Zen Bound iPhone, iPod Touch Review
It’s rare nowadays that you can safely say about a game “you’ve never played anything like this before.” But I feel with relative certainty that this statement could be applied to Zen Bound, a game that tasks the player with painting wooden objects by tying them up with rope.
I would say that Zen Bound defies description, but as I’m about to try and describe it to you, I won’t. Picture a tree. From its branches hang wooden tags, each with a picture on. Upon the Tree of Reflection the tags each have a picture of a creature, which represent the tasks set before you. Each task has the name of an emotion or virtue that is appropriate to that particular creature. For example a baby represents innocence, a crocodile is patience, a dog is obedience, a peacock is vanity, a snake is deception, a bear is courage, a lion is pride, and a unicorn is individuality. You get the idea.
Tapping any of these tags takes you to a close-up view of a wooden carving of that creature. There is a rope tied to a nail that has been hammered into this object, and wherever this rope touches the wood, paint will spread out from either side. Your goal is to colour the object as much as possible, using the limited length of rope at your disposal.
Once you’ve painted 70% of the object, a bell chimes indicating that you can choose to finish that task and move onto the next one. To end you must tie the rope to a second nail, but ideally you’ll push to 85% completion which sounds a second bell, and then 99% which rings a third and final bell.
For each bell that tolls, a flower will blossom on the level tree. There are also lanterns hanging from the tree at intervals up the trunk, and each lantern will be marked with a number. When that number of flowers has blossomed, the lantern will light, and you can progress further up the tree to attempt additional tasks.
The name Zen Bound is appropriate, as this is one of the most meditative gaming experiences to be found on any platform. There is no time pressure, no penalties for failure, no high scores. The soundtrack fits in perfectly with the serene gameplay, being a concoction of Buddhist chant-like humming notes, echoing percussion and ambient sounds that evoke the feeling of listening to a wind chime in some tranquil woodland glade. The only sound effect is the creaking of the rope as you bind it tightly around some unfortunate animal.
The objects are rendered with such superb textures and lighting that when combined with the touch controls, Zen Bound is possibly the most tactile game on the iPhone. Objects are made from noticeably different types of wood, and later beasts are even fashioned from stone. The controls themselves are intuitively simple and effective, using one finger to rotate the object, and two fingers to spin it. You can even tilt the device to adjust the direction of the rope.
Despite the no-pressure, relaxing nature of the gameplay, some of the more complex levels can pose quite a challenge. Your rope cannot be threaded underneath itself, and you must be careful not to block future paths for the rope with your previous bindings. It can be difficult to paint in every nook and cranny to achieve that elusive third chime and blossom.
In addition to the Tree of Reflection, there is also a Tree of Challenge, which instead of featuring animalistic objects, simply challenges you with more abstract geometric blocks, with names such as Kombination, Protrusion and Konkave. The principal is the same however. There are now 77 ‘levels’ in total, meaning there are thrice that many flowers to be grown. Replay value can also be gained from trying to completely bind an object using the shortest length of rope, a record of which is kept for each level.
A recent update has added a third tree, the Tree of Nostalgia, which makes Zen Bound feel more like a journey than ever before. It begins with an alarm clock, then moves onto the Lantern of Childhood which unlocks toy cars, trains, planes, teddy bears and the Energizer Bunny. The Lantern of Old Days adds things such a gramaphone, a Zeppelin and the Titanic. The Lantern of Beyond is a section of ray-guns, robots, rockets and lunar rovers. And the excellent Bits & Pixels Lantern lets you wrap up a Space Invader, an arcade machine, a Donkey-Kong level and a Star Wars AT-ST among others. This kind of themed challenge adds even more depth to an already superb game.
Zen Bound is a highly original and unique title that makes the best of the features of its chosen platform. The presentation and execution of the gameplay is world class, and if for some reason £1.79 seems too much for a singular experience like this, then any self-respecting iPhone owner should at least try out the free Lite version.