In front of me stood a block maybe a foot taller than the dancer I controlled. Covered in handprints belonging to I don’t know who, maybe children, she rested her palms against it. Yet, instead of lowering herself and pushing like Nathan Drake or Link would, she stood tall and lean. Head straight, her body light, she crossed her feet over one another with a disciplined grace as the obstacle slid forward. It was lovely. And this was only a trickle of the beauty enveloping Bound, by Plastic.
Bound is a platformer, but it doesn’t take much to notice this game is anything but typical. The world is made of constantly shifting shapes and colors, with a rolling sea of cubes beneath everything, and a monster usually lurking in the distance. You play as the princess, collecting fragments as you leap through the levels, avoiding anything that slows you down. Paper airplane or bird like swarms, geometric ropes, and patches of grass like tendrils (known as fears) are all obstacles in your way. The premise is simple: start here, get here, and try not to die too much. Oh, and don’t forget to dance.
Yeah, dance. This is probably one of Plastic’s greatest achievements with this game. I played Bound back in December at the Playstation Experience, and it was a treat. The motion capture for the princess was done by contemporary dancer Maria Udod, lending a kind of movement to the game I’ve never seen before. From choreographed animations to ledge walking, the princess tumbles, bourrées, and jetés herself across the levels.
Dancing is actually your main form of combat, though I use that word generously. When bogged down by fears the protagonist dances her way out of their grasp. There are flourishes the player can add to her dancing, and it’s mesmerizing in itself. Ribbons appear and surround the princess as she moves herself with emotive fluidity. I found myself running into the enemies just so I could play with the dancing mechanic. Pair that with a stellar photo mode and you can spend a good amount of time positioning the princess for photo ops.
But there’s piece of the game I wasn’t aware of: the story. The magic of it needs to be experienced blindly, so you won’t get any details here. What I can say is that while the story is a familiar one there’s a method used by Plastic that allows for different interpretations of the story. Simply put, how you play may determine what you feel.
The chapters in the game can be played in any order, which in turn changes the levels themselves. Playing chapter one after chapter three changes where and what you can do in levels. And this can be applied to the story, as well. It sounds like a cop out, the cliché that “everyone has their own interpretation” and while it remains true, that’s only about the journey. Regardless, I appreciated the simplicity of the story and how Plastic was able to tell a story so creatively.
Though, I never felt like the stakes were high enough. As beautiful as many of the sections were, failing had no real consequence. And the enemies I mentioned before never dealt any damage. When you fail you are immediately brought to the moment before your misstep (which has a wonderful revive animation, so be sure to die a few times). It’s possible that adding lives or more aggressive enemies and a life bar would have upped the replayability of the game, but that’s the job of the speed run mode, which is unlocked after your first play through.
But then again, your first play through should be focused on the story and not crushing the levels. Instead of scrounging for short cuts and keeping your death count as low as possible the player should be appreciating the value of the level design, the motion capture, and the ethereal score of Oleg Shpudeiko. I’ll reiterate: the music is lifting. The soft piano melodies complimented the dancing perfectly. I could have sworn I was at a private concert in my living room. Terrible acoustics in there, though.
I suppose I’m contradicting myself with the last two paragraphs. I don’t know if I want harsher ramifications in the main story, though I’m well aware that I wouldn’t want them while speed running. Not that it would matter. I’m horrible at speed running.
What’s interesting, and you probably wouldn’t gather this from first glance, is that Bound was developed with speed running in mind from its inception. Even after a few levels I found this hard to believe, until I began to explore more and more. Short cuts and the tricks used to find them are hidden throughout the levels. They’re difficult to find, but of course that’s part of the fun. If I was more interested in speed running I could definitely see myself working out the quickest route to point B. But sometimes there are elements of the game that really do fall a little flat.
There’s also the camera. Generally, it works just like it should, but some angles it decides to take cut off the point of view for the player. There are some really cool animations when it does this, but it can be difficult to understand the distance your character needs to jump between platforms. But, the camera also does wonders. Certain M. C. Escher-esque sections work wonderfully, and the camera takes plenty of liberties with its placement. And I actually love it here, so maybe I’m nitpicking with the other parts. The scenes created in moments like these are very compelling, but at other times the camera can disrupt the flow, and that’s the more important part, especially when trying to speed through a level.
Ultimately, despite some small problems, I adored this game. There’s so much more I’d rather talk about, but it’d be better if you can experience it yourself. I know many will cry out that this isn’t really a game, or they’ll comment “what’s the point?” If those are the questions you’re asking, this game may not be for you. The indie game market is booming, and with more games like Bound being made we should be ecstatic that the video game medium is progressing and being challenged. Games like Journey, Flower, and now Bound are all pushing the medium in fascinating ways, and I’m very excited to see where it’s all headed.
At the very least, I want more games to make me feel like I do when I finish a level of Bound: as if I’m gliding, and looking back at everything I’ve done. Whatever that means.