Bound exists in the mind of a woman revisiting the memories of her childhood–a captivating, introspective story in an abstract world told through metaphor and imagery. The game begins with your mother telling you that the world is in jeopardy, and it’s up to you to save it…through dance.
Walls break away as you run behind them. Ribbons curve as you slide down them like a zip-line. Steps shudder, crack, and reform as you walk over them. Jagged shards of black attempt to envelope you as you fend off their pointed attacks with dance. With an art style heavily influenced by several different modern art movements, it’s one of the most unique procedurally-generated 3D platform games in…ever.
The motion-capture work of dancer Maria Udod and her choreographer Michał Adam Góral really paid off. Every move was incredibly fluid–a perfect combo of modern dance and ballet, with a hint of gymnastics. Colorful ribbons emit from the character with every movement, rippling out and swirling around, emphasizing the dance and adding to the dreamy, abstract world. It captures the way our nerves light up with nostalgia, the way our fingers pulse when we conjure an unpleasant memory. Bound is that physical manifestation of what it feels like to remember. For me, the game brought back memories of ballet classes when I was six, and of spending many years as a gymnast. Several knee injuries have kept me from enjoying those things for a while now, but playing the game proved to me that my muscle-memory was still intact.
While there is a finite number of dance moves you can perform, the real joy of the game is picking up the controller and not knowing which buttons do what. I remember what I loved most about dancing was being able to improvise, to use my knowledge without a prescribed routine. Bound gave me the same feeling, and discovering the amount of dance moves I was capable of performing in-game was bliss–grande jetés, bourrées, cambrés, pirouettes, and many more.
That discovery felt akin to real life improvisation. It also seemed that there are certain moves you are only able to perform if walking across a walkway no wider than a balance beam (you have the ability to do a front aerial, a really fun gymnastics move) or pushing yourself off a wall. Incorporating the environment into your dance makes the world feel more whole, more real.
Even still, Bound is much more than dancing–it’s a puzzle game. There are specific dance moves you will need to perform to dissolve walls or to make stairs to an upper level appear, and the puzzles grow in complexity as you progress in the game. There was one point early on in the demo that required me to press myself against a red section of wall and push off to the opposite side, to a higher section of wall. It’s these kinds of moments that challenge the player in new ways. It straddles a line between a game and a not-game.
Speaking to the narrative, game director Michał ‘bonzaj’ Staniszewski notes that Bound is designed for those who want to experience a mature story and concentrate on the narrative itself. While a demo isn’t exactly enough time to fully grasp the story, the setup is there for a beautiful, emotional journey.