Amid squabbles regarding a lack of female representation, some games quietly featured female playable characters on the E3 show floor, seemingly unnoticed by the most vocal critics. One of these games was Bound, a unique 3D platformer with a playable character that's a cross between Daft Punk and a ballet dance, complete with metallic face visor. This dancer is dancing to save her kingdom, though it may already be gone.
Bound’s fairly lengthy demo featured the main dancer character, her queen, and a mysterious male enemy that's destroying the kingdom. The art style is stark and minimalist, relying much more on floor than texture to create the dreamlike fantasy world that players navigate. Conventional platforming gets a fresh feel through the character animations: jumps are grande jetés, you use bourrées to get across narrow ledges, and leaping from a great height lands with a dramatic flourish.
But this is just one layer of the game. When you complete each level, it shows you a tableau from a much more familiar world with a little girl who seems ignored by her father. In the scene I saw, the little girl and her brother were on the opposite side of a chess game from dad, and dad seemed to be paying more attention to the boy. The presentation is deliberately vague and different players will see different things in these scenes. To me, the game became the daydream of a neglected little girl who created a world in her head where she mattered, but this is just one possible story. This intriguing allegorical structure, combined with the mood and ambient soundtrack of the interactive parts of the game, pulled me in and got my imagination going.
Exploration is a big part of Bound’s appeal, but perhaps not the kind of exploration you'd expect. Instead of just working your way through levels, Bound encourages you to make your progress beautiful with elegant dance mechanics, spinning and leaping across platforms and making pretty poses on the aerial silks which serve as ladders in certain areas. I spent a lot of time just making the character dance as opposed to figuring out the platforming challenges, which I found to be part of the fun.
There is a form of “combat” in Bound, although it doesn't involve punching anything. At certain points, the game requires you to engage in more intense dance moves that create a shield of blue ribbons around your character. Mysterious shadows appear on the walls around you as you do this. The two levels I played both resulted in futile encounters with the big bad guy, but this was intentional and part of the plot. It's more an experience of progression than mastery.
I found the demo somewhat limited, however, regarding character movement because I couldn't chain dance moves together to do proper adaptive combos. However, an insider not authorized to speak on the record told me that they’re working on precisely this sort of combo system for when the game ships. Even with its current limitations, however, Bound doesn't feel like a cheesy “girl game”. The closest comparison I can make is that it's Papo & Yo meets Journey, despite looking nothing like either of these games.
Artistically, Bound is that coveted unicorn of game design: it's original and innovative. Despite its current control limitations, I can't wait to see more when it releases on the PlayStation 4.