It's pretty telling that the two previous games from Bound's developers were Linger In Shadows, which was basically a PS3 tech demo, and Datura, which was designed to showcase the capabilities of the PlayStation Move. In both cases, it seems fair to say that gameplay took a back seat to the developers' interest in seeing what they could do with the hardware they were working with.
Bound is less experimental than either of those other games. It's coming relatively late in the PS4's lifecycle, at a time when the system's capabilities are more or less known. Moreover, it's a relatively linear experience; this is a platformer at heart, even if the character you're guiding from Point A to Point B moves in a distinctly non-traditional fashion.
However, even if Bound doesn't push any boundaries (pardon the unintentional pun), there's still an overarching sense here that it's trying to be a little different, that it's very clearly aiming itself at that games-as-art niche. You progress the plot by moving a progress woman along a beach, pausing her every so often so that she can open up her notebook and see sketches that turn into levels. Your vaguely humanoid character confronts equally vaguely humanoid monsters, and defeats them via the power of dance. You prance and trot and dive and swoop through a constantly shifting world, tumbling along beams and through squares and triangles, jumping from vaguely-defined platforms that are prone to suddenly vanishing, hoping that you don't fall into roiling masses of shapes and colours.
The problem is, none of it is particularly interesting. The levels — limited in number though they may be — start to feel interchangeable pretty quickly. If you've tumbled through one field of wavy, papery-looking grasses, you've tumbled through all of them. There are only so many times that platforms can vanish beneath your feet for no apparent reason before it starts to get old quickly. While there's no denying that the main character's movement looks tailor-made for screenshots (more on that in a moment), there's a disconnect between the way it looks and the way it feels to actually control it — which is to say, it may look flowing, but it still feels like you're pushing her through molasses. It doesn't help at all that certain spots require you to dance if you want to get through them, but dancing slows you down to a crawl.
Of course, if Bound wants to be art more than it wants to be a game, none of this is a problem. As I said, the main character's movement looks gorgeous. It looks like a gymnastics routine spread out across a world, as streamers are constantly flying and fluttering around our heroine. And, of course, on an aesthetic level, there's something pleasing about the way the whole world is constantly shifting and warping. Throw in music that complements this lovely world perfectly, and, as I said, on an artistic level, this game succeeds beyond a shadow of a doubt.
But we're not talking about a work of art, we're talking about a game. Obviously, that's not an either-or proposition, but if a title is being released exclusively on a console, I'd like to think that it should live up to the the standards of the latter before it even thinks about being considered for the former. And, unfortunately, Bound just doesn't do that. It may be nice to look it, but it's not all that fun to play.