- Developer: Alien Pixel Studios
- Publisher: Alien Pixel Publishing
- Release Date: 28/07/2021
- Price: £17.99 / $19.99
- Review code provided by Alien Pixel Studios
Introducing: Unbound Worlds Apart Review for Nintendo Switch
You can’t beat a good platformer. Find out if that’s the case in my review of Unbound for the Switch. In my experience there’s nothing better than repeating the same ridiculously difficult manoeuvre over and over, getting just a little better each time. Until finally you accomplish what at first glance seemed to be impossible. Sure I can say that now: I’ve finished the game. But there were times when I had to scream into a pillow with frustration after falling into a pit of spikes, for the hundredth time that hour. It’s times like this that you have to dig deep. Take a little break and come back refreshed, ready to go through it all again in the vain hope that this time, will be different. If this sounds like the kind of torture you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy then you will probably not enjoy this game. On the other hand, if you are willing to stretch the limits of your sanity to breaking point, then you will undoubtedly love this clever little platformer which feels right at home on the Switch.
Now there is something resembling a story somewhere
In my humble opinion, the story is certainly the weakest aspect of the entire game. Anyone who has ever played either of the Ori games before will immediately recognise many similarities with Unbound. Indeed, I will probably bring up Ori several more times before this review of Unbound on the Switch is over. Ori has a great story. One that really sticks with you and makes you care about the characters involved. Unbound does not. You play as a young mage, called Soli, who’s village is attacked and destroyed by malevolent forces during the opening of the game. The reason for this is unclear and, I must admit, is still unclear to me even after finishing the game.
Shortly thereafter, you are given the ability to summon mystical portals that open windows into other realms. It’s then up to you, the novice that just learned how to open up portals, to fight your way through a hellish landscape of spikes, lava and nightmare creatures, so that you might confront and defeat the demon lord that blew up your village. On your way towards the final confrontation with the big bad, you’ll be tasked with a number of objectives. These are essentially variations on a theme. Nine times out of ten that theme will be “go to these points on your map, collect these crystals (or activate these totems), and return. As I said, its not a brilliant story, but never mind.
When Unbound begins, Soli has the ability to jump. That’s it. Much later on into the game, you do gain the ability to double jump, cling to walls, dash, then double dash. But that’s all folks. The movement mechanics are as basic as they come in Unbound: Worlds Apart. At no point do you ever learn a traditional attack. Which is impressive given that there are several bosses, and other creatures, which must be despatched in order to progress. It’s just as well then that the controls are responsive and behave just how you would expect them to. What really sets this game apart however is the portal opening mechanic, which you gain right at the beginning of the game.
Depending on where you are, portals behave a little differently. For one, they might affect some external feature, like turning a flaming projectile into a safe platform. Or transforming a terrifying flying monster into a cute little butterfly. But the portals can also affect Soli by inverting gravity, shrinking your size or turning you into a heavy, stone block. There is a massive amount of variety that these relatively simple tweaks to the environment introduce to the gameplay. Just when you feel like you’ve mastered one, it is taken away and replaced with something else. I grew to eagerly anticipate exploring new areas on the map, knowing that it wouldn’t be long before I got to experiment with a new portal mechanic.
Jump, die, swear, repeat
The portal mechanic is a big hit. But is there anything else going on in this game besides that to keep you entertained? In fact, there is surprising little. Perhaps even more surprising, however, the game doesn’t really suffer because of it. Unlike Ori and other games of the same genre, the world is not littered with pickups to restore health or upgrade abilities. There’s just you, the occasional bad guy, and lots and lots of tricky jumps to negotiate. Actually, I lie. There is one other, “pickup” you can hunt down and those are the lost villagers. Each one recites a line from the historical records of your people before they disappear in a puff of smoke. It’s a nice way to add a little backstory, whilst at the same time providing an optional, extra challenge for completionists. Personally, I didn’t feel compelled to find them all but those that do will be treated to a slightly different, and more uplifting, ending cinematic.
I mentioned there were no health pickups. Well the reason for that is that if you get hit, even once, – you’re done. Seems harsh? Well it’s not quite as bad as it sounds. The game is constantly autosaving itself after pretty much every obstacle you overcome. And the load times are mercifully short. If you do fail, you will restart almost immediately before you made that key mistake, ready to try again. This really promotes an eagerness, after every setback, to just give it one more try.
There is one particular challenge where you are required to continually invert gravity, with split second timing, to successfully hover between a narrowing, corridor of teeth (check the trailer at 0:51). I must have attempted this well over a hundred times before I finally managed to pull it off. And yes, it was incredibly frustrating every time I failed. But all that frustration was offset a hundred times over when I finally bested it. That’s the kind of rush that money can’t buy. Pro tip: go into the options menu and reassign the portal button from L to ZL. I found it much easier and faster to switch the portal on and off that way, which is a massive benefit for some of the more difficult challenges.
This is a puzzle platformer so it stands to reason that occasionally you will need to use your brain to work out how to proceed. There are some ingenious level designs buried within this game. Much of which make clever use of the incredibly versatile portal mechanic, but I never had to think too hard about what I needed to do next. The challenge was usually much more skewed towards accomplishing the feat, rather than working out what it should be. Which I much preferred in retrospect.
Soli and the Will of the Wisps
For a 2D platformer, this game is absolutely stunning. The art is incredibly vibrant and distinct between the different locales. I especially love opening a portal and just admiring the juxtaposition of two completely different environments: one hellish and demonic, the other peaceful and serene. I’m going to mention Ori again (last time I swear) only to say that the artwork and environments in Unbound are on the same level as Moon Studio’s masterpiece.
The alien landscapes feel alive and lived in, like some hideous creature might pop out of the background at any moment and impale you with its sharp fangs (this actually did happen more than once). The same level of attention has been directed towards the soundtrack, which is moody and atmospheric. The perfect accompaniment to the sense of foreboding that is felt throughout the entire game.
A slight hiccup
Quite early on in the game, you will unlock the ability to fast travel, at whim, to any totem you have previously discovered while exploring. Transitions are usually very brief, which makes exploration a breeze. I did notice the frame rate struggling occasionally. Particularly after my hundred odd attempts at clearing the aforementioned hovering challenge. It may be that after constantly reloading the same section of the game, my Switch was running a little hotter than usual. Alternatively, after a hundred or so failures, I was so exhausted that my eyes could have been playing tricks on me. It’s difficult to know for sure. Best advice, should you find yourself in a similar situation, is to have a rest and come back later, for the sake of you and your Switch.
Conclusion: A frustratingly good time
There are a couple of negatives I’ve highlighted in my Switch review of Unbound; the lack of a compelling story, the cripplingly difficulty, the occasional frame skips. But when all is said and done, the positives massively outweigh the negatives. The fact that I kept coming back for more and more, speaks volumes about how much I enjoyed grinding my way through this platformer. Every obstacle cleared felt like a victory in its own rights. When I finally rolled credits, I sat back with a huge smile on my face. If you’re looking for baby’s first platformer: this isn’t it. But if you’re up for a challenge, one that will keep you invested from start to finish, then look no further.
- Incredibly beautiful graphics
- Unique and mind bending portal mechanic makes for exhilarating gameplay
- Instant respawn at no cost promotes try and try again mentality
- Fantastic atmospheric soundtrack
- Occasional frame skips
- Story isn’t particularly compelling