The challenge of puzzle-platformers has always been daunting as they put your reaction and timing skills to the test. While my interest in the genre rose to new heights with games like Braid, I’ve since found myself enjoy the more approachable releases. Unbound: Worlds Apart from developer Alien Pixel Studios rides the fine line of casual and challenging gameplay as the structure for a charming adventure.
Unbound: Worlds Apart opens with Soli, a mage who doesn’t seem to have many friends. However, using the power to open portals, a strange dog-like visitor appears right before an attack on the village. Evil monsters begin to invade, and the dog explains that this happened to its world as well. From here, Soli fights against the creatures to restore the crystal that can save his world.
The narrative is a significant aspect of the adventure as there are many NPC characters to interact with who will explain the situation and what caused all of this chaos. It turns out the narrative is pretty straightforward, but the character designs themselves make them so unique. You find yourself traveling through these dark and beautiful environments as you encounter some of the coolest-looking NPCs ever. While there are a few notable twists, you might see them coming from a mile away.
Aside from character interaction, most of your time playing will be spent navigating the various tunnels and environments of this fantasy world. It’s good to preface that you will die a lot during this game, but checkpoints are liberal, and nothing really prevents you from trying to progress as many times as possible.
Magic is the game’s main gimmick, and Soli can utilize various spells through specific areas to progress. Each area features a different skill, and its utilization will become more challenging over time. The game does well at teaching you how to understand the skills before throwing you in the deep end, but there are some exceptionally challenging areas.
Abilities revolve around the use of portals. Soli can open a portal that can alter gravity or reveal unseen paths. These can also be used as a weapon against the enemies, but you shouldn’t focus too much on taking them down and just try to get past them. The portal gimmick pushes the player’s reflexes to some pretty high degrees, which does cause moments of confusion on how to progress. In addition, there are some precise platforming sections, so trying to take it on in a way other than intended will be met with death.
As you progress through the game, permanent upgrades such as double-jump are unlocked that reveal some slight Metroidvania elements of backtracking. Thankfully, warp points allow for a fast way to get through the game. Additionally, various collectibles and questlines require back travel, one of which are citizens from your town who happen to be on the other end of challenge courses. These areas are listed as secrets and will use every ounce of your skills to master. However, returning to them later with more skills does make them easier.
Bosses are also encountered throughout the adventure. These battles require a bit of thought as you attempt to figure out how to cause damage. Typically it involves using the portal skill, but you’ll also have to avoid their attacks. Each boss battle was challenging and impressively blended action with the puzzle elements.
Unbound: Worlds Apart is a gorgeous game with some brilliant environments. Each area stands out in terms of themes and features additional enemy designs to differentiate it from the other areas. There are moments of peace that you’ll encounter where the game takes a second to just have you walk through a cavern. These sections of gameplay allow you to take a breather and admire the world right before you’re thrown back to hell.
As addictively challenging as this game is, the Switch version did have a few frame drops that caused me some falls. There’s also a bit of confusion about a Dash button that doesn’t visually look like the character is dashing, but supposedly it is, and the game fails to teach you how to use it properly. There are further issues with difficulty spikes with the platforming puzzles. I became frustrated with how a set of puzzles would contain a certain rhythm, and then right in the middle would be a challenging portion that didn’t fit the theme. However, once you do pass it, you’ll feel like you can take on anything until it happens again.
Unbound: Worlds Apart has the appearance of a familiar indie platformer. However, there’s an exceptionally charming and memorable narrative here that guides the adventure through its many challenging areas. As beautiful as this game is, a high amount of skill is needed to progress, so thankfully, there are enough checkpoints to push yourself until you get it right.
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