Like dancing in a painting
The indie games scene has been thriving with creative, out-of-the-box titles over the past few years, some of which became hallmarks of smart and engaging gameplay, whilst others sometimes end up being little more than visually enticing shells of uninspired material.
Developer Plastic’s platformer BOUND attempts to fuse together polished minimalistic visuals with flowy movement but, though it succeeds in the former department, it ends up falling short in the latter.
Welcome to a world of grace and flow
BOUND features a semi-abstract storyline told through short narrative-driven cutscenes with no actual voice acting. That isn’t to say the game is necessarily lacking for it, seeing as the story is split between real-world scenes starring a pregnant woman on a beach with her notebook and the events that take place in the fantastical world of the illustrated figures that inhabit it.
Each “chapter” begins with the woman flipping a new page and transporting the player to a new gameplay section before triggering a transitional cutscene when the level ends. These in turn unravel some of the woman’s presumed past, leading the main narrative thread in an attempt to culminate in an emotionally deep conclusion.
BOUND is a story about dealing with the past and deciding the future
However, the simplistic and abstract gameplay may not be the most appropriate way to convey a resonating tale – in this case – as players are left to glue snippets of the story together and imagine what may or may not have happened in certain instances. While the effectiveness of this is certainly debatable, by the end of the game I was left thinking I might have preferred a more gameplay-centric journey rather than the introduction of a supposedly deep storyline.
Short transitional scenes contextualize the story a bit
When it comes to BOUND’s aesthetic, there’s no denying the game looks gorgeous everywhere except the beach scenes. The geometrical landscapes and environmental effects make the levels feel like living paintings, twisting, turning and avoiding the player at every turn. Both walls and floors come alive with a grace matched only by the main character herself. It is disappointing, then, that the woman’s model in the beach looks so rough and breaks the immersion during those short moments.
BOUND is a stunner when it comes to graphics and animation
Indeed, the game’s protagonist – a seemingly living incarnation of the woman’s notebook drawings – is an abstract and strange-looking dancer who uses her beautifully animated moves to avoid attacks and make her way through the light platforming sections. She fits in perfectly with her world’s design and it all comes together in great fashion to create one of the best-looking indie games I’ve played to date.
Seriously, it looks great
BOUND‘s gameplay is somewhat of a mixed bag. On the one hand, the main character moves, jumps and dances very smoothly, making traversing the levels a breeze and letting the player focus on the environment. On the other hand, there isn’t much depth to the gameplay. Players need only follow a couple of paths across the different levels, hardly coming across a very memorable section gameplay-wise. I would have liked to see more dynamic platforming here via smarter level design which could have merged the apparent scope of the levels with the expertly-crated animations more smoothly.
While there are some cool gameplay segments, you’re mostly following a linear path through the scenery
That doesn’t mean there aren’t good platforming sections on offer here, as some levels make particularly good use of verticality, for instance. The game does, however, focus more on presentation than gameplay, which I feel is something players should consider when jumping in.
Sliding along these never gets old
Sound design is generally well done in BOUND. The waves crash into the sand during the beach segments with a soothing calmness, the main character’s footsteps are extremely detailed during her delightful dances and the wind rustling in your ears in more fast-paced sequences gives the game a welcome bit of adrenaline. Like I find with most games I review, BOUND is best played with a good pair of headphones on.
One can easily appreciate BOUND’s quiet moments of solitude
As a different, short-lived experience, I quite liked BOUND. I loved the game’s original and minimalistic design and the way it melds together with the main character’s fantastic animations. However, I can’t deny the fact that I was hoping for more involving gameplay and more substantial platforming.
What’s more, while there certainly is a message to be read between the story’s very fine lines, I can’t say it struck any chords as heavily as it was so clearly aiming to – but I’m sure it has the potential to do so for many players out there.
To sum up, expectations of deep gameplay mechanics or technical platforming will be sorely let down by the end of BOUND’s adventure. Even so, players who can appreciate a smart-looking game and are in search of a short, easy-going journey in the indie realm will most likely warm up to this charming piece of videogame art.
Walking into the horizon
Note: this review was based on a copy provided by the developer.