Bound Review For PS4

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Posted August 29, 2016 by Josh Brant in Video Games

The editor of this review had it published first at enthusiast.gg

Developer: Plastic Studios

Publisher: SIE Santa Monica Studio

Release Date: August 16, 2016

Platforms: PlayStation 4

Disclaimer: The following game was reviewed on the PS4. It was purchased by the reviewer for this critique.

The premise is certainly unique – a human woman reliving her childhood memories through the stories in her notebook. But it really does take a backseat to the main event, which is a humanoid princess and the relationship with her mother, the queen. In the grand tradition of PlayStation classics like Journey and The Unfinished Swan, Bound tells its story through metaphor, tugging at the player’s emotion with a scope and beauty which is difficult to describe. It has all the makings of an obtuse, pretentious story, but it’s all tied together in a nice little package, without too much in the way of exposition. It’s a story worth telling which spans two dimensions.

Breaking Free

First of all, Bound is absolutely beautiful to behold. Like great works of art, Bound’s beauty is compelling at a fundamental, human level. The dancer, your playable heroine, moves and emotes with the spellbinding grace of a motion-captured ballerina. The ways in which she jumps, shimmies along ledges, and deflects damage are evocative, but the little flourishes, a stretch while idling, the way her hands delicately frame her face, convey a good amount of personality and character. The environment also teems with life. Above a sea of blocks, tides of cubes ebbing and flowing, levels themselves move and re-shape in tactile ways. Move the camera through a wall to your left or the floor below, and the polygons will part to reveal the dancer.

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 they choose, but the ability to work through the game in any order feels very powerful in Bound. This means the game’s mysterious narrative unfolds depending on how the player works through the book of memories. It’s imperative to avoid going into specifics because giving any aspect of the game’s narrative away is a major spoiler, but the order in which 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.

It’s magical to look at, but the opening piano chords strike the musical scene. If you know nothing about it, Bound’s soundtrack and opening moments let you know you are in for an experience which aims to be emotional, and hopes to be memorable. The music throughout is exceptional, and it’s so well mixed that at times it feels as though you are making it happen. The bulk of your play will be as a female of unknown origin who interacts with her mother and raging aggressive beasts which pop up from time to time, giving manifest to dark undertones the story alludes to. It’s a shame some of the scene transitions are less than smooth, because it can pull you out of the immersion occasionally.

Lifelike Movement

Unfortunately, other than the dancers beautiful and graceful movements, the moment-to-moment gameplay isn’t particularly memorable. There isn’t much motivation to explore and look for the various memory shards the dancer can collect or for shortcuts through the levels unless you just want to burn through them. After completing the game once, which takes around three hours, the speedrun mode unlocks. The developers obviously want players to explore and find these shortcuts for the sake of speedrunning, but speedrunning isn’t going to appeal to everyone. Speedrunning these levels doesn’t entirely rely upon skill either; it’s mostly about knowing where the shortcuts are.

While not all the gameplay stands out, it does have a pleasant flow. Highlights include leaping between ropes, timing your jumps between moving platforms, and dancing with R2 to shield yourself from incoming damage sources, like clouds of darkness or fixed fire looking geysers. Some levels play with gravity, twisting your perspective as paths warp or unfurl before you, and the structural variety in general makes for very interesting spaces. The dancer’s move set may be limited, but she can combine actions in mesmerizing ways, like jumping while dancing to maintain forward momentum or leaping after rolling to catapult through the air. At the peak of gameplay, a certain rhythm can be found by stringing together her elegant moves to dance quickly and confidently through levels. Trusting a series of quick actions felt intuitive and liberating.

Bound is all about flow and deaths will likely be few and far between. Enemies, mysterious 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 this only occurs when players become careless or distracted due to the “Edge Guard” being turned on at the start of the game. Bound has moments which 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, it would be nice to have some unique challenge at the end of each chapter.

Deeper Meaning

From a personal standpoint, even with the boring gameplay and moments which made me want to burn through it as quickly as possible just to get it done, I found myself thinking what it was all about for hours after completion. What was the meaning behind it? What was the monster? What was the kingdom the dancer was trying to save? What was going on in the buried plot? Also; what was going on in the dancer’s story? Even after I replayed the levels for the sake of the review, I had more questions than answers with new insights to the overall story. That’s not a bad thing at all, and I’d argue this element is yet another part of the beauty of Bound.

Even with all the shortcomings, Bound is quite a beautiful and unique game to behold. Its sweeping environments and spellbinding aesthetic invite you to look closer, appreciate its story, and find meaning through your own interpretation. An interesting ending changes things up, but otherwise, within the first hour you will either be captivated or bored. Though it’s a brief journey, you may be captivated and left me pining for more time with the dancer in her beautiful, strange world.

 


About the Author

Josh Brant

I love God, my family, friends, sports, and the greatest hobby of all: video games! You can reach me on twitter @minusthebrant.