It's a sad fact of life that plenty of gamers will ignore Bound, the PS4 exclusive 3D platformer from Plastic and Sony Santa Monica. With its strikingly atypical aesthetics, abstract narrative, and haunting soundtrack, some will instantly dismiss it as too 'artsy' for their tastes. But they'll be missing out on some of the most enchantingly beautiful animations I've yet seen in a video game. That goes for the levels, which feel like breathing, pulsating dreamscapes, and doubly for the female protagonist simply known as the Princess. This lithe ballerina wears a purple headpiece resembling a futuristic valkyrie helmet, and moves with the same kind of delicate, agile grace as Bayonetta or P.N.03's Vanessa Z. Schneider.
There's a simple explanation for how the main character's movements look so expressive and perfectly smooth: they were all mo-capped from the performances of professional dancer Maria Udod. Bound is the kind of game where I frequently found myself coming to a standstill so I could simply admire the idle animations, or slowed my progress just to appreciate the subtle shifts in the Princess' dynamism depending on the how hard you're pushing the analog stick forward. There were times when I was beaming at nothing more than the discovery of a new kind of motion. For instance, the Princess will carefully balance along any thin rails she encounters, but if you hold down the run button, that methodical gait turns to gleeful hopping. Likewise, trying to speed up bits where you need to hug the wall to inch your way past a bottomless pit changes your movement from an eloquent, almost pained spinning to a delicate, nimble tip-toeing.
Your surroundings also move in breathtakingly gorgeous ways; the camera uses an incredible visual effect to warp the nearest objects, and gives you sight through level geometry by fracturing the surfaces that would otherwise obstruct your view. The world itself is done in what the developers call a blend of the Suprematism, Concretism, Neoplasticism art styles, but the platforms and level layouts are still easy to read even with all the unreal visual effects. Navigation feels like a stripped-down Prince of Persia, where you swiftly move from one obstacle to the next and failed jumps simply transport you back to try again.
There's also an intriguing amount of mystery to this world. On my quest to find a Savior to aid my royal, robotic-looking mother (who I communicate with via echoey wails and hums), I encountered what I think were enemies which I repelled through dance. By holding R2, my movements all turned to ballet, with different kinds of sprightliness depending on which face buttons I pressed. This created a ribbon-like force field around me, keeping the harmful forces at bay. But no amount of dancing could repel the giant, ape-like monster that was stalking me through the level, intimidating me through its sheer stature and its electronic screeching.
In a scene so strange it almost feels like I imagined it, I was eventually transported to first-person perspective in a dark room, where I seemed to be observing a vignette of a father and his two kids playing chess at the living room table, frozen in time and fractured into hundreds of colorful shards. Yes. I have no idea what to make of this scene, but I have to know more. With all its elegance and profound beauty, I've already decided that Bound will be one of my must-plays on PS4.