3.5 out of 5. Unbound has some great platforming supported by a toolkit of gimmicks that will take you beyond your imagination, but it could use better narrative theming and it might be a bit slow for some
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How Metroidvania is it? Low Fit. Unbound's emphasis is wholly on its platforming, so most challenges are linear, but the means of accessing those challenges is through an interconnected world with an optional sequence, with ability gating driving some of that access.
Primary Challenge: Tricky Platforming
Time to beat: ~5 hours
Review Info: Unbound: Worlds Apart was played on Windows PC using the Steam version

More Info

Developer: Alien Pixel Studios
Publisher: Alien Pixel Studios
Sub-genre: Linear Platformer Hybrid
Features: Map System, Guide/Hint System, 2D Platformer, Auto-Save, Tricky Platforming, Fast Travel/Teleporters, Save Anywhere, Family Friendly
Difficulty: Medium
Linearity/Openness: Linear Guided
Platforms: Windows, Steam, GOG, Switch
Release Date: 2021/07/28
Available Languages: English, Japanese, French, German, Spanish, Polish, Russian, Simplified Chinese

Store Links

    Steam    GOG    Nintendo eShop    

Buy Unbound: Worlds Apart if you like…

  • Portals
  • Tricky Platforming
  • Out of the Box Thinking
  • Scattered Lore
  • Wizards

▼ Review continues below ▼

The indie scene is pretty saturated at this point so there’s a lot of struggle to find the next new gimmick to make a game stand out. Unbound: Worlds Apart’s core attraction isn’t anything new, but it mixes together some common ideas to provide something unique. One of those unique features is a complete lack of combat outside of a few bosses – which bosses are basically just platforming challenges anyway. With that platforming Unbound has such a diverse set of tools to draw from that it’s difficult to become completely bored with it. Without that tool set though, that’s exactly what would happen, because it also seems very afraid to really challenge its player. This can be a failing point if you’re a veteran platformer looking for your next challenge, but a feature if you want a more zen experience overall. In my opinion its biggest shortcoming is with wits theming and narrative, which is maybe the least important factor for a lot of people. Unbound: Worlds Apart is great at being a diverse platformer that won’t have you throwing your controller at the wall in frustration, and that’s really all it needs to be.

Like many fantasy stories, Unbound starts out with your childhood village being destroyed by the forces you’ll be facing for the rest of the game, and you find the tool of your hero’s journey during your escape. That hero’s journey tool is a crystal that let’s you superimpose other worlds onto the world you’re currently in. This is done with a huge circular portal that fills a chunk of the screen and persists until you turn it back off. You can have only one of these circles up at a time, so the shoulder button that activates it functions like a on/off switch. The portal always spreads out from your character’s position, and you can usually move away from it or back into it as you please.

The first portal you gain access to is reminiscent of Guacamelee’s land of the dead and land of the living gimmick. The “world apart” that it accesses might have platforms where your natural world does not. If you find a cliff or chasm you can’t cross, you become trained to check the other world to see if it can provide you with what you need. You can also mix the other world with your own, since sometimes the other world will exclude platforms you could otherwise access, making it so you have to construct your own pathway between the two. There’s also another catch to the world apart, and that’s how it might affect the creatures around you. That first world apart is actually the dark world that destroyed your village, so sometimes opening a portal to it will reveal a monster ready to eat you. This is a good time to mention that everything will always kill you in one hit in this game, so monsters can be very frightening indeed.

As I keep alluding to, the first area you’ll play isn’t the only world apart you can gain access to with your portal ability. You’ll meet many wizards in Unbound that have figured out how to section off parts of the world to prevent corruption, so you will come across archways that by passing through them make it so you can’t summon any portal at all. Basically what this means mechanically is that some levels have no portals and you have to rely strictly on your platforming abilities, and other levels might have portals with different gimmicks to them. The theming here is that the world apart you open will always have different physics than where you are – and this is a really neat idea. Whichever gimmick it ends up being is always based on where you are located and not on any additional powers that you will receive. This essentially makes Unbound: Worlds Apart more similar to something like Braid where each level has a new way to twist your brain. I don’t want to spoil all of the things you will see, but just to give a few examples one world apart has the opposite gravity to your world, effectively making you fall up while you’re within the circle. Creatures you come across might turn into monsters or stones when you force them into the other world – and there are a few worlds apart where you are not immune to that kind of transformation. The worlds apart theming is a license for some great creativity – and while I think the devs could have gone more abstract with it they do a great job keeping each area surprising as you progress.

The intrigue of the portal system carries a lot of the game, since more than half of it feels more like a tour than it does a challenge. I mentioned that touching anything harmful to you will kill you instantly, but this rarely sets you back more than a few seconds. This is because Unbound is incredibly generous with checkpoints. Basically any time you land on a flat surface somewhere your game is automatically saved. Every once in a while there will be a platforming challenge that will keep you aloft for long periods of time though, so it’s not that Unbound: Worlds Apart doesn’t have a few challenges with some bite to them. Bosses too require you to beat them all in one go, which can be sometimes frustrating when you have to replay entire parts of the fight for making a small mistake. The longer bosses give you a checkpoint between each phase however so even in these instances Unbound still makes sure that you’re well taken care of.

The first half of the game might seem a bit rote for veteran players, but the second half makes the build up worth it. It’s probably better to think of that first part as a lengthy tutorial because by the time things get tougher you’ll find that your muscle memory is fairly well trained for what you have to do. Unbound: Worlds Apart thus becomes a game appropriate for all levels of play, but I say that while acknowledging that some of the later challenges might just be too much of a wall for certain beginner players. There are chase sequences that must be repeated when failed, which while they have the same generous checkpoints sprinkled into them the timing is a lot tighter than anything else in the game you’re expected to do. Regular platforming can also get pretty tight, and one section in particular involving fire and bubbles isn’t optional and may have some players calling me a liar for calling Unbound: Worlds Apart a “Zen Platformer”. Mandatory places like this are pretty rare though, most of the hardest challenges are off the beaten path and can be ignored.

