An Interpretive Dance
The world is stark, dangerous, and in tatters. You stretch to your feet on a mission to stop the frightful beast that has wreaked havoc in your broken kingdom. You’re alone, but each step you take, every bound onward speaks more volumes of your resolve than your character’s dialogue ever could. This is Plastic Studios’ newest game made in collaboration with Santa Monica Studios. This is Bound.
Plastic Studios has made a name for itself by being more of an experimental game developer. Instead of developing experiences that are clearly video games with classic gameplay, Plastic has crafted titles like Linger in Shadows, an early PS3 experience that many hesitate to call a game, and Datura, a narratively ambiguous PlayStation Move title that promised the illusion of actually grasping the world’s features. While Plastic didn’t hit perfectly on either of these, the experience has given its games a singular style, and the developer has not forgotten that in Bound.
After digesting the game’s trailer and reading a few articles about Bound, you might be surprised that it begins with a human woman, a pregnant woman resting on a real world beach. In true Plastic fashion, the player is inexplicably transported from here to the young princess familiar from the game’s stylish advertisement. In her alien world the princess has been ordered by her ornery mother to save the kingdom. To describe much more of the game’s plot would spoil some of the greatest discoveries Bound offers. It’s through some of the moments after each level, defragmenting still images and walking the woman farther down the beach, when the ties between these two worlds become clearer, and you’re led to a potentially heartbreaking conclusion.
While the game’s unwinding plot can be engaging and a little heavy for some, its style and presentation is where Bound really shines. Some of the game’s human models look a little crude by today’s standards, but where they are lacking, the princess’ world far upstages.
She lives in a cubist realm where sharp angles constantly flow and recede. As the princess approaches, blocks that shape the world shiver and glow, sometimes bending to avoid her or to accommodate the game’s camera. It is a beautiful, dangerous world that she inhabits, and her only defense is dance. Every movement she makes is already a dance, which is one of the most visually arresting and fascinating aspects to Bound, but by holding R2, the princess drops her ribbons and begins to flurry against the flames and arms that act as the game’s hazards.
Besides this element, which might be mistaken as combat, Bound’s gameplay is about platforming and taking in the world’s beauty. Even if you’re not into dance or the domestic themes at the heart of the game, there is no denying that its design is worth panning the camera at any given moment or even tinkering with the game’s Photo Mode, which has been generously incorporated in this game’s launch.
Much like Plastic’s previous titles, gameplay is a little simple. There’s not much of a challenge in avoiding the dangers regularly thrusted at the princess. Hold R2 for some ribbon-whipping, maybe tap Square to cartwheel away, and the worst will quickly be behind you. In that sense, Bound offers little challenge, but if you’re looking for an easy Platinum Trophy, you may want to venture elsewhere. Speedruns and deactivated Edge Guards are likely to stand in your way.
Of the complaints that can be held against Bound, there is the occasional fixed or restricted camera angle that makes platforming a little tedious. Along with that, whenever the princess falls or is attacked, she lets out a jarring scream. Her pain and exclamation are warranted, but the shrill immediacy of the sound often removed me from an otherwise immersive experience. Nonetheless, her recovery from these situations always remained in line with the character’s grace, which is quite apparent in every other aspect of the game.
Besides gorgeous visuals and a soundtrack by Oleg “Heinali” Shpudeiko that begs to be released separately, Bound overall asks players to pay attention. Yes, this game’s themes get a little deep and the plot can be emotional for those who care to notice. In your first playthrough, you might get most of what’s going on, but the smaller metaphors and parallels are some of the most rewarding reasons to play again and again.
The Verdict: 9.1 out of 10
Bound is a short experience. My hardly completionist playthrough clocked just under three hours, but there’s plenty of reason to return. Upon completing the game, a Speedrun Mode is unlocked for those who partake, and if you enjoyed the game enough to attempt 100% completion, you’ll likely be at it a while. For myself, this is one of the few video game experiences that I want to return to just to marvel. The princess’ fluidity, the world’s deformity, and the music… Excuse me, I think that Photo Mode is beckoning.
A review copy was not provided by Plastic Studios or Santa Monica Studios for this review.
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Jordan Loeffler is Editor in Chief for MONG who drives a 2006 Pontiac Vibe with Minnesota license plates even though he lives in Portland, OR. She’s seafoam green, and she drives like a wave. You can also follow him on IGN and on Twitter.