Unbound: Worlds Apart is a side-scrolling puzzle-platformer with Metroidvania elements. At first glance, it’s not a million miles away from classics such as Hollow Knight, both in content and art direction.
Don’t let the cutesy, hand-drawn animation fool you, though – this game will you put you through your paces with challenging but highly rewarding gameplay.
Unbound: Worlds Apart Review
You play as Soli, a kid who can harness the power of magical crystals scattered throughout the land. When demonic forces break through the long-sealed gates, you set out on a journey to stop the evil forces returning to this once-peaceful land. Each world is a series of interconnected ‘tunnels’ which you’re free to explore within the limits of your power-ups (again, a nod to Hollow Knight).
In terms of story, it’s a fairly standard fantasy fare – evil forces, magic crystals, an Order of Guardians etc. which, while competently written, isn’t all that engaging and you’ll probably find yourself skipping through a lot of the lore. However, none of that really matters too much, as the excellent gameplay does all the heavy lifting.
The portal mechanic is the most interesting and innovative aspect in what could’ve been a fairly generic platformer. For those familiar, it works like the Spirit World in The Medium. Here, you tap L1 to open up a circular portal around you. This changes your immediate surroundings to that of another dimension, allowing you to overcome an obstacle in the present world. For example, a giant spider will chase you through a small passageway, but when you toggle the portal, a pillar appears to safely block the creature. Each clever puzzle encourages you to play around with your power and its effect on the world, which makes it all the more satisfying to solve.
Through the looking-glass
As you progress, you’ll unlock different portal abilities. All of them are are outrageously good fun – some made me grin with joy when I used them for the first time. The gravity portal, for example, flips everything upside-down so you can walk along the ceiling. Another transforms enemy projectiles into handy platforms to scramble up. The game constantly surprises you with smart, new ways to overcome an obstacle – it’s here where Unbound: Worlds Apart really shines.
As well as portals, you also gain power-ups which let you explore previously unreachable areas of the map. The dash power-up is handy for jumping larger gaps and the double-jump is super-useful for avoiding said lava. The biggest hindrance to your journey is, unfortunately, the map. Despite marking your objectives, it’s often unclear how to reach them, particularly as a lot of the quests are the same (collect two crystal shards etc). You may find yourself wandering round in circles at times, but then again, a more guided approach would suck the joy out of exploration. It’s not a major issue, and the excellent platforming more than makes up for it.
Die another day
Aside from a spike towards the end, the difficulty level ramps up consistently. In the beginning, you’re given ample time to learn each new mechanic, but you’ll never feel complacent, as the game constantly iterates on each puzzle, bringing fresh, new challenges. The level design is meticulous too, with every puzzle piece working seamlessly with the next.
As I said, things get pretty challenging, especially at the end where the final boss feels overpowered. The game is generous with it’s checkpoints, however – in most instances, you respawn right where you died. There are no items or power-ups that you loose either, which takes the sting out of falling in lava for the 30th time.
The hand-drawn animation is certainly pleasing on the eye, with a bold colour palette that lends a cartoon-ish feel to the game. Some levels make use of a parallax-scrolling foreground which helps to add a sense of depth to the world, but by and large, it’s the gameplay that stands out rather than the art direction. That being said, some of the more dark and dingy areas of the map look particularly good when illuminated by the strange fluorescent plants that grow there.
Musically, it’s pretty much what you’d except – a competent combination of soft, understated piano in the safe village areas and fast-paced, tense beats in a boss fight. Again, the art direction can take a back seat here, as the sense of tension and jeopardy is effectively built through the challenging platforming.
Unbound: Worlds Apart is a challenging yet highly satisfying platformer with clever, innovative mechanics and top-notch level design. More originality to the story could lift the competent narrative to greater heights, but it’s easy to forgive when the game is so damn fun.