Chapter-by-chapter, these little stories conjoin to proclaim a highly satisfying narrative of love and life. It is both a parable and a metaphor. In this way, its structure is not unlike a grand ballet, in which story is suggested through movement.
Progression is a matter of negotiating platforms, rooms and ingress, seeking escape by resolving featherweight puzzles. Linear avenues strewn with obstacles present a play-path that offers minimal challenge. Bound‘s point is not to confound the player with a whorl of physical tests. It is to lead onward, toward a point of emotional revelation.
Apart from the unfolding story, Bound’s principal strength lies in braiding together the vivacity of its perplexingly gorgeous world with its central character’s refined movement. She can walk and run and jump, like just about any other character from any other platformer game, but she is also capable of balletic dance moves.
From the very start, intensely realized character animations transform her from a pile of polygons into a paragon of grace. Carefully choreographed interactions between limbs, muscles, arcs and twists provide one of the most lovely examples of human movement in gaming history.
Unfortunately, it soon becomes clear that these dance moves are limited to no more than a handful in number, and that their relationships with one another lack creative utility. The player can choose to pirouette, rond and sissone, but a shortage of variety leaves little room to amalgamate each into a complex piece.
In gaming, the well-trod lane of character progression has been worn to dust, but Bound lacks even a fundamental sense of physical improvement, of latching on new skills and abilities. Bound could have offered a few more opportunities to trip the light fantastically. This omission seems a shame, given the sharp originality of the game’s premise.
This failure is reflected in some of the game’s superb environmental storytelling moments. There are magical occasions when the dancer comes across a physical space so ludicrously splendid that I was compelled to burst into a series of shimmers, just for the sheer joy of dance.
For brief, intoxicating moments, I felt like it was impossible to resist the wonderful feeling that life is really a Broadway dance-musical and that the only sensible course of action is to spring and caper — a game that made me feel like Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers deserves a tip of the top hat and a ritzy swing of the cane. But these moments are all too brief. Bound lacks the necessary palette to sustain anything that might feel like a dance creativity box.
Strangely, dancing is mostly a matter of choice, rather than progressive necessity. There are a few obstacles that require specific leaps and struts, but these are rare. Much of Bound can be played by walking and jumping, though this course takes away some of its charm.