Developer: Game Oven
Platforms: iOS, Android
Price: $3.79/$4.99
07 November 2014

Shall We Dance?

I have two left feet. I am actually so bad at dancing that people who’ve seen me attempt it before don’t even need my twice-dislocated knee as an excuse for me not to dance. Really, I’m only an acceptable dancer when I have enough gin and tonics in me and the rest of the room, furniture included, is also sufficiently inebriated. Which brings us to Bounden, a game meant to guide you to dance. It’s quite simple: The game requires two players who hold opposite ends of their smartphone, thumbs pressed down in the required space, and using the accelerometer the duo must move the phone in sync to navigate the cursor on-screen through a series of checkpoints. What makes this game unique, though, is its use of music, rhythm, and need for exaggerated but elegant movements.

Sofia Rubio Robles and Thomas van Damme play Aztec

Sofia Rubio Robles and Thomas van Damme play Aztec

Working in tandem with the Dutch National Ballet, Game Oven’s use of music and movement mechanics, choreographed by Ernst Meisner, elevates Bounden to something more than a version of Twister for smartphones. The levels have varying degrees of difficulty that require you to lift, pivot, and even twirl to make sure you hit every checkpoint, with the opening tutorial giving you a surprisingly in-depth view of the mechanics. As well as that, the accompanying score by Bart Delissen flows brilliantly with the design, and not merely acting as a superfluous background piece. With Bounden letting you practice each choreographed segment of each routine, you quickly realise just how much the beat and tempo of the music should be guiding you.


Bounden Gameplay

Gameplay from Slices, the last level unlocked

With Valentine’s day drawing near, at the time of writing this, it hit me how lovely Bounden is to play with someone you’re close to. It can be very frustrating at first, both me and my girlfriend are horribly uncoordinated, but that’s part of the fun. You get to fumble and trip and make yourself dizzy together as one. It essentially is a dance class you can take in the privacy of your own home, and for a lot of relationships seeking that sort of experience, minus the cost of classes and scheduling conflicts, I think that’s very valuable. It’s affordable, intuitive, and a real delight.

I can also see this as a fantastic party game. There’s a lot of humour and joy in watching two people, maybe even complete strangers to one another, be thrown into a situation which requires co-operation to solve. Especially for those of you out there who aren’t trained dancers or have no confidence in your ability to move about gracefully, this is a great game to play because it strips away any sort of hang-ups you may have. It breaks you out of your shell with another person, but in a gentle and inviting manner.

Be warned though, it’s quite a workout of a game. Each level after the first couple comes with a YouTube video of the Dutch National Ballet performing the routine on an iPhone, which demonstrates the level of detail Game Oven went to, but also illustrates that these are essentially dance routines that require concentration and some amount of stamina. Prepare to sweat.

Dips and Lifts

I really quite like Bounden, it’s an interesting game and concept that has a beautiful art style as well as intuitive design plus staggeringly impressive amount of work put into it with the choreography and music. It’s another entry in a larger category of games that I’ve seen emerge more and more lately, goal-oriented cooperative play. It’s not just FPSes and RPGs where the two or more players just blaze through a game with guns or spells, but more figuring out puzzles that specifically require two people working side-by-side and sometimes simultaneously. It’s a more subtle, slower, sometimes more frustrating way of working together that doesn’t necessarily rely on twitch reflexes or a deep knowledge of complex skills and systems.

Octodad Local Co-op

Octodad multiplayer in a nutshell

You have games like Journey where you stumble across players randomly in the world, who you can team up with using only musical chimes as a form of communication. Then there’s Octodad: Dadliest Catch, with the cooperative option in the game letting up to four players control each of Octodad’s four limbs. You also have Override, a Steam Greenlight title that puts four players into a giant mech who must then work together to not only destroy the monster enemies, but also not destroy the city in the process.

Compared to those titles, though, I feel like Bounden does require a lot more physical effort. You need someone to be there in-person to play it with you, and each routine does take a lot out of your average person. I’m also unsure of Bounden’s accessibility extending to those who are not fully able-bodied. While physically integrated dance has grown as a movement celebrating disabilities in the art, the game obviously was not designed with that in mind. However I am no authority on this matter, since I have no physical disabilities that prevent me from any day-to-day activities or anything like this game, but I feel it is definitely something to consider.

Altogether, I do recommend Bounden. It’s lovely and easy to understand, and for such an affordable price you’ll get a lot of mileage out of it especially if you’re in a relationship. Find the time to get tangled up in someone else’s arms with nothing but a phone, some music, and your own shared exasperated sighs and laughter.