When Bound was announced, Plastic’s Michał Staniszewski described it as a “notgame”, emphasising that the main focus would be the narrative that the game had to tell. While it doesn’t feel quite right to say Bound is a “notgame” it’s understandable to see where that viewpoint comes from. Bound is built with the story in mind but the way it is presented takes you on a visual masterpiece of a journey.
While Bound starts off a little slow it does eventually thrust you into levels that are easily some of the best looking digital creations you’ll have seen. Plastic has crafted a unique identity for Bound just through the art style alone. Modern Art is the main influence with the levels themselves seeming to have a papery feel to them due to the way scenery folds and moves as the character proceeds through it. It just comes across as so satisfying. Bound is awash with colour and each stage has its own palette, right down to the dress colour of the main character. Some stages are really bright, popping with vibrancy, while others are more subdued.
The main character is a ballerina and all her movements are those of dance, with ballon leaps taking the place of regular jumps, and pirouettes to style up the walk. The movement is very fluid and flows incredibly well, with kudos having to be given to dancer Maria Udod, whose moves were captured for Bound. The dancing isn’t just here for decoration but plays a pivotal part in defending the ballerina from dangers. She can’t fight but as she dances her ribbons glow and construct a shield around her as they whirl, stopping any projectiles the world throws at her. These don’t kill the ballerina, though they slow her down instead, grasping at her or pinning her down until she breaks free.
As the main character is a ballerina the music has to play a big role in order to frame the movements, and overall the track composition is great. The songs fit well within levels but aren’t overbearing that they detract from anything on screen. In fact it is recommended that you play the game with some headphones to get properly immersed. There were a couple of times where it did feel the music was repeating a little, but this didn’t happen often.
The way death comes most often is from the platforming and not jumping correctly. The majority of these did come from seeing if the ballerina could make a gap, but a few came from the camera being at a poor angle. The camera is fully controllable though so this could have been a case of not angling it properly. There are different paths to take when playing through stages, and this can be dependant on the order in which levels are selected. After the end of each stage you can select which one to tackle next, and the order can decide which paths are open or closed. There are apparently over 120 different level combinations to try out. One of the obvious changes when playing through a second time were the colour schemes changing for levels.
Some of the stage designs are set out so angles are constantly changing with floors becoming walls, and vice versa. A minor bout of dizziness struck a couple of times as walls whirled around. Luckily these bouts passed quickly but it is a little concerning that Bound could induce this at all. It will be interesting to see how this is tackled when the game is made available for PSVR later this year. Another caveat of Bound is where control is wrested away from you in certain segments, namely surfing along giant ribbons. You can change the speed but there is no danger of falling off no matter what you do.
The narrative is focused on family but what you take away from it will depend on your own feelings. To give more detail would be a bit criminal due to how much of Bound is, well, bound to it. It’s impressive how much emotion you can garner from a character with no face, yet everything is told through the rest of the ballerina’s body language be it wonder or despair, and all of it adds to the narrative. There is a bit of a downside in that the breaks for exposition slow things down a tad too much, when all you want is to dance across a giant puzzle. The plot isn’t overly ambitious but can play on emotions, again dependant on your own experiences.
One playthrough took approximately two hours with default settings, though you can change things like removing edge barriers to make walking along platforms a bit more challenging, but it isn’t recommended since it just adds a level of minor frustration that isn’t needed. There were some moments though where the ballerina did fall off the edge even with edge guard on. Once the first playthrough is complete a speedrun mode opens up, and here you can see how long it took you to complete the game and the time spent on each level. You then have the option of playing the game again while speed running through it, or picking one stage to get through.
Bound features a photo mode as well and there are plenty of opportunities to use it. Every area has scenery that just looks fantastic. There’s an additional bonus that after the first playthrough you can choose from a selection of camera filters to overlay the game while playing. A lot of moments came and went which could have made great pictures. To access the photo mode you just need to tap the controller’s touchpad and from here you can access various options to frame a shot, like removing the ballerina.
‘Notgame’ isn’t the right tag for Bound, as there is a game here with platforming, puzzle solving, and defending against dangers, though admittedly much of it is about the journey undertaken. Plastic stated that narrative was the focus and it is part of everything, from the way the environments are shaped to the obstacles placed in front of the ballerina. Bound is easily one of the most stunning games to release on PS4, and if you’re searching for something a little different I heartily recommend it.