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You Have To Use The Rope: Zen Bound 2

There's something sinister about Zen Bound 2. I'm not really aware of how the original game came to spawn this sequel, but I'm imagining that was a bit sinister too. The reason for this is that Zen Bound is about binding things up with a rope. And the rope is very tight.

Some thoughts on this below.

Each of Zen Bound 2's levels consists in an inanimate, angular object, which has various pins stuck in it. There is a rope attached to a point on the object, and that rope spools up from the bottom of the screen as it is stretched over the object. The taut rope has to be wrapped around the object so has to hit a minimum target of coverage, usually involving the number of pins which must be tied, but also the amount of area which is "coloured" by the rope. You control the axes across which the object turns by dragging it either with left or right click (left turns purely in the direction you are dragging, while side to side on right-click rotates the object.)

What's interesting about this is that while on the one hand the undertones of bondage are a little disturbing, the game is actually deeply therapeutic. It's beautifully presented with a Japanese bonsai/orchid motif, and the "feel" of the rope stretching over the objects really works. It's quite palpable, perhaps because it was designed to work with touchscreens.

The evolving puzzle element of the game is strong, too. The escalation in difficult is entirely smooth across the various "trees" and there are 76 levels in total, and it's without time limit or anything else that might vex you. It's, well, zen-like. Each level pushes things up a little, making you aware of just where the object is being bound by the rope. As things get tougher you have to become more precise with your binding, finding the exact patterns that will hit your target while using a minimal amount of rope. And of course it's about figuring out an object in 3D dimensions, and exploring how a rope might hook over its contours. A little fetishistic, yes, but at least that means the rope physics are well developed. And, on consideration, there really aren't enough spatial puzzles out there, which is a surprise given how many decades we've been designing games in 3D, and this is an inventive, compelling idea, well executed.

It's only £3.49 on Steam, which seems about right, given the limitations of the thing. That said, I don't really see why it doesn't have a demo. A couple of levels would be perfect to let people see that the air of sinister rope use wears off quickly. Oh, well, here's the video.

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