I like to think that if Kevin Bacon had taken acid while on the set of Footloose, Bound would be the result. Not really, but that would be an interesting idea for a game.
Bound takes you into the memories of a woman before she embarks on the biggest journey of her life. The game takes place through a series of surreal locations inspired by the mind of an artist, someone with abstract and creative flair. Each location is like a painting for you to explore and draw meaning from the intricate symbols and clues brush-stroked throughout.
Bound is a personal journey, one that many women can relate to, men as well, but the story is told from the point of view of a woman. Developer Plastic Studios deserves praise for following this narrative path. It’s not the most compelling or interesting story, but certainly one that I have never experienced before. I compare it to the story of 2013’s Gone Home. Like Gone Home, Bound explores the mind of a woman with narrative elements open to interpretation. Bound certainly targets the female demographic, but that doesn’t mean males won’t enjoy it. I did.
Bound is a 3-D platformer that’s far from the traditional running and jumping of Mario or Banjo. There’s still the traditional enemies, puzzles and platforms, but negotiating the obstacles is through refined movement and dancing. The humanoid princess moves with the grace and elegance of a ballet dancer. Each limb’s twirl, spin and arc is a highly choreographed step in a dream-like grand ballet that you orchestrate to progress and satisfy your own curiosity. The result is a one of a kind experience and possibly the most elegant movement from a protagonist in gaming history.
Unfortunately, the movement doesn’t transition to engaging gameplay. The majority of environments are linear and do not even require the graceful movement to progress. Apart from a few platforming sections and enemy encounters, simply walking and jumping will suffice. In an odd design choice, your character is often required to scale ladders which are an ugly contrast to the refined ballet-esque movement. There is also very little challenge. The only time you risk death is if you choose to explore off the beaten path in search of collectables only to discover that it’s not a hidden area but a dark abyss.
Bound shines as a form of interactive art. Each level (or memory) is a living breathing artwork that pulses along to the orchestral score. Vibrant maroon waves roll as far as the eye can see while gravity-defying architecture forms a strong and distinct aesthetic. Bound looks and feels like a ballet based on a fairy tale that had an infinite budget for set design. The animation and sound feel human while the world you explore couldn’t be more alien.
If Bound had ditched the uninspired platforming and focused solely on the art and movement, it would have been a masterpiece. Take Journey for example. Journey is all about exploration and experience with some of the most basic platforming in modern gaming, and I consider it a masterpiece. Each memory can be played in any order, slightly altering the experience which may warrant replaying but only if you enjoyed it the first time through. Bound is an enjoyable and ultimately unique experience but is dragged down by shallow gameplay.
Michael Vane is a freelance journalist and co-editor of PN2. He’s on Twitter @DrVane