iPhone owners have been eagerly awaiting Secret Exit's Zen Bound for months. As it turns out, the hype was entirely justified. Zen Bound is a fascinating game and a bold statement in favor of the creative singularity that is the App Store.
The object of the game is to wrap wooden statuettes in string as thoroughly and efficiently as possible, twisting and twirling it using multitouch controls. Wrapped surfaces are "painted" with a striking color, and your job is to try to paint as much of the object as you can.
There are 76 objects to wrap in total that are separated into three groups: the Tree of Reflection, the Tree of Challenge, and the Tree of Nostalgia. Each tree is decorated with tags representing the statues, which are either carved in the form of animals or abstract shapes.
After wrapping an object, you are graded on how much of its surface area you managed to cover. Seventy percent coverage earns you one flower, 85 percent gets you two, and 99 percent is good for all three. Your progress up the tree is regulated by how many flowers you cause to bloom. You will often have to revisit previously completed levels and perfect them to move up to the next batch of tags.
Zen Bound has many impressive attributes, but its touch controls stand out on top of everything else. They are flawless. Pinching the screen lets you rotate an object around any axis you choose, while swiping rolls it up in string. It requires no real thought or effort at all to position the object however you like.
Threading the string into tight crevasses and crannies does take some skill, but anyone will be able to do it with a bit of practice. The game feeds you as much string as you need to do the job, and it keeps the string nice and taut, so you can easily control its path to see what you're doing. The string also behaves exactly the way you'd expect it to behave. You can wrap it around a corner, and friction will keep it in place while you reorient the object and start turning it in a different direction. Zen Bound is built around a universally accessible activity--who hasn't rotated and wrapped objects before? As a result, the game feels like a primal experience, and with no time limit, you can choose your own pace.
After a while, you will naturally settle into the subtle rhythms of the game's ambient soundtrack, which meld with the striking textures on the carvings and the shimmering backgrounds in a way that seems intentionally pacifying. The "Zen" in Zen Bound is apt. This is a game that will generate contemplative, relaxed feelings if you let yourself sink into the experience.
And yet, Zen Bound is not necessarily an easy game. It's a game that's certainly very easy to play, but it's still challenging enough to hold your attention for very long periods of time (until your battery runs out). Hitting that 99 percent on certain shapes can be a real bear.
You could say that Zen Bound joins such console and handheld games as Flower and PixelJunk Eden as a prime exponent of a rapidly growing movement toward universality in game design. That is, like those games, Zen Bound is neither restrictive nor unappealing because it has a steep learning curve or lots of violent content, but rather, because it focuses on gameplay and activities that can be quickly grasped and appreciated by just about anyone, regardless of age, background, or skill level. In any case, Zen Bound is something special, indeed.
This review was provided by GameSpot mobile content partner SlideToPlay.com.