I’ve always had a strong admiration for games that choose not to conform to the current status quo of the industry in which they inhabit, deciding instead to be slightly more avant-garde in the way they present themselves. Games like Flower, Thomas Was Alone and Entwined are all games that, among a plethora of others, have piqued my interests simply because of how their uniqueness shined through in a market that is exceedingly overcrowded with games that all blend together, with truly original ideas being very few and far between. To put it simply, I’m a bit of an enthusiast when it comes to overly pretentious games and from the moment I first saw Bound when it was unveiled back in December 2015 I was immediately invested and eager to see more of what it had to offer.
Bound, on the surface, is an unbelievably pretty platforming game in which you take control of a young and graceful ballet dancer in your quest to venture through a number of levels that are, to say the least, all breathtakingly beautiful. From the moment I first saw the reveal trailer to the time that I spent with it recently, Bound has always emitted some sort of vibe that really reminds me of a peculiar mixture of Tron, Journey and a primary school mathematics lesson. The entire game is crafted out of a plethora of ripe color palettes, with each palette being somewhat exclusive to its respective level. Each level is built, almost exclusively, out of a triangles and can visually break apart and piece itself back together dependent on the position of the in-game camera and the protagonist.
Now, the overall structure of the game is where Bound shares a slight resemblance to the aforementioned Journey. Each level is extremely linear with a strong focus on telling the game’s story through vague visual imagery taking place in the background of levels as well as near-silent cutscenes that play between each and every level. The majority of the sounds to be heard throughout Bound come from the noise of the female protagonist’s feet as they come into contact with the ground beneath her as she carries herself around. The only other things you’ll hear as you venture through the various environments that make up the bulk of Bound is the game’s incredibly atmospheric soundtrack, the majority of which consists of hard-hitting synths being filled out by calming piano melodies to accompany you along your journey.
Whilst the overall visual and audible aesthetic that Bound presents seems incredible at first glance, the game really struggled to grasp my attention when it came down to it actually being an enjoyable experience to play through. The gameplay portion of Bound goes like this: the level starts and you begin walking forwards. That’s seriously 90% of the entire game. I mean, sure, sometimes you do run and you occasionally need to put the effort in to perform a jump, but that’s, more or less, the entire substance of the game – which, if you can guess, gets really repetitive extremely quickly. Now the only time the gameplay is even slightly varied is when you reach the end of a level. Upon reaching a level’s goal, you’ll always encounter some sort of monster that attempts to attack the princess — a boss fight, if you will — and the only thing you can do to defend yourself is hold the R2 button, which causes the princess to dance. After holding down the designated dance button for around 10 seconds, the boss is defeated and the end of level visual sequence plays — that’s it. There’s absolutely no challenge whatsoever when it comes down to your character being in any danger, or at all for that matter. Throughout the game you have to balance over long stretches of thin ground on occasion and not even then is there any sense of challenge or struggle because the game is set, by default, to have the balance assist (dubbed in game as ‘edge guard’) switched on, not allowing players to fall off anything that they should be able to, unless they push X to deliberately jump off. It’s just pathetically easy.
It’s going to sound absolutely tragic, maybe even a little harsh, but I had a lot more interest, investment and overall fun with Bound just by tinkering around with the game’s in-depth photo mode than I did playing through the actual story. It’s not that the story was bad, per se, but the gameplay being as easy as it was really didn’t have me wanting to play the game for too much longer than I had to. With that being said, you can plough through the main portion of Bound in a little over 2 hours, which may sound short, but the short length of this game really does help it feel like it hasn’t overstayed its welcome and makes it feel like a beautiful affair, visually, that can be experienced in its entirety in a single evening, if you were so inclined.
If there’s one word that I can use to describe my experience with Bound, it would be “disappointing.” I don’t mean to say that Bound is a bad game, by any stretch of the imagination, but the experience, other than the visuals, left me feeling disappointed just because of how shallow the actual game part of Bound was. All I was doing, for the most part, was walking or running and occasionally dancing through each and every one of these beautifully crafted levels, making me feel like the developers had almost focused too much on making this game look and sound as beautiful as it does, whilst forgetting to pay attention to detail to Bound when it came down to the gameplay aspects of it.
With that being said, Bound is an absolutely breathtaking experience to play through, simply because of how it looks and sounds; it just absolutely oozes with artistic style and is definitely something that, if you appreciate pretentious-artsy games à la Flower, that you definitely shouldn’t miss out on. I’d recommend waiting for it to drop down to a cheaper price as I don’t feel like it’s at the appropriate price tag for a game this shallow, even though it is an absolute spectacle to behold.