Bound Review – A Beautiful Mess

You must obey the Dance Commander.

01

Developer: Plastic
Publisher: Sony
Format: PS4
Released: August 16, 2016
Copy provided by publisher

Bound is a gorgeous game. Its geometric world crumbles and morphs around the player, a shifting landscape of saturated color enhanced by stirring music.

Characters are at once alien and elegant, faceless yet expressive thanks to incredible animation and choreography. Every player movement is that of a dancer, turning relatively routine platforming sequences into radiant performances.

Its story marries the mundane to the fantastical as a story of parental conflict is metamorphosed into the journey of a princess saving her mother’s kingdom from a rampaging monster.

Yes, Bound is beautiful indeed.

It’s a shame all that beauty is consistently undermined by the issue that playing it is a messy, obstructive hassle.

Bound‘s biggest problem is that it cannot commit. It at once wants to be a narrative-driven experience with minimal gameplay and a sly puzzle platformer. The resulting compromise is a blundering affair, hampered further by poor controls and a camera that has no intention of being in any way helpful.

While the princess’ fluid animation is alluring to look at, it makes for painfully slow traversal around the game’s esoteric levels. Due to this extravagant movement, input invariably feels delayed – jumps and dodges are not particularly responsive due to the flowing nature in which they’re performed – it’s all very pretty, but mechanically awkward.

04

At times, players will need to dance through hazards by holding down the right trigger and pressing any number of face buttons to pull off moves. While enamoring at first, these dances only slow things down even more, as progress through the shapes and tentacles that otherwise trap the player becomes an agonizing crawl.

One soon learns there is no benefit to switching up dance commands beyond the purely visual, a revelation that leads to holding only the jump button while dancing as it produces the fastest, most efficient animation with which to hop past any hindrances.

It’s a shame that, for all the game’s emphasis on music and movement, the dance command is little more than an occasional interruption tossed in when Bound needs more “gameplay” to fill its remit. Beyond creating a shield with which to ward off danger, it does nothing. In fact, it’s only at its most effective in cutscenes, when balletic motions are used to perform some impressive feat or other without the player’s help.

Platforming sections would be straightforward – bordering on banal – if not for twisted camera angles, unwieldy jumps, and platforms that suddenly become incorporeal for no other reason than to be a dick. I still can’t work out if falling through platforms is a bug or an intended “gotcha” but it doesn’t matter – it equates to a bad time either way.

Despite featuring manual controls, the camera loves to do its own thing, contorting and swirling to create trippy effects that are – like everything else – visually profound and practically irritating.

Missing jumps and falling to oblivion happens frequently thanks to a collapsing world, obfuscating presentation, and thoroughly ponderous controls. Fortunately, death in this game isn’t even a slap on the wrist. Players will spawn exactly where they were before the fall, the only punishment being a few seconds’ loss as the princess gets up off the ground.

Despite the impossibility of failure, however, the frequent falls are stalling and aggravating thanks in no small part to them being almost universally the fault of the game itself.

Another frequently grinding habit of the camera is to dramatically change angles without warning, altering the player’s sense of direction or causing one to expect a cutscene break. This egregiously ruins one of Bound‘s cleverest sections – an Escher-like journey through shifting staircases that could have been impressive had it not been rendered stuttered and confusing by the constant viewpoint alteration.

02

Like several other productions of late, Bound would have been better off if it had just completely copied the playbook of thatgamecompany and focused entirely on unambiguous exploration of the world. Nowhere is this more evident than when the game dispenses with gameplay altogether.

At the end of each level, players slide along a bright carpet through incredible panoramic surroundings as the soundtrack kicks into rousing gear. Reminiscent of the sandslide portion of Journey, the relative lack of interaction is forgotten amidst a rush of speed and vibrantly hued splendor.

For a brief moment, the stodgy jumping and lethargic navigation feel almost worth it. At least until the sequence ends and players are unceremoniously dumped on the other side.

Similarly, there are many areas of Bound where the player is simply running across grassy clifftops, shuffling along ledges, or delicately navigating narrow beams – no real interaction aside from the walking, but with just enough audiovisual stimulation to keep it refreshing.

This is when Bound succeeds, when it drops the pretense and just delivers what many would disparagingly call a “walking simulator.”

Again, however, it never takes long before Bound, perhaps self conscious about such criticisms, shoehorns in some mid-90s 3D platforming nonsense to wreck the vibe.

03

I hate how critical I’ve had to be of Plastic’s latest endeavor, because it’s not hard to see the love that went into the game. It’s presented with authentic soul and it’s pitch perfect on an aesthetic level. Had something been done to improve the tactile aspects – be it more fluid controls, meaningful dance commands, something – this could have been something truly special.

Or if it could at least decide what it wanted to be – Journey or Croc: Legend of the Gobbos.

Bound really is stunning to see in motion, but the keyword is “see.”

I dare say I’d have had a lot more fun watching someone else playing it as opposed to playing it myself. Simply soaking in the color and music is captivating. All that splendor, however, is balanced with equal weight by the troubling truth that it’s just really, really not that enjoyable to play.

It gives me no pleasure to say that. I wanted this to be impeccable, but it’s caught halfway between concepts and has ended up little more than a trifle.

