Bound is a beautiful game; a mesmerizingly beautiful game. It’s also offbeat and at times a little baffling. In it you play the role of a Princess whose kingdom is threatened by a towering creature. Your mother, the queen, sends you to find a way to defeat the creature, which results in you needing to traverse a highly stylised, fractured world.
Bound’s hook lies in the game’s animation, or more specifically the Princess’s animation. Every move the Princess makes is a dance move. Running? She holds her arms out and gracefully pitter-patters across the environment. Pushing blocks and moveable walls? She does this hip-twisting, diagonal step which I recognise as a ballroom dancing move but for the life of me can’t remember which dance it’s from… it’s definitely Latin though.
You, as the player, are responsible for guiding this faceless protagonist through a series of levels in order to reach the end. The balletic theme makes for an intriguing setup that perches precariously on a rather stale plot, but the good news is that there is a lot more going on beneath the surface of the narrative.
Bound is one gigantic metaphor for facing past demons, and I’m not afraid to admit that there were moments throughout my time with the game in which I experienced genuine emotion. There’s a potent collection of elements that are mixed together to create an experience that effortlessly coaxes emotional reactions out of the player. Everything from the gorgeous, motion-captured choreography of the Princess, to the perfectly timed musical crescendos and heart wrenching flashbacks, all piece together to create a gaming experience that’s ambitiously weighty in its execution.
I loved that this game got me to feel things, but it’s likely it caught me at a good time what with its themes being particularly poignant topics in my life right now. I don’t want to discuss the themes because unravelling the story is part of what makes the Bound experience so good. The overall message that the game conveys was enough to drown out the shortcomings Bound has insofar as game mechanics are concerned.
For a game that sits comfortably in the platforming genre, Bound’s jumping can often feel a little floaty. The jumps always look beautiful (the Princess does pirouettes and grand jetés rather than simply hopping), but you’ll often fall to your death because of inaccurate landings. Not that death is something to fear in this game: Bound is meant to play as a relaxing, beautiful experience and as such, whenever the Princess meets her end, she simply rematerializes in an instant so that you’re not left having to repeat sections or sit through loading screens.
Each of the levels play out very similarly, and there isn’t much in the way of incremental difficulty ramps or new skills to learn. It’s the same platforming and ribbon-dancing to avoid projectile damage from level to level. Fortunately the experience isn’t drawn out, and the game doesn’t outstay its welcome. You can quite comfortably play through Bound in one sitting, but I found myself savouring it across three evenings. What kept me going if the gameplay remains the same from start to finish? I wanted to listen to what Bound had to say; I needed to experience its message. That and the game is just so undeniably stunning that I was quite happy to sit navigating locations festooned with particle physics so long as it meant I could watch the Princess dance her way through everything that was thrown at her. Her movements are phenomenally captivating to say the least.
One very obvious aspect of Bound is that the levels have been designed with speedrunning in mind. Once you’ve played through the game you can unlock Speedrun mode and attempt to petite jeté your way through the levels in as little time as possible. There are multiple pathways to take and hidden shortcuts in each level so careful observation of your surroundings is often paid off.