In Bound, the main character jumps, twirls, and dances across your screen with grace, but the game doesn’t quite stick the landing.
Visually, Bound strikes near perfection thanks to its vibrant color palette and engrossing environments. The shifting platforms that fill up the world vary in design as they twist, rotate, and ascend around each level. As a result, Bound looks unlike any game before it, and these visuals are easily its strongest suit. Its landscapes intertwine with a soundtrack that is equally beautiful and mesmerizing.
Bound begins with your character receiving an order from her mother to rid this unique world of “The Monster.” This part of Bound is where all of the gameplay actually takes place, though it’s truly acting as a metaphor for a framing device taking place in the real world that tiptoes around a personal topic that doesn’t fully come into fruition until the game’s ending.
After a brief tutorial, the game’s five levels can be executed in any order you choose, and according to developer Plastic, Bound can be completed in 120 different ways, with different level sequences resulting in varying levels of difficulty.
By the time the credits rolled, the story left me feeling strangely unsatisfied. It seemed to be told in such a way that it had expectations of delivering an emotional punch when the ending was reached, and when it was, it failed to leave an emotional resonance that it seemed to think it would. It’s obvious Bound is trying to act in the same vein as other emotional and story-heavy games such as Journey and Gone Home. The difference between Bound and the aforementioned titles is that those games tell great stories through simplicity and easy-to-use mechanics, and in these categories, Bound is sadly out of rhythm.
The main gameplay mechanic of Bound involves moving across platforms and dodging enemies, but Bound is not just about the typical running and jumping. Throughout the world, your main character dances from platform to platform, appearing to move with such grace and delicacy that makes this type of platforming unlike any other. Simply holding the R2 button changes her movement from walking to ballet dancing in a visually seamless transition. Watching someone else play Bound may make it appear to be executed with ease, but the game causes major frustration with perception and controls.
Because so much of the world is floating in mid air, it’s easy to fall, and this is made even easier due to sudden changes of camera perspective at the most inopportune times. Instead of a gradual pan of the camera, there are numerous instances in Bound containing hard, direct shifts of viewpoint that make the perception even worse for a move you’re trying to execute. For a game that’s all about the beauty of movement, it becomes rather difficult to enjoy it after you’ve fallen 10 times in a row in a spot that the game simply doesn’t want you to reach.
On top of poor perspectives, while your character’s movement appears to be light, controlling her feels heavy, even sluggish at points, especially when you’re forced to trudge through areas filled with enemies you can only dance to avoid. Bound should control a lot easier than it does and it simply makes it a difficult experience to enjoy.
Bound presents a unique concept that could have been truly fantastic with improved controls and camera positioning to compliment its story. It’s hard to look at it and not be impressed by its striking visuals and its ballerina-like movements, but sadly the game ends up resulting in a lot of disappointment due to a muddled story and gameplay mechanics. Bound presents a number of post-game challenges for the hardcore audience in the form of speed runs and hidden areas, but in reality, by the time the credits roll, you might be ready to dance onto something else entirely.