I’ve set myself a personal challenge to complete one game a month from my collection in 2019, a mixture of larger studio published games and more independent titles to provide variety and avoid repetition. From one of the most well-known and praised titles to a more niche release, this year will provide me with the opportunity to enjoy a range of games within my collection and review them retrospectively. Enjoy the next 12 months.
Release Date: August 2016
Finished: November 2019
Released in August 2016 from Polish Studio, Plastic and Santa Monica Studio, this well received platform title was in the same spiritual family as its contemporaries and peers such as Journey and Old Man’s Journey, a relatively short experience designed to be finished in a single day shaped around a modest but respectful variation of platform puzzles and tasks without becoming a burden on the user. As a VR compatible title, it does afford the option of playing this from that perspective, as such a restricted length is understandable given the targeted demographic and audience and from a base level, the general comfort of playing a game of this type avoiding a protracted drawn out experience. The game, in its design and creation was formulated around gamers of a certain age demographic with a less punishing system of puzzle solving and implementation in contrast to more dedicated and focused titles of the genre and as such, allows the user to focus almost entirely upon the visual and audio aesthetic of the world around you.
Bound, visually, is an incredible game in its design and presentation, using a style of artistry as commented, similar to that of Modern Art dating back to the start of the 20th Century. Certainly, the sharp and clean angles and level design give allusion to cubism for instance however equally the washed out, real world setting has elements of pastel or oil coloured landscape design similar to the clean finish of Charles Calvert in the 19th Century, it creates this contrasting and amazing world to behold and exist within for however short a time you inhabit. There’s always an enjoyment to games such as Bound and Journey which draw clear inspiration from artistic practise and discipline that is a joy to behold to the user that almost pushes the gameplay and narrative into a secondary function. I’ll accept the contention for someone eager to challenge and test themselves in a competitive gaming experience, a title such as this probably isn’t for you. Equally however, as with the finer things in life, it works as a complementary experience alongside large expansive open world titles or competitive online games to provide an interactive, immersive world to explore and lose yourself within.
“The game, in its design and creation was formulated around gamers of a certain age demographic with a less punishing system of puzzle solving and implementation”
The game is designed and narrated almost entirely around metaphor and symbolism, as such going into its narrative points is to revealing a contention and as such something I will try and avoid as much as possible. Also, what lessons and conclusions you draw from the experience based on the subjective nature of metaphorical interpretation will be largely a personal realisation so any discussion here will largely shape or influence your experience. I will instead talk about the games structure and how it frames the narrative. The opening moments as depicted find a woman at the late stages of pregnancy arriving on a familiar beach. Over the course of the game you slowly progress along the beach culminating at a wooden structure overlooking the ocean. At set points along your slow walk, the games various platform levels are introduced to experience and represent the characters memories of overcoming a fear or experience she had in youth.
Ostensibly the narrative can be framed around the simple premise of a dancing princess attempting to save her mother from the threat of a monster that looms and permeates the level world she finds herself within. Through the use of dance and movement she overcomes her fears, to an extent in her personal quest. Each level concludes with a revelatory interactive cutscene that expands and shapes the fear of the central character, it was a nice dynamic and added depth to the level that was perhaps lacking to some extent with the limited world design. There is very little or no dialogue within the game, as such you are required to draw conclusions and shape the structure to suit your own interpretation but it is a very beautiful world to exist within that it makes it a pleasure to just play for a short period and experience certain themes you wouldn’t come to expect from a game such as this.
“At set points along your slow walk, the games various platform levels are introduced to experience and represent the characters memories of overcoming a fear or experience she had in youth.”
From a control mechanic, the game is fairly straightforward in its design and wont present to much of a challenge to anyone familiar with the basics of platform gaming. It is designed around a border mechanic that allows for some fairly liberal interpretations of accuracy, Bound does not want you to perish or die, what moments you do fall to your doom you find yourself dusting yourself off and carrying on forward. It’s refreshing in its earnest clarity in shaping the experience on the world around you as opposed to focusing entirely on the next platform and missing out on the beautiful level design. I can only imagine and look on with slight envy at those experiencing Bound on the VR headset and being able to experience this world from that perspective. You can perhaps observe certain limitations in the variations of level mechanics with a feeling of repetition creeping into the experience as you move towards the end. There is enough variation in its runtime you don’t come away with a feeling of lament for what might have been, but certainly for me, its strength is its design and the presentation over the gameplay itself.
The movement of the ballerina princess is memorable and great fun to play. I can honestly say without hesitation, it gives Bound a distinct memorable character in such a way its removal or use of traditional walking and movement mechanics would have come at a great loss. Not every game has to have a gliding, dancess princess, but this game benefits absolutely for the way the character moves and transitions through the levels. It creates an elegance and grace with the culmination at the end of each level to behold. When you find yourself just moving around aimlessly in a stunning minimalist environment for the sheer joy you know you have found something that will leave a lasting impression. The camera dynamic can suffer at points but nothing that will shatter the experience to that large a degree.
How, and in what order you resolve the fears of the princess is entirely at your disposition. For a game framed around metaphor and interpretation, I’m not entirely convinced by this mechanic as I didn’t personally feel it gave any great clarity to what transpired around you. The nearest equivalence I can find was Beyond Two Souls which presented the game from the subjective viewpoint before allowing you to replay the game in a chronological order which altered and shaped the critical junctures of the plot to varying degrees. Here, a similar use of allowing the user to have free will over which order you experienced the levels themselves but allowing differences in your overall experience where a conquered fear from a later point, presented in an earlier level if played in that order could access different areas and paths to explore. The best example I can give is where the princess encounters a tentacle which frightens her early on blocking your path, when you conquer that fear later on if you play that later level first it grants access to this area, it’s a nice touch that encourages longevity and replayability.
” The movement of the ballerina princess is memorable and great fun to play. I can honestly say without hesitation, it gives Bound a distinct memorable character in such a way its removal or use of traditional walking and movement mechanics would have come at a great loss “
It’s a beautiful game, and a tradition and approach I can only hope continues on the next generation of consoles. By intention of design, it wasn’t created to challenge and conquer more traditional titles in its taxation of skill and determination by the user, whilst not a walking simulator in the vein of Everybody’s Gone to Rapture, it shares a great deal with more visually inspiring narrative light games such as Never Alone or Old Man’s Journey which utilise a somewhat simplistic central mechanic, and base what experience you take away on metaphor and symbolism, I can appreciate and enjoy that but I do recognise not everyone may enjoy that approach, or indeed question the purpose of a title such as Bound as a video game. Could you take the experience of the game and frame it around an animation for instance, perhaps, and certainly, visually it does lend credence to the notion of the frustrated developer wanting to shape and craft a moving, inspiring piece of artistry over a traditionally interpreted video game.
That said, the level of interaction is enjoyable and memorable for the sheer joy of existing within these beautiful, uniquely distinctive worlds and levels you inhabit for the duration of the game. By its very definition a game is designed to allow the user to engage with a sense of fun, Bound is enjoyable, even where the narrative as interpreted takes a somewhat, forlorn turn at moments. I can enjoy the more rigid structured approach of open world games to some extent, worrying meticulously about my ammunition levels or weapon degradation statistics. Equally, at times, you just want to lose yourself within a piece of art, to move about gracefully and with abandon and feel a level of immersion you might break away from when being shot at. There are ways certainly to expand and evolve the simple premise but as a game, one I found myself enjoying and giving thought, simplistic superficially in its control however a richly crafted and shaped finish in its presentation.
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