During the annual celebration of The Guardian, the World of Vaiya is attacked by mysterious evil forces. With only a few weakened wizards manage to escape the attack and the world now corrupted and packed with evil creation. You take control of Soli, the last hope. Using his powers, Soli seeks revenge for the lost of his little brother and must fight back the evil and restore peace to the World of Vaiya.

Developer: Alien Pixel Studios
Platform: Steam (Windows, Mac, Linux), Consoles (TBC)
Release Date: Q1 2021

Gameplay

Alien Pixel Studios describes Unbound as “an atmospheric puzzle platformer that will immerse you beautiful, hand-crafted worlds where you can conjure magical portals in order to solve puzzles.”  The world of Variya brings similarities to Hue and The Messenger, in that you have control of Portals that change the world around you. “Inside certain portals, the laws of physics and abilities of the character can change, opening up new and inventive ways to progress.” The use of these portals often creates challenging puzzles and not being able to see what is ahead in this unearthly dimension offers a number of surprises. Removing combat in Unbound means that you must use the creatures to your advantages as they change in a number of ways through the power of your portal.

During my play-through I was surprised by the variety of puzzles on offer during this small 30 minute portion of the game. Despite the initial excitement of the future challenges in the game. Although initially I thought that three portal skills presented within the prologue could potentially lead to pacing issues. It is explained that the mysterious place, where this takes part doesn’t allow the use of magic and therefore magic could be potential upgrades when leaving this place.

The light puzzle

One puzzle, or variety of portal, proved incredibly difficult and annoying. The light puzzle that allows you to see the monstrosities that lurk in the caves. This very punishing, the light portal disappears as you move but seems to be very inconsistent, as it seems to decrease slightly when starting to move and then seems to disappear incredibly quickly after this initial slow start. This meant that platforms would disappear just as you got near them. Initially, you couldn’t see the platforms when the light was removed; the game has been updated to include a ghostly appearance of the platform meaning you can now see them faintly. Although frustrating it wasn’t impossible as I managed to rescue the villager trapped on the platform. The one specific puzzle I’m talking about is a secondary objective throughout Soli’s mission and this could explain the spike in challenge so early on in the game.

Look and Feel

Unbound has a thoughtfully hand-crafted world; reminding me of the likes of Hollow Knight if you swap the bugs for wizards. The aesthetics that Alien Pixel Studios provide leads the two worlds to blend effortlessly into each other, creating a living, breathing conflict between these two 2D worlds. The animations and scenes are beautifully rendered and work only to compliment the game, working to elevate an otherwise standard platforming experience. The unique designs that the characters have would be amplified if they provided a unique voice to them, adding to their character.

The first opening to the new realm

The score throughout this game adds a sense of mystery to the game, although it did lack a change of direction once the danger increased following the opening of the portal and falling into the mysterious place, continuing to be calm and steady. Until you reached the further depths of the mysterious place, where the score changes to amplify the feeling of an unseen danger with the lack of light.

Storytelling

The prologue provides us with a 30-minute introduction to Unbound. Which could potentially last a couple of hours, so how the story will develop is still unclear. Soli is described as looking for revenge for having lost his brother to the portal by Alien Pixel. During the prologue, you are searching for your brother past the wall. That is when the portal opens, sending a savage army of creatures upon Variya and upon falling into a mysterious place, it seems that your brother is forgotten. Instead, you search for fragments to open the doors to a mysterious monolith that could help solve the issue through the attack. Unbound is mainly told through the interaction with the environment although some NPCs do offer some plot points, though brief.

The portal mechanic is explained through this style of storytelling, as Soli can only open the portals through the use of gates after gaining a fragment of mysterious stone, which grant him these powers. Before entering these gates you can are met with a disappointing spark of light, something reminiscent from failing to conjure a spell in the Harry Potter films. This show not tell style of storytelling seems to work within many Metroidvania and 2D platform games and there is hope that world is left ambiguity, allowing the player to fall deeper into the worlds lore through exploration.

Conclusion

With some great gameplay, a potentially good story and beautifully rendered art style, Unbound is something that I look to play in the early months of 2021 and has already been placed on my Steam wishlist. The core concept of the portals makes for some interesting and challenging puzzles and overall fun gameplay. Although I feel there could be some pacing issues due to my playthrough of the prologue and some other fixes, it will be interesting to see what Alien Pixel Studios have in mind for their final product and how the story unfolds.

Follow the progress of the game at:

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/UnboundGame/
Twitter – https://twitter.com/UnboundTheGame
YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCB-TyV7bB5fy_wbSA_zm2TQ

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