5/10
Mediocre

Christoph Brinkmann
Guest
Christoph Brinkmann

Yet another example of the PS4 having a less than absolutely perfect lineup of games. Cut to the Sony fanboys screaming and hollering about how Jim is “TEH BIAZED.” Oh, and what’s this? 5/10, the same score he gave to No Man’s Sky? Awesome – now we’ll also have the “Jim, are you saying this game is just as good/bad as NMS????” dinguses as well. You know the type – they’re the ones who think that scores should be compared side by side, instead of coming to the obvious conclusion that every game must be scored and reviewed on its… Read more »

Warmadillo Inc.
Guest
Warmadillo Inc.

It’s pretty funny, I didn’t even know that this game existed until a few minutes ago while I was perusing the Playstation Store and checked out the trailer. The entire time I was watching it I was thinking, “Man this game looks really pretty but I bet it plays like garbage.” Random jump to the Jimquisition only to discover that I was correct.

zeeby
Guest
zeeby

I went into this expecting nothing and came out with difficulty stopping. I only dipped my toes mind you. It’s no surprise to learn that demoscene veterans were involved. It has that submission to untouchable aesthetic / the story feels a bit much though? Had an assassins creed / bucket of cold (Desmond flavoured) water moment or two. Might become clearer towards the end? Overall looking forward to sticking my willy back in.

Sperium3000
Guest
Sperium3000

You know, this game looked incredibly gorgeous in the E3 trailer. When you take a still image of it though, it looks super… Messy. Like that finger painting your niece made of you but just looks like your dog puked something on a sheet of paper.

Something “witty” here
Guest
Something “witty” here

Ahh damn it I read this and now I’ve got Electric Six stuck in my head…

At least it’s a good song!

Sam Leheny
Guest
Sam Leheny

That is a shame. But it sounds like easy pitfall for a game like this.

Locuas
Guest

exactly as good as No Man’s Sky? isn’t that a little too cruel to this game?

Jpkurihara
Guest
Jpkurihara

A shame, really. I played a bit of the demo that had simple plataforming and found it really fun and gorgeous looking. A shame it’s not that good in the long (as long as it is) run though.

David Gordon
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David Gordon

thanks 🙂 Tried to read polgons review, there was an extreme amount of pretentious word garbage that put me off

CaitSeith
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CaitSeith

I saw that game in the Comicon. I didn’t get the chance to play it (instead I tried some crappy PS VR mini-game that could be described as “Virtual Pong 3D”), but it looked interesting.

Cameron Ward
Guest
Cameron Ward

I don’t know, i agree that the controls for me so far are a bit clunky, but it’s not really ruining my time with the game.

With that said, I can see why some would not like this game. Idk, maybe i have a bit more compassion for such a visually amazing and interesting story like experience over other kinds of games, but i’m really liking it so far.

However, you do have a good review and unlike the idiots who tried to shut down your site, i respect your opinion

J-P
Guest
J-P

This is not what I was wanting to hear at all. I’ve read these exact criticisms elsewhere today as well. The previews make it look like Journey, or Abzu, abstract exploration game. Why must all these games be so misleading in their marketing.

adampoole
Guest
adampoole

this must have been released under the radar as i’ve never heard of this game til now

mazazon
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mazazon

In B4 “How dare you give this the same score as No Mans Sky! How could you possibly think No Mans Sky is as bad as this game!? How can you be so attractive and smart it just makes me question my own sexuality!? I rented a bot network and DDOS script and now I’m gonna take down your site to help me feel better about my own insecurities!!”

Wdog-999
Guest
Wdog-999

Shame to hear it’s not a good game. Platinum’s probably gonna suck as well since there’s a trophy for completing the game without dying as well as many speedrun trophies, which are probably gonna be a pain in the ass with all of the issues the game seems to have. May as well attempt it anyway since I preordered the game and all.

SilentPony
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SilentPony

Sounds like No Mans Sky all over again.

neon tiger
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neon tiger

This isn’t really designed to be viewed as a “game” Plastic are a demoscene developer and any products should be viewed as such. This should really be made more clear as people are gonna buy this expecting something else and be pissed

Bob Knee
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Bob Knee

Too bad. The demo at Best Buy really interested me.

goodbyejojo
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goodbyejojo

*sonic game over music

Kain Klarden
Guest

Mmm, oh yeah, some Electric Six was necessary in my life. Alright! Jim gives the orders here!

Gabriel Macys
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Gabriel Macys

Bummer. Their dynamic theme on PS4 is my favourite one, too.

Jack Trevor
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Jack Trevor

Seemed like a game that the hardcore gamers would despise due to the lack of good game mechanics. Definitely one of those where you could watch for free and get the same amount of enjoyment as someone playing it.

I’ll have to track down a video to see if it’s worth buying to support this developer.

Anton
Guest
Anton

Typical Jim anti-Sony bias. First he gives Uncharted 4 that meager 8, then he hategasms all over No Man’s Sky, and now this pitiful score for this Masterpiece of a game that I just learned exists. The man has lost all credibility. Leaving this site forever, not gonna give him the clicks.

Jeremiah Ryusai
Guest
Jeremiah Ryusai

I watched some IGN coverage for Bound, and whoever was using the controller in front of a dev showed a clear disinterest in how the game played (Or rather, felt to play) and only commented on how it looked. This was the first trigger warning for me to want to steer clear of Bound, especially when the camera issues mentioned in this review cropped up as well..

It’s a shame really.

Even Luck
Guest
Even Luck

I’m reminded of Unraveled. Good looking game with frustrating mechanics that ruin the overall experience.

Hopefully we don’t get a repeat of that here in the comments, but regardless, the game does look pretty.