Well, we hadn’t quite expected this. We thought Bound was a game about a balletic alien girl in a low-poly, voxel-heavy dreamscape. Yet Plastic Studio’s third full game opens with us in control of a heavily pregnant woman arriving at a beach, sitting on the sand and opening a notebook. Before long, our initial expectations are met, but we’ll return between levels to the beach, our avatar making her way slowly towards a distant house. By the end you’ll realise Bound’s reality is of far greater import to its story than the fantasy that makes up the bulk of its slender, evening-long runtime. To say why would be to spoil what is a deeply personal tale, and one that’ll likely strike a chord with even those who haven’t been touched by the darkness it confronts. Only in its final act does Bound truly show its hand, but there are hints of it as you progress, in mid-level sections where you explore snapshots of the woman’s childhood memories.
Yet for all the mournful ambiguity of its narrative, in the hands Bound is a delight, thanks to its lithe, beautifully animated protagonist. Take, for instance, that most hackneyed of 3D-platformer conventions, the shimmy across a narrow ledge. Nudge up against the adjacent wall and our heroine performs two 360-degree spins onto the ledge, dramatically leaning into the wall each time, before tippy-toeing along it. Hold the run button, or jump along it, and you’ll see further variations. It’s a recurring theme. Every action is executed with such elegance that it’s hard to resist slowing down and doing everything with a flourish.
Stylish as it is, Bound’s locomotion serves a vital purpose. As you sashay and shimmy your way through the strange world, you’ll be accosted by enemies, thickly swarming, locking you in place, the dancer curling up, crying out in pain. Hold R2 and her walk becomes a dance; press a face button and she’ll bust a move, then another. Ribbons swirl around you in an expanding globe, serving as a few seconds’ worth of shield. A welltimed tap of the Square button will cartwheel her away from a threat, but there’s pleasure in letting it draw near and attack before you dance it into submission.
With an ethereal, ambient soundtrack and a persistent lack of threat – enemies can’t kill you, and a mistimed jump simply deposits you back on the previous ledge – Bound is meditative to the point of feeling soporific. But you’re propelled through it by the desire to see where its component strands are leading. And once you’ve found out, chances are you’ll be back for more. After all, who can resist the offer of spending an evening dancing their troubles away without having to get up from the sofa?
A rollercoaster-style fabric glide closes out each of the levels. Symbolising the woman breaking free of her fears, they’re reminiscent of Journey’s sand-surfing section, but here they’re automated, rather than controllable