The things I have seen. The places I have been. My mind could have never conjured up where I just visited, where developer Plastic took me with Bound. Many describe games as escapism. Games transport us to snowy mountain villages, beautiful sand covered desserts, empty homes filled with secrets, watercolor paintings, the far reaches of space, and sometimes, to somewhere as common as someone’s computer desktop. Some of these examples stray from the pack; they aren’t an offshoot or spin on decades worth of fantasy and sci-fi literature and media. They explore uncharted territory. Bound allows us to inhabit a world few of us could even imagine, a world that is bespoke, sharp, and radiating with a youthful spirit.
Bound is an adventure-platformer developed by the aforementioned team at Plastic, with some help from the men and women at Sony Santa Monica. Players control a faceless avatar, a princess. Her facial features (if any exist) are obscured by a reflective, rounded, purple mask. She is young, slender, and wears a dress made out of some sort of crystallized material. This adventure spans several sectioned off levels that can be played through in any order. The order in which they are played will affect how each level appears, allowing multiple playthroughs to differ from each other.
This world is geometric. It’s one that is sculpted with an appreciation for modern, concrete, and bauhaus art. Colored with a love for the work of Suprematist artists such as Kazimir Malevich, colors that are bright and fiery when it wants to evoke a sense of excitement or cold and cool when it wants to lower the tempo. Its surfaces are tessellated with polygons. Where our world is made up of various elements and minerals, Bound’s world seems to be made out of triangles of different shapes and sizes that stream in and out like some sort of life force. There is no place like it in games. I have only seen such places on canvases, portraits, or in the digital portfolios of young artists, but here, it isn’t static. Structures transform and collide to create striking disasters. The sun sets, the remaining sunlight casts over abstract structures to create chaotic and dynamic shadows. This world: it warps as you make your way through it.
Moving the camera or pressing yourself against a wall has small areas of structures folding in on themselves like pieces of ornate origami. A photo mode serves not only to allow you to capture the game’s countless moments of disorderly beauty, but to also fully explore what’s around you. I spent so much time in this photo mode to try and see my environment in a new perspective, and for that I was rewarded with hidden paths making themselves visible. It also allowed me to have moments of reflection, as I stopped time and zoomed out, I was able to take everything in. I saw how my critical path was an island floating in a orange tinted sky, surrounded by a sea of blocks underneath it, and just how isolated I was.
Movement is key in Bound. Movement that is not just a means to propel us through a design, but actually allows the player to connect with a virtual character and a world on an intimate level. Our protagonist is a ballet dancer, and every direct command from the player is interpreted into something expressive by her. A slight nudge of the analog stick has her tip toeing, her chest pressed outward, her arms slightly stretched out behind her, as if she was a jet, waiting to take off. Then, with the stick pushed as far as it can go, she lifts off. Running around with her arms spread out, bobbing up and down, her skirt swaying in the wind, reminiscent of a young child asking for the attention of her dear mother and father. These sorts of moments happen countless times. All of them complemented by a moving score.
It can’t be understated just how great it feels to play Bound. Three dimensional movement is something we take for granted, but when executed poorly we can immediately identify it. Boundexcels in this so well, that it would be remiss of me if I didn’t highlight it. When I first got my hands on Bound, I made my avatar gently walk around, jump wildly, run in circles, all the while being delighted with how exciting it all felt. It’s a feeling I haven’t felt since Super Mario 64. Movement is also connected to the little combat that there is in Bound ,as you fight off dangers through dances that are inputted through a combination of the face buttons, and as ridiculous as that might sound, these dances have an incredible force behind them, a force that repels those who dare get near. The focus that has gone into this character’s movements has realized her in a way that few games have ever accomplished. Her movements convey sadness, joy, sensuality, and fear. They convey humanity.
The journey that Bound takes players on isn’t really challenging, but it never ceases to be engaging. It twists your perspective and finds new unintrusive ways to mix-up gameplay. The game is also peppered with grand set pieces towards the end of each section, and these moments could have easily felt self-indulgent, but they instead feel like the appropriate climax for the natural crescendo that is each of Bound’s levels. Self-indulgence is something that Plastic avoids time and time again with Bound, and it’s only better because of that restraint.
For a single-player narrative focused game, Bound gives players a freedom to take it at their own pace that I rarely find in this “genre.” While I took my time time with it, players are more than welcome to breeze through it. The game even celebrates that style of play with the inclusion of a “Speedrun Mode” that tracks players’ time and ranks it on a leaderboard. I really appreciate that Plastic opted to design Bound in this way. Games designed almost to show you something tend to hit similar, sometimes plodding missteps, almost as if a developer is forcing a player to appreciate their work, regardless if the experience calls for that pacing. Eventually, as players get closer to Bound’s conclusion, its story begins to unfold. I will speak in vague generalities, but Bound deals with subject matter that could have easily been mishandled. It’s definitely something that resonated with me personally, but not as much as it could have and at moments it also calls for some suspension of disbelief. Even so, the game’s ending practices more of that restraint and because of that, it serves as a great conclusion to Bound as a whole.
In my short time contributing to this site I have written pieces that have been manufactured to entertain, and because of that I often find myself teetering on the edge of hyperbole. I am not exaggerating when I say that Bound stands above its contemporaries, that aspects of it are a notch above games that we regard as modern classics. It’s a product that I think transcends our medium; that it’s something anyone can and should enjoy. Bound made me want to move, to flail around, to dance, to feel: it reminded me that I’m human and that humans can create grand things.
Reviewed on a retail PlayStation 4 with a copy of the game supplied by the developer.