When my roommate came into my room and saw me playing Bound, he asked one simple question: “So is this like an art game?” My response: “Yeah, pretty much.” This exchange pretty much sums up the most basic thing you need to know going into Bound. This game is art in motion at its very core, and that alone is enough to deter a lot of people’s interest. If you found yourself not enjoying games like Journey or Flower, then you probably won’t be that into Bound. But if you do like games were gameplay is secondary and presentation and aesthetic are the core mechanics that drive you to continue playing, then I suggest you read on to decide if Bound is right for you.
Bound is the kind of game where you have to stop and take a screenshot every five minutes. It’s stunningly beautiful throughout, and I’m not talking about the game’s graphics. The game’s aesthetic is its biggest pro, and Bound manages to inject a bit of this aesthetic into every element of the game. The whole world of Bound feels alive, from the way your character gracefully makes her way from point A to point B, to the way the environment around you moves. While your character dances and prances about like a ballerina, the terrain is constantly moving and changing with you. Platforms and structures form right in front of your eyes as you approach them and then disarrange themselves as you move away. Surprisingly, none of this ever got old throughout my four hour playthrough of the game.
However, as beautiful as the world of Bound is, the developers still needed to insert some gameplay mechanics in there somewhere. Bound is technically a 3D platformer, but just barely. I say this because half of the game consists of your character just walking/running/ballerina-twirling through various environments, while the rest is some of the easiest platforming I’ve ever seen in a game. Bound isn’t meant to be a hard game. It seems that it’s aiming to be a kind of “therapeutic experience” rather than a platformer. However, this might be a hard thing to wrap your head around at first, it certainly was for me, but once you accept this fact then it becomes much easier to buy into the overall experience Bound is attempting to provide for you. I honestly can’t think of a game that I’ve played that was “easier” than Bound, so if you require a challenge in your games, then Bound might not be for you.
Now, the unfortunate part about Bound’s platforming areas is that the actual platforming itself is not very good. The protagonist sticks to walls far too easily, and this becomes a nuisance fast. I can accept that the game is going out of its way to be easy, but platforming still needs to appear natural. On top of this, jumping from platform to platform doesn’t feel right either. The way your character snaps to the platform feels out of place in a game where movement feels so smooth. The less than optimal platforming is a real immersion breaker and at times makes you wish that Bound didn’t try to be a platformer and instead just settled on being a third-person ballerina simulator.
This brings me to my single biggest gripe that I have with the game; Bound’s camera controls. Well, the problem isn’t really with the controls themselves, more so with the times that those controls are taken away from you. Throughout most of the game, you have complete control of the camera using your right analog stick just like any other third-person game. However, every now and again, the game decides that it could do a better job controlling the camera than you can and snaps the camera to a different angle. Sometimes, the game doesn’t give you control of the camera again for a while. This may not seem like that big of a deal, but for a game that is so heavily focused on presenting itself as art, this seems out of place. It’s as if the developers are telling you “No, you need to enjoy this art the way we want you to”, and that’s just not how it should work. Plain and simple.
When it comes to gameplay mechanics, most of what Bound brings to the table has already been seen before, except for the dancing mechanics. Bound has a button mapped exclusively for dancing, something I don’t think we’ve ever seen before in a game. Simply hold down R2 and the game’s protagonist will proceed to skip and pirouette around the level, forming a type of shield around her that can prevent her from being hurt by the sometimes hostile environment around her. It’s an interesting idea for a gameplay mechanic, but it, unfortunately, falls flat.
There’s nothing particularly special about holding R2 for a couple seconds just to form a shield of ribbons around your character. The choreography is phenomenal and the developers really outdid themselves with the motion capture. However, I can’t help but feel that there needed to be more of it. Each level that you go through has your character doing a new routine, but she does that routine over and over again until the end of that level. Pair this with the fact that the dancing really serves no purpose other than to protect you from the very few dangers in the world, and you’ve got yourself a great idea that was executed poorly.
Yes, Bound has its problems, but I still walked away from it in the end feeling that the time I spent with the game was time well spent. Most of what Bound sets out to do, it does fairly well, albeit with a few (sometimes substantial) hiccups along the way. The game does really hit its stride storywise at the very end, while the gameplay makes its biggest impact at the beginning. While this makes for a slightly lopsided experience, in the end, it means that there was almost something to connect with throughout my playthrough. Wonky camera controls and wasted mechanics aren’t enough to take away from the fact that Bound is art in game form in a way that has never been presented to us before, and that’s worth something to me.
Bound was reviewed on PlayStation 4 using a code provided by the developer. A VR compatible version of the game will be available later this year on PlayStation VR.
Wonky camera controls and sub-par platforming aren't enough to take away from the fact that Bound is absolutely art in game form. Almost everything about the game is beautiful and unique, and if you find yourself enjoying games where gameplay takes a back seat to aesthetic, then you might want to think about picking up Bound.