The Dance of Ambiguity

Bound

 

Tea: Oddly tasty cubes inside an ever-changing glass

 

With my love for indie games that veer off the beaten path of games these days, I had set my eyes on Bound for a long time. An artsy indie platformer with a ballerina theme and a world design inspired by Bauhaus architecture had me more than excited. A comparison to Journey would be easy but ultimately unjustified as these two games are drastically different. Every game is judged by itself and not in regard to any other. Therefore, let us dance along the abstract shore of the broken world of Bound and discover a hidden gem of fall into the cubicle sea.

The story of Bound follows the princess of a broken kingdom tasked by her mother to deal with a monster which brings destruction. So far so spoiler-free, the plot is hard to describe without spoiling the main themes. The game is ultimately about fears and overcoming traumata but you will need to find out for yourself how this is achieved and what they are. I quite enjoyed the method of storytelling used, not only because the ambiguous nature leaves the door open for various interpretations but also since the central theme is conveyed in a fresh new look and I am always on board for new ways of storytelling. Suffice it to say that a second playthrough is highly suggested so you can pick up on different details which at first may appear random to you.

BOUND-PS4-13

– A constant threat to you is the entity known as “the monster” –

The gameplay of Bound is rather simple: You can jump, dodge roll, and most importantly dance. Since the core of the game is the ballerina movement aesthetic the dancing is a core mechanic as well. Through it, you can avoid all sorts of hazards the game throws your way. At times it may appear a bit overpowered as dancing makes you immune to almost everything and while I would have appreciated a bit more variety in the solutions to each obstacle other than dancing, it is in line with the central theme. This is not to say that dancing is the only way to avoid these obstacle, it is just the most effective one and thus there is little incentive to make use of the dodge roll or other moves, even though they can be visually stunning as well. Variety is the spice of life and I often used different methods of avoiding hazards simply to instil said variety in my gameplay. The platforming is functional as well, if a little clunky at times, since platform edges have a nasty habit of sometimes letting the princess grab on and at other times waving her goodbye into the ocean below.

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– When in motion, little can top the game visually –

The strongest aspect of Bound is definitely its aesthetic and the game makes full use of it. There is even a photo mode which lets you edit and adjust your perfect screenshot into artistic masterpieces and even I (previously uninterested in photo modes) gave it a try and it was actually really fun and rewarding. While you can get an idea of the environments from the screenshots it is nothing compared to the world in motion. Everything is never still and always in motion, be it just a little shaking or a full transformation. It is truly a stunning sight and makes me want to spend even more time jumping around among the platforms and dancing through the grass.

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– An easy argument for the game could be: If you don’t like it, you don’t like art. But we are above that, of course. –

The biggest achievement for me are, however, the animations of the princess. Not only are they beautifully fluent, vibrant, and full of character, but also so varied and unique. Every new level introduces a new dance and this was one of the things I was most looking forward to in each new level, what beautiful dance the princess will now perform. The idle animations are equally gorgeous and I think I never enjoyed a game so much while doing nothing. There is sense of peace and tranquillity in watching the princess doing her warm up stretches or shaking her head free of the rain. Speaking of, this has to be one of the most beautiful uses of rain in a video game I have seen in a long time.

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– Possibly my favourite rain-level in any game and I know my rain –

Of course, the soundtrack of Bound should have caught your attention with the trailer already. If not, you can listen to the trailer piece right here and be impressed by it. The general sound design is great and the music matches each level perfectly and I am still hoping for a full release of the soundtrack. But it is not just the soundtrack, the sounds in the game are also amazing with the light shattering noises of the fire as it hits the princesses ribbon barrier and so on.

Bound is a meditative game which dances on the fringes of ambiguity above the sea of aesthetic elegance. It is worth just for the experience alone and if that does not quench your thirst for more, there are speedrun modes unlocked after finishing the game for the first time if you want to get a bit more technical with the mechanics. In addition to that there are a lot of shortcuts to discover and secret islands to find. The game tells a universal story in a new and aesthetically appealing way and the design of the game is something to behold. If something off the norm is exactly your cup of tea then Bound will surely appeal to you the same way it did to me. It is a rare gem that far too often remains unrecognised in the sea of game releases these days. I can fully recommend Bound as it is not different just for the sake of being different, but rather because it uses its uniqueness to the fullest and embraces the style it builds for itself.

 

Image sources in order of appearance:

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6 thoughts on “The Dance of Ambiguity

  1. This looks charming and I am saying that although I am not a particular fan of jump-and-run games. I have to admit, however, that the title “Bound” sounds a bit like the generic “young-woman-wants-to-break-the-shackles-imposed-on-her-by-society” by dancing herself free or even a darker theme with erotic undertones as in McGee´s “Alice” which wouldn´t be my cup of tea, really. (Although I enjoyed “Alice”). Apart from that, I´d gladly give it a try.

    Like

    • Rest assured that your fears of a generic plot are unjustified. It is less about breaking free in a dramatic fashion than coming to terms with the past. I would not call it original if it wasn’t. Also, it does not have the erotic undertone which you mentioned, so don’t worry.

      Like

  2. Excellent article on Bound! I recently had the opportunity to play this game and enjoyed it. My wife, who loves dancing, especially loved it, and we both thought the story was moving and interestingly told. I enjoy games like this and am glad that I took the plunge in purchasing it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post! It’s nice to see different posts, with different takes on this game. And everybody seems to really like it and recommend, at least, a second playthrough. I’m starting my own soon, I’m sure I missed lots of little details.

    Liked by 1 person

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