Bound brings a unique approach to the speedrunning platformer by putting the focus on a heartbreaking narrative and a beautiful dance mechanic to pull players through its world.
Although the late summer hasn't seen the release of many AAA titles, fans of indie games have had plenty of beautiful, unique worlds to explore. That list grows a little longer this week with the launch of Plastic's balletic platformer Bound. There's no denying that Bound has a style of its own and an interesting gimmick, but as it turns out, there's much more than that to explore in the emotional adventure.
For those who missed the game's reveal trailer at E3 2016, Bound is a platformer that puts players in control of a character who flows through her constantly changing world like a ballerina. The game is a third person 3D platformer and players have a few moves to navigate through obstacles, enemies, and simple puzzles. The basics of the game are run, jump, roll, and dance. Using those skills, players set out into a series of levels with no heads up display, no tutorials, no loot, and no life total.
Players are given a journal at the beginning of the game and each page in the book represents a level. The player has the ability to work through the levels in any order that they choose, but unlike in a game like Mighty No. 9, the ability to work through the game in any order feels very powerful in Bound. This means that the game's mysterious narrative unfolds depending on how the player works through the book of memories. We'll avoid going into specifics because giving any aspect of the game's narrative away is a major spoiler, but the order that the levels are played through impacts both gameplay and story. The events of each level may be interpreted differently based on the order in which they are seen, as well.
In addition to the emotional differences that can occur based on the order of completion, players will also unlock different paths and options. The game was designed with speedrunners in mind and after completing the campaign once, a special speedrunning mode is unlocked. There are over 120 different combinations for tackling the order of the levels and this seems like the kind of game that the speedrunning community will have a great time cracking.
At the heart of Bound is a beautiful platforming experience that allows gamers to get lost in a new world full of amazing music and well constructed metaphors. Players have multiple paths to work through each level and will rarely feel frustrated by clearing a certain gap or avoiding an enemy's grasp the way that they would in a more punishing game, even like Song of the Deep.
Bound is all about flow and deaths will likely be few and far between. Enemies (enigmatic black pixels grab the dancer and pull her to the ground) only slow the protagonist down, not kill her, and players break free by using the dance mechanic. There are lots of spots for players to fall off of the stage into the abyss, but even that only occurs when players become careless or distracted. The game has moments that feel like they should be boss fights, but players don't need to do anything special or challenging to get through them. Simply holding the dance button for a few moments will send the big monsters running off into the distance. This feels just a bit like a missed opportunity. Although the game isn't about combat at all, it would be nice to have some unique challenge at the end of each chapter.
That being said, we found each level to be interesting and fun to explore from start to end, but gamers looking for a challenge beyond speed will likely not find it in Bound. The game only takes a handful of hours to beat on the first playthrough and doesn't have much more to offer players who aren't interested in speedrunning or a heartbreaking narrative. The game's story and its unique delivery really are enough to justify the $20 price tag (or $16 for PSN Plus members), but the brevity may leave some gamers feeling like they were short changed.
Bound releases August 16 on PS4. Game Rant was provided a PS4 code for this review.