Published on April 12th, 2012 | by Nichomaxwell0
A Review of Indie Game UnBound: A game with an appropriate title…minus the “Un”
Year: 2012 // System: XBox 360 (XBox Live Indie Games) // Designer: monufrak1 // Genre: Adventure
>>>One of these days there will be a new genre. It will be called “Relaxation.” In it you’ll find recent headliners like Flower and Journey, and if there were to be an indie section featured for Relaxation games, UnBound would be the first choice you’d see listed.
The title better fits the graphics than the gameplay. Within the game, you CAN travel anywhere, but the only place where you can do anything is a mountainous island that rises above endless stretches of inexplicably shallow ocean. Yes, you can certainly die in this game, but it won’t be at the hand of an angry villager or a menacing dragon. Drowning and starvation account for the only means of death, and of course there aren’t any real death animations to go with those fates. The point of UnBound is to explore the “open-ended world” placed before you…so that you can collect a bunch of multicolored orbs. This must be an enchanted island. Never have I heard of a straggler going around and finding orbs in order to stay alive. Usually a straggler tries to find…food. Would featuring animals have been a showcase of stronger graphic capabilities? Absolutely. As for orbs, there a rather simple design, and yet they somehow feel “magical,” in the same fashion that Sonic’s spin-hop appeared unique.
In other words, having the player search for orbs was a lazy design choice. But then I have no idea about the technological resources that the creator had at his disposal. This could’ve been a college project that suddenly became a marketable game. I certainly can’t sell my games for 80 MS points!
Anyway, you play from a first-person perspective with the option of picking from three modes: Challenge, Adventure, and Survival, with each mode centering on orb collection. In Challenge, you play through five different scenarios, which has the strictest approach of the three modes by having you collect strings of orbs until you can’t collect anymore due to the rising tide. The Challenge mode was the most broken feature because the difficulty level jumped from that of a Sesame Street title to something on par with Contra, as suddenly I couldn’t touch the rising water, but the tide was rising too quickly for me to collect every single orb in time.
In Survival mode, you’re not fighting the tide, but instead your own waning life bar. The goal here is to survive for seven days by collecting red orbs that replenish your health, as well as the other colored orbs that upgrade your abilities. For example, purple orbs increase your endurance (makes your life bar bigger) while the green orbs boost your agility; the more green orbs you collect, the faster you run and the higher you jump. Blue orbs give you bonuses in the form of red, purple and green orbs. The number of orbs you collect for each bonus depends on how many yellow orbs you collected before obtaining the blue ones. So in this mode, the most important orbs, aside from the red ones, are the yellow variety. The yellow orbs are like pawns in a game of Chess: they don’t offer you any immediate reward, but if you use them patiently and wisely, then the ultimate reward will be your success. But ultimately in the Survival mode, you’re basically rinsing and repeating until you reach day 7.
The Adventure mode is the most laid back of the three types of play as it doesn’t set ANY kind of time limit. Here, you’re just collecting the 35 blue orbs “hidden” on the island. Some fall right within the string of green orbs you collect (just green and blue orbs in Adventure), while others are obtained through jumping. Some of the blue orbs will not be reachable until you acquire enough of the green to increase your agility. Even so, jumping is too gravity-free in this game that you won’t be able to fall fast enough onto the blue orbs you want in the cases that you are hopping forward to get them. I wish that some of the orbs were hidden in the water or underground, but I guess one can’t have everything he or she wants out of a game…
Aside from the feather-like jumping mechanics that suspend you in the air for too long, the controls are almost too simple, and the gameplay mechanics are at the bare minimum. All you do is run and jump. That’s it. No digging, no swimming, just running and jumping. This is definitely nothing no, as is the whole concept of open-ended exploration, which this game, contrary to its title, offers anything but.
But where this game unsuspectingly succeeds is in its ability to soothe the nerves. The music is strong, and its use is the most appropriate I’ve seen in any indie game outside certain sports titles. The piano melodies fit the slow-paced, enemy-free island that you are exploring, and it seems to build at just the right places, like when the sun rises and sets.
Usually when we play games, we do so as an escape route from the pressures of our daily lives. Unfortunately, a lot of titles we play can in fact lead to frustrating us even further with their harsh levels of difficulty and sometimes obscene challenges, regardless of how amazing the reviewers say they are. UnBound was made, whether intentional or not, to provide the players with an easygoing getaway experience. It’s certainly not the prettiest or most fantastical that I’ve seen…just take a look at the trailer for Journey…but for just 80 MS Points (1 dollar!), UnBound does a decent job.
CHIC Factor (INDIE MODE)
Challenge: 5/Iffy- There’s not much to the difficulty in a game that focuses only on orb collection, most of which are almost too easy to locate. Of course, there’s also the broken attempt at trying to make the game hard in the “Challenge” mode. This attempt instead ensured that the player never touched that mode of play again.
Handling: 4/Needs Work- Jumping is too light, and midair controls are clunky. It’d be nice if you could look around while moving forward so that you could see some of the blue orbs’ locations while you you were jumping for them. Your abilities are limited, and the control scheme, given it’s for an XBox game, is practically too simple.
Innovation: 4/Needs Work- There’s nothing going on in this game except for orb collection. The three modes of play have been seen before, and the advertising for open-world play is misleading. Yes, you can travel anywhere you want- if you like looking at ocean for the next four hours.
Core Experience: 5/Iffy- The created world with a a day and night cycle is a milestone for one creator to achieve on his or her own, and the music combines with the unobtrusive scenery to set up a calm sandbox setting for the player to interact with. Unfortunately, there isn’t much to see or do outside of collecting orbs on an abandoned island…
OVERALL: 4.5/Needs Work- It’s not often you feel restricted by something called UnBound. This exploration-based venture is admirable for its impressive graphics and music, but obviously a graphically impressive game was the creator’s intent. Although I applaud monufrak1 for making a beautiful explorer, the next step for the creator will be to expand on the basic game play mechanics that he or she set in place.