Developer: Plastic Studios
Publisher: SIE Santa Monica Studio
Format: PS4 (reviewed)
Released: August 16, 2016
Bound is a poetic and artistically beautiful exploration of emotions held hostage. Its subtly led narrative and focus on style venture into therapeutic territory as you navigate its abstractly constructed world. From a pure presentational standpoint, developer, Plastic, has crafted an elegant and inviting display of choreography. Bound strives to achieve grace in all of facets, and while the experience remains visually attractive throughout, the same consistent praises can’t be crowned on the mechanics steering the dreamlike journey.
Falling short in comparison to the rest of the package, gameplay design is often an obstructively noticeable interruption, accompanied by messy mechanics. From an unreliable camera that frequently halted the cinematic pace, to frustrating controls which prompted plenty of unnecessary failures, Bound stumbles in its vision to create a cohesively elegant experience. Struck by its aesthetic beauty, I was enraptured by the ballerina-centric animations and musically captivating score that acts as an impeccable backdrop to the geometric world design. Every bit of me wanted to love Bound, as its beauty isn’t anything to be scoffed at, but I couldn’t overlook the messy side of its construction. Bound is the embodiment of two very different games, one standing as an artistically evocative tale of family relationships, the other, a mechanically mediocre platformer.
Striking a balance that maintains each vision is Bound’s biggest struggle. It’s a battle the title ultimately comes away from with equally as inspiring wins, as it does frustrating losses. This back and forth of peaks and valleys, lands Bound in a middle ground that holds the title back from greatness, but also keeps it from falling into a void of mediocrity.Tucked under the surface of Bound’s captivating aesthetic, is an emotionally charged story about family, commitment, and closure. Told through portal-like narrative encapsulations, Bound’s style of storytelling is simple, yet tonally cryptic. I found myself reading into the state of the surrounding world quite frequently, coming to my own conclusions regarding the meaning of various plot threads. While visually minimalist on the surface, there’s a deeper level of emotion at play within the short, yet competently paced few hours it takes to complete the adventure. Imaginative in much of its design, Bound kept me engaged with its shifting storytelling direction as it rhythmically danced along. Much like the alluring nature of the vibrant setting, the detailed animations of the mysterious protagonist are handled with a visual elegance. Assuming the role of a princess, you’re tasked with the responsibility of protecting your mother’s kingdom from the daunting monster that lurks within. Similar to your traditional fairytale, Bound isn’t afraid to flaunt its inspiration. In spite of the seemingly routine premise, there’s a significant emotional resonance to be felt whilst spinning in gleeful dance.
BOUND IS POETICALLY AND VISUALLY MESMERIZING, YET OFTEN UNEVEN
Looming over the wonder of Bound’s world are invasive mechanical shortcomings that quickly begin to derail the atmospheric progress being made around them. For as much as the sly animation and intriguing level design convey a sense of polish, the same can’t be said for the moment to moment gameplay. Movement is stiff, restrictive, and frequently unresponsive, repressing the momentum of traversing a landscape to the pits of the experience. Much of the platforming sections come across as an afterthought, with simple directions to follow and little opposition presented along the way to challenge a skill set. There are moments where Bound hints at breaking free from its design structure, allowing uninterrupted freedom for the player to express themselves within. However, these ambitions fail to exist, falling back on a gameplay loop that’s mechanically pointless.
Many of Bound’s aspects find themselves caught in wanting to have their cake and eat it too. The experience strives toward artistic achievement, while also yearning for responsive gameplay to heighten the immersion. In regards to the aesthetic and narrative design, Bound fulfills its vision superbly, yet stumbles in places where it counts for the project to flourish as a game. I may have been singing a different tune to this title if it had approached gameplay in a more uninvolved manner, opting instead for an experience along the lines of a walking simulator. Bound’s biggest blunder is being tightly wrapped up in self-imposed limitations, letting the qualms of its mechanics manifest into a deal breaker.Conclusion: Bound isn’t the full realization of its potential, but it’s certainly not without its share of momentary achievement. Dancing through the artistically vibrant world pulsating with stylish flare, remained a joyful endeavor, even when having to put up with subpar mechanics. Woven within Bound’s shortcomings, is a fascinating game about coming to terms with emotions, presented in a subtle, yet relatable fashion. It’s an expressive experience, and while the game makes a disruptive habit of getting in its own way, there’s still a poignant beauty to get lost in. Throughout its entire duration, Bound feels like an elaborate crescendo to something profound. What waits at the end of the journey is indeed important, bestowing the player with a motive to reflect. That reflection renews the exuberance felt in the briskly paced opening moments, but also restates the fact that the road getting there was turbulent and often tedious. This thoughtful initiative sparked by the narrative conclusion summarizes Bound, itself, quite impeccably. For both better or worse.