Do you like platformers, Metroidvania, cute protagonists or having a well-defined behind? If the answer to any of those questions is yes, Unbound: Worlds apart is a game for you.
Alien Pixel Studios showed once again that creativity and beautiful execution are much more important than a pile of money and a gigantic team as this essentially two-people team made Unbound: Worlds Apart into fantastic dozen hours or so, for anyone who played the game. Despite the small budget, which shows at times, this title is easily recommended to just about anyone.
Low budget is probably most visible in the story portion of Unbound: Worlds Apart because the game lacks voice acting of any kind and even the writing is somewhat restricted since the main character, Soli, never speaks.
That said, the storytelling is not bad. NPCs and the tablet that gets filled up over the course of the game tell the story of Unbound just fine and it's not a bad one either. While the plot twist can end up somewhat obvious since similar ones have been used for decades, the story did its job and at no point did I consider it bad or boring.
It's especially appreciated that the devs didn't just discard the story aspect entirely because the it is not the focus of this Metroidvania - the gameplay is.
The gameplay in Unbound: Worlds Apart features an elegance I didn't quite see before. Just like many other games, it starts off easy and gradually increases the challenges but it's hard to put into words how well the game teaches you the new mechanics that will later serve to spice up the difficulty - without holding your hand through the entire journey.
Maybe it's just best to show it through an example. Unbound will begin by teaching you to perform simple jumps above obstacles at the start but an hour or two in, you will be playing Flappy Bird on steroids, commending the butt-clenching exercise. The best part is that the game doesn't just throw you into this difficult mess - it utilises the time between those two points perfectly to give you all the tools to get through and teaches you how to use them effectively.
So where and how does the Flappy Bird part insert itself into a Metroidvania? Well, you know those portals the devs based the game around? Their use is two-fold.
First, all the areas in Unbound are made of two parallel maps and opening a portal provides a circular view into the other dimension. Depending on the nature of the portal, it can be static, move alongside you or even shrink, depending on your movement.
The second use of the portal is what it does to Soli, the player's character. Some portals will turn him into a rock, others will speed him up and some will reverse the gravity. It is this last one that can be manipulated into essentially floating Soli around the place, with some areas requiring you to keep toggling it on and off in order to pass between spikes from both sides, which will instantly kill you, much like the pipes in Flappy Bird.
Now, to address the "Flappy Bird on steroids" claim. The former only requires balancing between tight spaces. Unbound, on one occasion, requires you to create a tight space by lifting a rock with teeth while floating between two rows of spikes and then balance your way through it. As you go up, so does the rock. When you go down, so does the rock. Get creative.
While that may sound scary and could potentially turn you away from what could be perceived as a hardcore game, keep in mind that I mentioned Unbound does a great job equipping you to handle these situations.
On top of that, some of the most challenging parts of the game are optional so you can completely skip them. In fact, you will have to solve a bunch of smaller but more challenging than normal puzzles in order to even gain access to these areas. Overall, Unbound does not use a difficulty toggle but lets you choose through playing the game itself.
There are a few bosses you will encounter throughout the game and most of them have a great design as facing these creatures kept me excited but also on my toes, so to speak. All those times I died and had to repeat never felt frustrating as each time I went back into the arena, I came armed with more knowledge and inched further towards victory.
As such, finally being able to claw my way through the encounter and beat the boss filled me with a genuine feeling of pride and accomplishment in the end. EA should really take notes here.
Only the final boss had me bored as the first phase is extremely easy, leading to boredom, all up until before the switch to the second phase, where it suddenly becomes much harder. As a result, I died a few times there and I was forced to effortlessly walk through the boring part each time, just to get another shot at progressing. As soon as the second phase happens, the encounter picks up and the rest of it is really solid.
Graphics and performance
Unbound's vibrant colours and numerous biomes pair extremely well with the game's art style, making eye candy in its own right. It's not as awe-inspiring as Ori or Trine series for example, but it is certainly beautiful to look at. Given the limited resources the team of two had, it's pretty amazing what the end result looks like.
Since the graphics are not that intricate, smooth performance was expected and also delivered. The game's system requirements are fairly low, listing "multi-core" CPU in the specs, hinting that dual-core processors should be able to handle it.
Unbound: Worlds Apart is not a live service and it doesn't have microtransactions. For about 12 hours of gameplay, which is roughly the time it takes to go through Unbound once, it will charge you $19.99 / €19.99 / £16.99 which is a well-justified and fair price in my opinion. Of course, no one is stopping you from replaying it as many times as you'd like.
With just two people in the core team, and a total of five when you factor in people behind the video production, music and background melody for the sales pitch, Alien Pixel Studios created a game that is an absolute joy to go through. With exceptional gameplay design and no visible weaknesses, Unbound: Worlds Apart is a breathtaking indie you shouldn't miss out on.