It’s been a great summer for smaller titles and indie games. Right before the deluge of AAA games kicks off the impending fall rush, though, Sony was able to squeeze in one more heart-wrenching tale for us to play in Bound. What this game lacks in length, it more than makes up for in how long you’ll be talking about it after you’re done.

A large part of what makes Bound so interesting is its story. Players take on the role of a small girl who uses dancing to traverse and overcome the obstacles of a colorful world. I’d love to go into more detail about the narrative itself, but developers Plastic Studios and Sony Santa Monica specifically requested we don’t talk about the story so that my personal thoughts on the game’s overarching themes and metaphors presented here don’t potentially affect someone who hasn’t played just yet. Just know that it is a tale meant to be open to interpretation, with deep dramatic tones that should strike a chord with anyone with even a hint of empathy in their being.

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Part of what makes the story’s impact so meaningful is the game’s visuals, as Bound tells its tale in a minimalistic approach. The world itself is made up of simple shapes that move and vibrate to the dancing girl’s beat as she spins by, her ribbons twirling around her along the way. Few words of dialogue are ever spoken, with the game just shifting from its standard third-person platforming view to first-person when appropriate for certain scenes.

Because of the lack of spoken words, music also plays an integral role in setting the tone of each of the game’s few levels. You wouldn’t be much of a dancer if you didn’t have any music to dance to, and I could listen to the melody that plays at the end of each level—where the girl skates along what looks like a yellow brick road of sorts, possibly signifying her victory over previous trials—all day long if you’d let me. It expertly helps accent each and every scene in the best ways possible.

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For as moving as Bound’s story is, and as beautiful as the world is, the game stumbles in the gameplay department. Although a platformer at its core, there is no challenge at all to be found here. Occasionally you’ll need to time your jumps, or there may even be a fall-away platform or two, but for nearly the entirety of the game, the jumps are simple and really meant for nothing more than to give the dancer another maneuver to perform as she glides through the world. Even the game’s few hazards, like fire or vines, are never really a threat, shrugged off by the shield that the girl’s rhythmic gymnastic ribbons create as she pirouettes, serving up more symbolism than danger.

There’s also that lack of length I previously mentioned, with my first playthrough clocking in at just over 90 minutes. There are only a handful of levels, and while the length works for the story the game wants to tell, there’s very little to bring you back once you see the ending. A speedrun mode unlocks when you do complete it that first time, and there are shortcuts that allow you to cut each level down to only a few minutes each if you can find them. In the end, the lack of challenge presented by the pedestrian platforming means you’ll really have to fall in love with this tiny dancer to keep coming back to this sad tale again and again.

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Bound is a wonderfully-told story that uses heavy metaphor, minimalistic visuals, and a unique movement system to get its point across. Unfortunately, the gameplay lacks any sort of complexity, and while that is clearly a choice by the developer, it also leaves the experience as a whole wanting. It feels like the story of Bound could’ve been told through any other medium and been just as impactful and effective, but that the writers behind it chose a game as their vessel instead. If you’re looking for something dramatic, visually stunning, and a bit on the simple side, Bound is a fine pickup. If you’re looking for more game in your gameplay, however, then this one will likely disappoint.

Developer: Plastic Studios, Sony Santa Monica • Publisher: SCEA, Sony Interactive Entertainment • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and older • Release Date: 08.16.16
7.0
A powerful, poignant story that utilizes a brilliantly crafted world and movement mechanic to help get its symbolism across. Its short length and lack of gameplay depth hold the experience as a whole back, however.
The Good A sad story told beautifully through the design of the world, the music, and most importantly, the movement of the character.
The Bad The gameplay isn’t nearly as deep as the story.
The Ugly All the ribbon dancing kept making me want to hum the Olympics theme song.
Bound is a PS4 exclusive. Review code was provided by Sony for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.
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