Arriving on Xbox on an unconfirmed date in 2021, Unbound: Worlds Apart is a Metroidvania that comes from reliable publishers Digerati (Sunless Sea, Tower of Time) and newbie developers Alien Pixel Studios.
We were pretty dazzled by screenies and trailers of Unbound: Worlds Apart, and initial PC and Switch reviews were promising (Unbound has been live on PC and Switch since July), so we pressed Alien Pixel Studios to give us a preview copy on Switch. Having played in Unbound’s world for a half-dozen hours, we can safely say that it’s worth a slot on your watchlist. Why should you be interested? Let this listicle enlighten you!
It’s a spiritual successor to Ori
If there’s a game that Unbound: Worlds Apart feels most like, it’s the Ori series. There are certainly far worse series to share a space with.
This is a beautiful, natural world that’s lived in peace for centuries. But when a demonic portal is opened in the centre of a village, corruption and spiky ne’er-do-wells pour out. You play a wee wizard called Soli, and you trek across this landscape trying to find the villagers and return the world to normalcy.
The contrast of beauty and darkness was very much Ori’s bag too. Unbound: Worlds Apart also leans on the structure of Ori also, as you’re very much given the freedom to explore the world as you see fit. You are given a vast map, with the ability to fast-travel to areas within it, and the only thing stopping you from trekking in a singular direction is the abilities you have. This is every bit the Metroidvania.
It thinks with portals
Enemies weren’t the only things that came through the portal. Soli was given the ability to use portal magic, which at least gives you a fighting chance against the bad guys.
Rather than be your conventional Metroid power-ups, these portals are superb. They all share a common mechanic: you can travel to a mirror dimension that exists as a large circle around your character. What that mirror dimension does is dependent on your abilities: it can slow down time, it can flip gravity, or it can make platforms appear or disappear, and those are just the ones we’ve come across in our time with the game.
This interplay between the real world and demon world is inspired. You’re not changing the whole world: you are changing a bubble within it, and that creates puzzles as you bring enemies, platforms and more with you into the mirror world.
It doesn’t think you’re stupid
Perhaps the most refreshing thing about Unbound: Worlds Apart is how much it thinks of you. This isn’t a harsh or overly difficult game, but it’s devious. You have to puzzle out what is required of you, and pull off reasonably challenging feats to complete them.
This is a cerebral game, and the lack of guidance might push you to the odd walkthrough. But generally, this is a game that expects a lot from you, and that was a dropped-gauntlet and challenge that we were willing to accept. When games seem to aim for the extremes, either easy or punishingly hard, it’s nice to land in the middle.
It’s solving the Switch version’s greatest flaw
Read reviews of the Switch release, and the greatest shade being thrown at Unbound: Worlds Apart is a drop in frame rate. Just as things get tasty with multiple enemies, the game stutters.
Scanning forums around Unbound, the frame rate is being addressed for the Xbox release, so we can take pride in knowing that our version will be optimal.
It looks like Orko’s adventures in Rayman world
But the overriding feeling coming from Unbound: Worlds Apart is how great it looks. It’s a minor miracle that this is coming from a fledgling studio, as it looks and sounds stunning. While there’s plenty of Ori in the natural landscapes, there’s a large dollop of Rayman Legends too. It’s there in the gruesome creatures, all brambles and eyes, and it’s in the tactility of the world, as you want to reach in and pull down its giant levers. This is an impressive looking game.
It may not share the over-the-top humour with Rayman Legends, but it’s just as imaginative.
We’d love to tell you when Unbound: Worlds Apart lands on Xbox, but no details have been revealed right now. Just know that we’ll give it the traditional TheXboxHub shakedown and review when it does. Now excuse us as we jump back in to our preview copy. Massive thanks once again go out to Alien Pixel Studios for handing us some access.