The premise of an alternate dimension shows up quite a bit in games and films these days. That makes sense, really. It’s endlessly interesting to consider other worlds where things might be just a little bit different – or maybe other worlds where things were quite a bit different. The Beastie Boys really nailed the concept with their hit 1998 hit “Intergalactic,” where the group repeatedly repeats the phrase “another dimension.” A true masterpiece, that one. Anyway, Unbound: Worlds Apart takes the idea of multiple dimensions and uses it to tell a story that’s half fantasy, half horror and all rock-solid difficulty.
Soli’s part of a family living in a village of magic-users with the ability to create portals that lead to other worlds. When one of these portal rituals goes terribly wrong, Soli’s world ends up connected to that of a race of horrible demons. The demons come through, lay waste to the village and Soli’s family and set our protagonist on the run.
Soli’s not defenseless, though – they’re able to create a local portal in a circle around them, shifting the world and enemies into a different form in order to bypass obstacles. This can be both a good or a bad thing. At first, it seems helpful, since shifting might make obstacles vanish or create useful platforms. Shifted enemies might even turn into platforms or movable blocks themselves! Soli can use these advantages to proceed through each level, meeting villagers to expand the plot along the way.
Later, though, Unbound turns up the heat a little. Harmless critters might become vicious monsters when shifted, forcing you to carefully consider when and where you shift. Platforming might entail multiple midair shifts as you leap between ledges that don’t actually exist in one plane or another. You might even find yourself pursued by baddies when you shift, forcing you to hurry up in a situation that you thought was peaceful.
It’s fascinating how many times Unbound manages to surprise with a relatively simple mechanic; it’s also fascinating how tough the game can be, verging on frustration-platformer levels like the Meat Boy clones of old. You’ll want to come into this one expecting a challenge. Players who just check out the beautiful graphics and think they’re in for a cakewalk are in for a rude awakening.
Those graphics really are one of Unbound’s biggest selling points. It nails the sort of hand-drawn, fairy-tale aesthetic that you might expect to see from a storybook. By contrast, the demons Soli encounters are disturbingly bizarre. It can be somewhat shocking to encounter a Lovecraftian horror out of nowhere, especially given the placid feel of much of Unbound’s art.
Fans of puzzle platformers like the classic Braid are going to find a lot to love in Unbound: Worlds Apart. It might be a little tough for most, but as always, persistence tends to win the day. Making it through Soli’s beautiful-yet-terrifying world is certainly worth the effort, and Unbound never ceases to surprise with its dimension-hopping tricks.