Metroidvanias and difficulty go hand in hand these days. Rightly so, in my opinion, as the genre can loosely be centered around the theme of finding your own path. These types of games typically plop you somewhere in their world with minimal direction, and off you go to discover the story as you acquire new powers to aid in your exploration. One of my favorite games, Hollow Knight, does exactly that and it instantly grabbed me with it’s creepy and cute atmosphere, and wouldn’t let go until I had seen everything it had to offer. Well, I haven’t done everything yet, but I certainly want to go back and chip away at the extra difficult sections I missed. Unbound: Worlds Apart looks to take direct inspiration from Hollow Knight, but fails to capture what made that game, and the genre itself, special.
You play as Soli: a cute little mage who discovers they can open portals to other worlds just as said worlds begin to apocalyptically converge. Despite being the village outcast, it’s up to you to traverse multiple worlds and find a way to fix things.The story is very simple, but NPCs are ready to dump a bunch of lore on you if you choose to speak with them. Some players might find it interesting, but it personally came across as confusing. Said snippets of lore serve as optional collectables hidden behind difficult platforming challenges or puzzles, but they’re very easy to discover.
Exploration really isn’t a focus of Unbound, because it’s not really a metroidvania. Sure, it has all the trappings of one: a large world, unlockable abilities, and backtracking, but it’s more of a puzzle platformer as is claimed on the steam page. I won’t judge it as a metroidvania in that case, even if it has all the trappings of one, but the level design is still bland. The main path is essentially a straight line, but you’ll frequently be asked to take a branch to get an item marked on your map, removing any incentive to actually explore the gorgeous world the developers have crafted. These branches lead to linear platforming challenges which lead back to the main path once you’re done.
The platforming isn’t very fun, simply put. It’s essentially a test of trial and error the whole way through; you throw yourself at a platform, see if it doesn’t work like you guessed it to, die, and try again until you succeed. I’ve played and enjoyed games like this before, but Unbound feels unfair thanks to stiff controls and a low tolerance for mistakes of any kind. Just barely miss the spikes that cover most walls, ceilings, and floors? Actually you didn’t, now you die. It feels like the hitbox for Soli taking damage (you only get one hit) is much larger than the one that detects when you’re standing on a platform.
Despite all that, I wouldn’t call Unbound a difficult game. The main gimmick of opening a portal centered on you to change the environment, invert gravity, shrink, and more is decently utilized, but it never really goes beyond using it just like the double jump or dash, again with little room for error or creativity. This leaves the mechanic feeling uninteresting despite it being the entire conceit of the game. I think with a little wiggle room and more freedom to explore or solve puzzles would have gone a long way to make this a unique and interesting experience, but as it stands Unbound is a rote platformer with some nice art and music. I wouldn’t exactly recommend it, but if you go in with low expectations you might find a bit of fun over the short journey.
Unbound: World's Apart
Unbound: Worlds Apart is a pretty standard puzzle platformer with its difficulty firmly planted in repeated trial and error. Despite gorgeous visuals, there’s not much interesting to see here.