Exploration isn’t a key feature of Unbound but there’s enough of it that it might be intriguing to a Metroidvania fan. You pick up a map after you complete the prologue, and you get quests that guide you to where you need to go next in what is essentially a level select. The contiguous world is important thanks to the archways separating which worlds apart you can access; the theming wouldn’t quite feel the same if they just did a level select screen. Backtracking through platforming challenges would be quite tedious indeed if the game ever made you do it, but you shortly unlock the ability to teleport instantly to any fast travel point you’ve unlocked, even if you’re not near one. I think the key thing that might make Unbound of interest to Metroidvania players is its use of ability upgrades. While none of your portal abilities are permanent, you do get permanent abilities to do things like double jump or dash. The dash in particular really changes up how difficult the platforming can become while still remaining bereft of frustrations. Of course with ability upgrades comes the opportunity to hide secrets in places you’ve already been, and hidden secrets is something Unbound includes a lot of in the form of lost villagers.

The lost villagers satisfyingly fill up a bunch of slots in the background of the central hub area, making them a bit more interesting than what they could have been. Functionally the villagers are just pages of exposition, as each one will give an additional piece of lore when you find them. Thematically that’s a bit weird, it’s sort of like if everyone in a city had exactly one sentence of story about that city that they involuntarily spout off at the first stranger they speak with. By where the villagers hang out you can read all the lore bits you’ve found in an actually logical order, and the story they have been feeding you starts to make a lot more sense. Thematically though, it would have been more appropriate for you to find something like chunks of a giant lore-rock that blew up in the town, but as I said it’s more satisfying this way. In spite of the role the villagers play it’s nice to see your town grow larger as you collect more of them. There are dozens of these villagers and they represent the main collectable in Unbound’s Metroidvania-lite offering, so it is important that they are satisfying to find.

The villagers could have been a lot better though, because like I said they could have been replaced with rocks and their role would have been fulfilled just the same. I think it’s nice to have a unified aesthetic in a game, and making all of the characters be hooded black mages from Final Fantasy isn’t inherently a bad choice, but it does make every character a bit forgettable since no extra effort was taken to make them stand out with personality. Frankly it doesn’t matter whether they all look the same or not, any game with this much emphasis on themes like unity, family, and normalcy needs to have characters that stand out because of their behaviors – both towards the player and toward each other – rather than being shallow figures with no personality. Unbound: Worlds Apart seems very proud of its lore and world, but it doesn’t do a great job conveying any reason for me to care about any of it. There’s a cute ferret that you meet in the game’s intro that follows you around as you progress, but it mostly spouts out platitudes and cliches, and the only reason it’s memorable is because it’s not just another black mage. Maybe instead of the villagers giving you sentences of lore out of context, they could give a sentence about why they’re happy you saved them at all, maybe what their aspirations are, or something that makes them stand out. That lore can be dumped on you by the villager who tasked you with finding the others in the first place as you collect more villagers. Maybe there could be a trust issue as a reason why he doesn’t just tell you everything. You know, make it personal. It’s not like the out of context sentences provide anything useful to the player until they get back to the town anyway. In spite of Unbound having some great platforming sections and an unforgettable core mechanic, the theming that supports those features is ironically pretty forgettable.

With so much competition out there, Unbound: Worlds Apart does manage to stand out pretty strong. It has some great platforming even if it is a bit of a slow burn to get there for veteran players. As someone who’s played a ton of action platformers I generally feel that not every game has to be a white knuckle affair; the occasional low difficulty game with clever ideas fits right into what I enjoy. I especially enjoy games that manage avoid combat entirely, at least once in a while. The worlds apart portal gimmick can often be very unique, and will likely keep you engaged with challenges you hadn’t previously imagined. Unbound: Worlds Apart works great as a general introductory game that anyone can get into, but it lacks the flair it needs to appeal to its potentially wider audience. The theming and narrative isn’t “bad”, it’s just a bit too focused on details that aren’t that relatable. It’s this factor along with its platforming sometimes feeling a bit too loaded with fluff that I hesitate to rate this game as “great.” If you’re just looking for something cozy to relax with however, you really can’t go wrong with Unbound: Worlds Apart.


Final Score

3.5/5

Scoring system overview


Metroidvania Breakdown

Combat
– 2

There is no traditional combat in this game, which is actually quite refreshing

Platforming
– 4

The platforming is relatively slow compared to its competitors, but it's kept interesting by all of the gimmicks that are mixed into the gameplay

Exploration
– 3

Most ''difficult'' exploration is tied to optional lore collectables. Anywhere you need to progress is pretty clearly marked on your map.

Puzzle
– 3

Very occasionally the puzzle platforming becomes spatial reasoning puzzles, but it's never anything too complex

Story
– 2.5

Unbound: Worlds Apart has a lot of text and not a whole lot of character which makes it a bit difficult to stay invested

Graphics
– 4.5

The backgrounds and sprites are all gorgeous, and especially impressive given most areas have two distinct looks that you shift between

Music
– 4

While the music is mostly forgettable, it's beautiful and always appropriate

Replayability
– 2.5

Unbounds short play time makes it a bit easier to try and route for self imposed challenges like speedrunning but as for actual replay features it doesn't have any at the time of writing


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