The term “Metroidvania” is bandied around so much these days that some gamers may involuntarily eye-roll when they hear it. It’s not without precedent, as it seems the indie space is inundated daily with them, to the point where it’s not exactly a novel concept anymore, much less something that turns heads. Unbound: Worlds Apart, developed by Alien Pixel Limited, is another entry in this “Metroidvania” arena, but is charming and swift enough to keep player’s attention for it’s brief 3-5 hour runtime.
Unbound: Worlds Apart has much of the Ori games in it’s DNA. Playing as a small mage named Soli, you jump and contort the world to your whim, earning the odd upgrade along the way, such as a wall jump or a double jump. While none of the upgrades were revolutionary, I found them to be welcome nonetheless when they arrived as they made traversing the side-scrolling 2D environments more effortless. Similar to Ori, these upgrades will unlock new paths through the map should you make your way back to them, but I found that these areas more often than not failed to hold any tantalizing secrets. In fact, the game’s secret areas were very few and far between and sparse upon discovery, usually only holding a mage NPC with a little nugget of admittedly vague lore.
Speaking of lore, the story of Unbound is mainly told through dialogue of its many hooded NPCs and I found it to be a charming if somewhat unengaging way of learning the story. Soli is a silent protagonist and you do not really get a sense for their personality other than their purpose in the plot to be the chosen one and destined to traverse the multi-verse to save their kind; Soli is essentially a blank slate.
Traversing different realms is Unbound’s gameplay hook, as pressing LB (I played on Switch) will enable Soli to use different dimensions to their advantage depending on the area and whether you have passed through a dimensional gate or not. These gameplay opportunities will present Soli with different “powers” such as slowing time, reversing gravity, or allowing areas to be easier to walk through by erasing enemies or obstacles in Soli’s path. I was pleasantly surprised to find that these powers allowed for some pretty inventive and witty puzzle-solving. They may not be puzzles that’ll catch the world on fire but they are serviceable and never stumped me for more than a minute or two, if that.
The environments are vibrant and full of color, but lack real personality. Likewise, the enemy designs are bland and the bosses lack originality, to the point where they feel picked up and placed from countless games in a similar vein to Unbound. It felt at points that I was staring at a cheap flash game, something I am sure the developers were not exactly going for.
This all being said, the final act is a surprising joy despite it’s sharp incline in difficulty, and it’s much more epic than it has any right to be. It is here that all of your abilities are put through their paces and it reminded me of the endings of the Crash Bandicoot games, especially the most recent in Crash Bandicoot 4 where you are asked to perform moves with godlike reflexes and precision. However, Unbound’s final moments weren’t quite enough to change my overall opinion of the title, with an ending that is equal parts confusing and underwhelming. It will no doubt have you shrugging your shoulders and saying “meh”, as you turn the application off and never look back.
The game performs well enough, however, the frame rate did dip for me in certain areas, and I noticed a considerably long boot-up sequence, even by base Switch standards. However, once in the game the time between deaths was snappy, never lasting more than 5 seconds, and the fast travel shocked me every time in its swiftness. Overall, my time with Unbound: Worlds Apart was enjoyable even if I felt I had done all the movements before in other, more inventive, and memorable games. The game kept me relatively hooked through its brief runtime, and it definitely does not outstay its welcome. With a final act that was equally epic and baffling, Unbound: Worlds Apart sticks the landing with mostly tight gameplay and puzzles, and a little charm to spare.