- Nice art and characters,
- Some neat platforming design,
- Portal powers are cool.
- Very hard,
- Bland fantasy story,
- Some control issues.
The thing though about these modern platformers is that they may sometimes, to their detriment, stick a little too close to their roots. Back when we were all playing Super Mario Bros. the design was so constrained by the technology that difficulty was nearly always baked in. As the tech improved, so did the gameplay. Super Mario 64 had its challenges, sure, but it also had a massive world to explore and lots of activities to give you a break from any particularly challenging platforming sections.
Unbound however is all difficulty all the time. This is not a game for the patient. You will die. A lot. And when you do clear a section it will feel more thanks to luck than skill. You could say the same for Cuphead but that game’s unique old-timey cartoon style and revolving around boss fights made the difficulty more digestible. In Unbound it can feel almost out of place.
So what’s the game about besides being reminded of your earthly mortality? You play as Soli, a child of a civilization of glowing eyed, robed beings. The typical fantasy story plot is at play here: everything is fine until a portal opens up and the source of all evil in the universe burns your village down.
We’ve seen it a hundred times and Unbound doesn’t make much of the setup. A game like Inside brought the vibes of Portal and The X-Files to a platformer and to this day is one of my favorite games. Sadly, the story here is undercooked and you can practically taste it. As I watched Soli die over and over and over, popping like a cheap party balloon against spikes, barbs, and the mandibles of hungry monsters I began to ask myself just what was the point of going on?
There is some satisfaction when you beat a difficult sequence of jumps but there are moments when you won’t even be sure if things are working the way they’re supposed to. About two hours in you get a double jump ability. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. When success or failure counts on perfectly timing your jump, having your double jump trigger first is a special kind of frustrating.
When things do work, Unbound can be pretty fun. The main gimmick that sets this one apart from other platformers is your ability to open portals. Opening a portal will create a large bubble around you that reveals another dimension beyond your own. This isn’t just pretty but an interesting rub for a genre that’s been done to death by this point. This also leads to some fun surprises as a butterfly in your universe is actually a giant ferocious purple dragon in another.
You’ll make use of your portal abilities as your main way of navigating hazards, revealing hidden platforms and turning walls of spikes into harmless (climbable) vines. Most of the time the portals work but this function falls prey too to Unbound’s aim at making a Dark Souls platformer. In one section gravity on the other side of portals is reversed. Pretty fun until you come across a cavern covered in spikes.
By opening and closing portals you’re able to sort of fly but expert timing is required and the section feels just a bit too long. I was impaled, maybe, 30 times before I made my way across. It was a relief to have made it but then I realized that there was something likely more difficult waiting up ahead.
Now let me be clear, this isn’t a knock against difficult games. If you’re into a challenge you’ll probably get a lot out of Unbound. The issue is needless difficulty. They could have focused more on the story and been a little more forgiving with the platforming but that’s just my opinion. If you spend your time speedrunning Mario Maker levels designed by Satan then you’re going to have a good time with Unbound.
Not to belabor the point but I will say Unbound has a problem with what I’ll call “difficulty shifting”. When you’re playing through a section it can go from easy to insanely hard at the drop of a hat. There’s little to no scaling up to give players a chance to feel like they’re building up skill with the game. Throwing a curveball every now and then is fine but it happens far too often that you wind up coasting through easy sections just run smack dab into nigh impossible ones.
Okay, let me say some nice things about the game: the art style is lucious with a varied color palette, the character design is top notch (although the glowing eyed robe people are lifted directly from either Star Wars’ Jawas or Vivi Ornitier from Final Fantasy IX). There’s a great shout out to Limbo and the music, while it won’t win any grammys anytime soon, does a good enough job of matching the tone of the different environments.
Unbound is a middle of the road platforming experience with some nice art but some rough edges when it comes to difficulty scaling and design. Unforgiving sections also hold the game back and without a great story to push you through the hard parts it winds up being a tough sell. If you’re into the Dark Souls level of challenge then go forth and platform. More casual players will want to seek out something more palatable.
Alexander Eriksen | Gamepressure.com