Zen Bound Hands-On Impressions

We’ve learned via email from Secret Exit that Zen Bound is expected to release this Friday, Feb. 20th, at a price point of $4.99. As a further bonus, everyone who purchases Zen Bound will get the game’s soundtrack as a free download!

Pretty awesome news on all three counts. We are very excited about Zen Bound, and will be posting our review ASAP after the game launches on Friday.

We’ve been playing a Beta version of Secret Exit’s upcoming spatial puzzle game, Zen Bound, for the last week or so. We can’t wait for this game to be finished, because we think it has the potential to be even better than SPiN!

Helsinki-based Secret Exit seems to like making games that involve free rotation of 3D objects. This was the main mechanic in SPiN, and it appears again at the center of Zen Bound, which uses a similar two-fingered control scheme for rapidly flipping, rolling, and turning stuff. One difference in Zen Bound is that you now have complete, 360 degree control over how the object moves. It’s no longer in 90 degree increments.

Another big difference, of course, involves the object of the game: you’re wrapping the object in string, instead of trying to slot it into a silhouette. As you turn the object, the string automatically pulls taut, so you have very fine-toothed control over where it’s going. This is useful for threading the string into narrow crevasses or other hard-to-reach areas. When the string encounters the surface of the object, it “paints” the area with a texture to show that it’s been covered. The objects all take the form of wooden statuettes, and the dynamic application of these textures looks extremely cool–if you lay down some string and then decide to pick it back up to place it elsewhere, the texture will lift off along with the string. When you’re ready to end a level, you touch the string to an “ending nail,” which ties it off and sends you back to the level select screen.

Zen Bound takes its Zen theme seriously. Each level has a one-word name accounting for an aspect of Zen practice, like Solitude, Obedience, Humility, and Habituation, to name a few. Meanwhile, the level select screen takes the form of a tree adorned with tags and Japanese lanterns, where each tag represents a level. There are three different score thresholds for each level: painting 70%, 85%, or 99% of an object earns you one, two, or three flowers, which bloom on the tree after the level’s completed. The first two scores aren’t usually very difficult to hit, but earning 99% can be quite challenging, because your string increasingly gets in its own way. New groups of levels open up when you earn a certain number of flowers, allowing you to gradually climb up the tree. It’s a nifty visual metaphor for the patient nature of Zen meditation.

The game’s strikingly dark visuals are very cool, but our favorite aspect of the presentation is the sound design. Zen Bound has been billed as a “chill-out game,” and we think that’s a pretty accurate label; ambient gongs, chimes, and wind blend into the down-tempo shoegaze music to create a truly relaxing, meditative experience.

Zen Bound has some polishing yet to go before it makes it to the App Store–many aspects of the build we played weren’t final, including the level count and textures–but it’s already a very unique and addictive play. In our view, this Beta proves that Secret Exit’s success with SPiN was no fluke; this is one of the more talented developers around.

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