The first impression you get of Bound is that of a platforming video game that uses interpretive dance as a foundation for all movement. It's only after the credits roll that you realize the reverse is true: Bound is an interactive, interpretive dance about a video game.
Bound speaks the language of games, but it’s only vaguely interested in fluency. It reproduces the basic elements in grand, abstract, poetic flourishes. Even the simple act of pressing the jump button creates a symphony of balletic movements from our brave heroine. Bound is less focused on presenting a series of challenges than it is in letting players participate in an interactive modern-dance performance.
The story of this particular libretto? A princess is tasked by her mother, the queen, to slay a giant monster that threatens to corrupt and destroy their kingdom. You must traverse the massive labyrinth that is their kingdom, tracking the beast at every turn until you get close enough to use your powers to undo its influence.
Bound's gameplay is rudimentary, consisting primarily of running, jumping across moving platforms, and climbing ladders. Most of what passes for challenge has to do with navigating the many alternate routes through the labyrinth, sussing out what's actually going to get you down to a lower level safely, what's an actual shortcut, and what may result in plunging to your doom.
But like Journey before it, the devil is in the details. Each stage is a cubist marvel, where every single element feels like it's forged from living, shattered stained glass. The game works wonders with this aesthetic, going from alien, gravity-defying architecture stretching into the stratosphere to vast, beautiful seas that roll out in waves for miles.
Repetitive as these actions can sometimes be, the game still deserves praise for creating a protagonist who neither looks nor moves like any other video game character: a lithe, masked hero whose smallest motion is an act of grace.
Then there's the princess herself--our heroic dancer who must travel the labyrinth. There isn't much to her from a mechanical standpoint. She can run and jump, and in lieu of an attack, she can perform an elaborate dance that allows her to traipse through dangerous environments unscathed. It's a wonderful idea, albeit somewhat undercooked. You can put some variations on the dance with simple button combinations, but doing so doesn't serve a meaningful purpose. Repetitive as these actions can sometimes be, the game still deserves praise for creating a protagonist who neither looks nor moves like any other video game character: a lithe, masked hero whose smallest motion is an act of grace.
Like all interpretive dance, this is all a metaphor for something much more cerebral, presented through the frame of scenes set in the real world--adding the right amount of context to make parsing your journey insightful and rewarding. The ultimate meaning of Bound's tale relies on your own perspective, but there's a subtle-yet-undeniable emotional weight from beginning to end. Bound is a game that displays immense amounts of contemplation and ambition in every aspect except gameplay.
And yet, to decry it for its overly simplistic mechanics is to ultimately miss the forest for the trees. Bound is digital art installation. It's only in the game's final moments, when you're able to view the full breadth of the work, that it's clear this is a work of art that could not be accomplished in any other medium but this one.