I struggled coming up with an opening paragraph for this game for such a long time, and then I realised the irony behind it. Bound is unlike many games I’ve reviewed before, in that I’ve been specifically told to not mention anything – and I mean nothing – about the story. The irony here is that in a game that explores breaking away from your shackles, I’m, funnily enough, bound to one.
Take the shackles off my feet so I can dance
While I can’t talk about the story of Bound, I can say this: You play a ballet dancer. The dancer needs to complete a variety of levels, facing specific hazards and use her dancing to overcome them.
The game is divided into a number of different chapters, most of which can be played in a different order. This is very important to the game as it shapes and molds your experience. Each chapter focuses on a specific hazard, and by the end of it, the hazard is defeated and can no longer harm the dancer. This then opens up different routes in subsequent chapters. For example, if you play the Shout level before the Steam level, there’s a section you can’t pass as the hazards will stop you. But if you play the Steam level first, you’ll be able to use a shortcut in Shout.
There’s no wrong or right route, and it doesn’t really impact the ending of the game, but it does make exploring each level a lot more interesting. I’ve played the game three times and I’ve come across new sections simply by changing the order of the chapters.
Moving is an art
What makes traversing through the world so much more interesting is the main character herself. The dancer always moves as if she’s constantly dancing. She’s (almost) always graceful, even in how she lands and falls to her death. The only move that doesn’t fit her is how she rolls. Bound, unlike most games, makes movement one of the most important aspects of the game. She’s not just getting from point A to point B, she’s using dance to get through the danger that surrounds her.
Other than running around and jumping, she can also use her dancing to protect herself from the environment. By holding and pressing specific buttons, she can perform a dance where a ribbon of light will cast a shield around her. This shield will help for a bit, allowing her to run to safety. By the end of each chapter, she’ll do another, more dramatic, dance that is quite emotionally driven.
What I like the most about the game is the message behind it – using the thing that you care about the most to overcome your fears. This isn’t necessarily the story of the game. While I can’t discuss it at all, I can say that I wasn’t particularly impressed and found it too vague for me to care about it.
The land is a moving art gallery
I don’t understand modern art or most art in general. The only thing I like about art museums are the portraits. In this game, however, it’s like art made sense for the first time. The world is very broken and blocky, and, in a way, resembles the dancer’s state of mind. It’s rather beautiful when you see it in action, with all the moving pieces and how the dancer moves around. It’s at its most beautiful when the dancer rides a carpet through the level.
What adds a significant amount of dimension to the game is the use of music and sound. It’s simply sublime. Music and silence are both played at the right time and gives the game the added drama it needs.
Falling to pieces
Sadly, the game does fall apart at some seams. Despite loving how the dancer moves, she’s not always fluid. Sometimes the dance moves become a little rigid, especially when accidentally changing direction mid-air. Sometimes the hazards and environment, together with the illuminating ribbon, can cloud your surroundings and overwhelm what you can see on the screen. However, it’s the platforms that bother me the most. I’m not sure if it is a jump bug or a design bug, but I fell through the floor far too often. I understand that the world is meant to be shaky and unstable, but this looks like a bug, and one that caused a lot of frustration.
I also didn’t like the camera controls. It would go from full-control to fixed. The fixed camera angles are particularly frustrating as it obscures platforms.
A speedy dancer
For better or worse, the game is rather short. I managed to complete it in a few hours on my first attempt. My second run was roughly 1.5 hours and my third just over an hour. There is a reason for the short story, though – speedruns. After finishing the game a speedrun challenge is unlocked as well as a global leaderboard. I’m sure this will add some life to people who like to challenge themselves, but I’m not one of them. There’s also a photo mode if you’re into taking some pretty pictures.
I rather enjoyed Bound and deeply appreciated the message I picked up after playing it. It’s a visual and musical spectacle that really shouldn’t be missed if you’re a fan of art. I am, however, not sold on the story, but I’ll let you make your mind up about that one.