Uneven Beauty – “Bound” review

Ballet and a broken home are at the center of this brief indie title.

Abstract, beautiful and daringly different, Bound is a game in which the player shifts perspective from a young woman expecting her first child to a masked dancer in a sketchbook.

In Bound’s opening moments, a young, pregnant woman is dropped off at a seaside beach house for the afternoon. As her significant other pulls away, the player assumes the role of the woman. Instead of shuffling towards the home; however, Bound funnels the player up a narrow staircase and onto a sandy beach. Here, the woman sits and reflects on a childhood sketchbook. Once she looks inside, the perspective shifts and player takes control of a masked ballet dancer that navigates unpleasant childhood memories.

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The player is pushed along a symbolic story in which the ballet dancer is a princess who is afraid of her two feuding, and sometimes terrifying, parents. Ironically, the ballet dancer sequences are easily the most beautiful sections of the game, yet they represent an unhappy and scarring time for the protagonist. For better of worse, Bound’s gameplay and narrative juxtaposition often lessen the weight of the story.

The actual moment-to-moment gameplay in Bound is predominately spent as the masked dancer. Here, the player is subjected to basic platforming that is almost impossible to fail. Bound isn’t about hopping from surface to surface and scaling walls, though. Instead, platforming elements are used to mitigate scenes of a broken home that haunt the protagonist. Making the otherwise bland traversal more interesting is the beautifully choreographed ballet that creates a bubble around the dancer. When in the bubble, nothing can harm the dancer, and you’re free to twirl your way through the environment. Once you reach the end of each level, you’ll enter a flashback from the young woman’s tumultuous childhood. After the flashback scene ends, the perspective shifts back to the woman who tears the page from the sketchbook and moves along the water towards the beach house.

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Despite being gorgeous and every frame of the game being screenshot worthy, the simplicity of the platforming only works because of the game’s short two-hour run time. There aren’t any environmental puzzles or gameplay gimmicks; Bound simply shoves you through relatively linear areas where you’ll press jump and occasionally climb a rope or ladder. In that respect, I consider Bound to be more akin to the so-called walking-simulator genre than a platforming title.

Although it’s only necessary a handful of times throughout the sketchbook flashbacks, I cannot emphasize enough how wonderfully real all of the ballet looks. As someone who knows very little about ballet and probably underappreciates it in everyday life, I often found myself pressing the various ballet move buttons just because watching the avatar dance looked so damn good. It might not do much for the player during the vast majority of the platforming sections, but its inclusion along with the abstract environmental design adds a layer to the flashback sections that would otherwise be mundane to play.

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There are roughly ten ballet sequences that flesh out more of the woman’s childhood. Without spoiling endgame revelations, the woman’s general unease of entering motherhood stems from her own mother’s struggle to raise children on her own after her husband left. While I’m not certain this narrative will totally land with most gamers, the perspective of a nervous soon-to-be mother is uncharted territory for gaming and offers something different from the typically forgetful nature of platforming storytelling.

The Verdict

The platforming is largely “move forward and press X,” but the core of Bound is its narrative. Sometimes it fails to land; especially in some of the more conceptual sketchbook sequences. These rocky moments are forgivable, but they do result in a story feels half-baked at times.

Bound might not be the best platformer you’ll play this year, and its story may not resonate with everyone who picks it up. Despite all that, Bound, like Gone Home and Firewatch before it, uses the gaming medium to provide a lens into the human experience that is often left unexplored by other, more mainstream video games

3:5

Bound was reviewed on a PS4 press copy courtesy of Sony Santa Monica.

Interested in Bear Claw Gaming’s review process? Check out the official scoring FAQ!

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