. Everything about it from its ever-shifting world, that constantly changes and morphs around its protagonist, to its unusually designed characters is weird. Its presentation is very unusual. Of course, that’s what drew me to the game in the first place – it looked different and it looked like it played differently from most other games. It’s just worth mentioning that…this is a very strange game.
I’m going to stick with talking about Bound’s presentation because holy crap does it look beautiful. The art style is gorgeous, making each level a thing of beauty to actually behold and travel through. Each level in Bound has its own theme of sorts. Sometimes this is its use of colours, the colour palettes themselves or recurring scenery, so not only does it look great but each level is distinct from the others. The levels themselves, and by extension the whole world of Bound, takes on a very surrealistic quality.
When you’re making your way through the game, it genuinely feels like you’re playing through a dream. Dream logic takes hold quickly and often in Bound. The world is constantly being built and rebuilt around you. Looking out into the distance all you’ll see are grey blocks that constantly pulse and jump around. And every now and again the games environments take on the characteristics of an M.C. Escher painting, complete with impossible physics and gravity taking a backseat to good game design.
Basically, it’s impossible to talk about Bound without sounding like you’ve taken a ton of recreational drugs. And I haven’t even gotten to the part where the main characters moveset is, in its entirety, that of a modern dancer. Developer Plastic drafted ballerina Maria Udod for some motion capture sessions, under the supervision of choreographer Michał Adam Góral, using her as the basis for the way the protagonist moves throughout the world of Bound.
The result both adds to the dream-like qualities of Bound and helps set the game apart from other platformers (as if the trippy worlds and art style didn’t already). Bound’s protagonist doesn’t just run, she runs as a gymnast moving across a mat does. Same when she jumps. Her dodge isn’t just a hop or a roll – it’s a full on cartwheel. And when you want her to roll, she does one of those forward rolls that they used to try and teach you in school that hurt your head and embarrassed you in front of all your classmates when you fell over halfway through. Or maybe that was just me.
I’m sure all of these things have proper names in the dancing world and I’d love to do them justice, but I’m a video game critic and I know nothing about modern dance. What I’m trying to say is that Bound’s protagonist moves in a way quite unlike a video game protagonist before her. The motion capture work elevates this uniqueness even further by providing Bound’s ballerina with some stunning animations. The various movements you’ll perform while playing are graceful, elegant and look fantastic.
Heck, you can even actually dance in Bound. At various points of the game you’ll need to hold the right trigger and, using the various face buttons, string together some dance moves. These are needed specifically at the end of levels or when you need to defend yourself from weird tentacle-like arms made of beads or red gas or deadly confetti. Y’know, your standard video game obstacles. You can also use it whenever you feel like bustin’ a move, if you want. Doing so will create a shield of sorts, made from ribbon that will protect you from the harsher elements of Bound’s environments.
Because that’s Bound’s secret – mechanically it’s a simple platformer. All of these surreal levels are basically the same as those you would find in any other game of its genre. As is the stylistic moveset – it’s all just jumping, wall-jumping, dodging and such. Although it’s an incredibly strange and unique platformer, mechanically it’s still a platformer. I’m only telling you this to give you an idea of what kind of game Bound actually is, however. To label this game as “just a platformer” and leave it at that would be to miss the point of Bound entirely.
As a platformer the game has a couple of issues. The camera is pretty wonky, constantly having a tough time keeping its focus on the protagonist every time space is restricted, or there’s a wall or other obstacle nearby. As I’ve said a couple of times now, the game world constantly re-creates itself around you, sometimes going so far as to have platforms be built in front of you. They also occasionally shift to allow the camera to see through them – and sometimes I fell straight through them while trying to jump to them. It was strange but nothing that massively took anything away from the game. Just noticeable.
I’ve danced around the story in this review, and that’s because to even approach a discussion of it would include spoilers. The very first thing that happens in Bound was something I wasn’t expecting, and something I’d consider a spoiler, so I’m just going to be incredibly non-specific. I’ll just say that Bound tells a heartfelt story that I wasn’t expecting, in a way that’s as different as you’d expect given how different this entire game is.
Bound is a unique experience. Fundamentally it’s a simple, atmospheric 3D platformer – but calling it such would be incredibly disingenuous. Bound rebuilds the very foundation of its genre with an entirely new and unique way to traverse its world. Thanks to some exceptional animation and motion capture, something as simple as movement looks stunning. As does the rest of the game. Part acid trip, part M.C. Escher, Bound’s art style is simply put a joy to behold, and it’ll be difficult to concentrate on the main game and not just use the in-built photo mode to take endless pictures of the gorgeous scenery.
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