When MBU retrospectively reviewed Deep Realms a short while ago it was with a heavy heart that a former Facebook classic would never make the jump to modern mobile devices. Beast Bound manages to prove that what may have worked as a Facebook Flash game doesn’t always make the best mechanics for on the go play.
Let’s get this out of the way nice and early, Beast Bound is the worst kind of freemium title with regular advertisements inserted to stop the game, a constant internet connection required at all times and a premium currency in place. The game makes no apologies for this and unlike titles such as Spellfall, which offers easy ways to work around it, Beast Bound feels tensed to pounce on unsuspecting gamers wallets. This would be forgivable were the core gameplay something amazing, but as you will discover, JB Gaming haven’t stretched themselves with this title.
Graphically the game is pleasant to look at using 2D artwork throughout. Elements such as the characters themselves can look a little ugly or uninspired however, and the basis of this seems to be that each character is created in pieces in order to facilitate a system where you can customise elements of your main character (male or female) to your choosing. There are some nice parts and pieces in this mix, but many are very much the options you’ve seen in every other light fantasy title. The fantasy world you inhabit is something of a generic mess early on, broken down into a square grid you must explore and largely taking place across expanses of green forest. Trees, bushes, rocks and boxes make up the landscape and bounce like jelly if pressed with an inquiring finger in a nice visual touch, but are repeated so many times they lose their appeal quickly. Some design elements, primarily your partner (serving as mouth piece for the mute protagonist) are lazy and plain ugly, with him appearing to be a fusion of Moogle and cow. Giant coins litter the landscape for collection and spin slowly in a straight take on the Mario style. The UI is clean and well-spaced for fingers however, and text is a good sixe for reading on even smaller model phones.
Music is honestly horrible in this title and playing with the sound on caused swearing and calls for it to be silenced when an attempt longer than three minutes was made. It’s fast paced, overly cheerful and mostly without a rhythm or tune to latch onto, making it feel like background filler from a ‘radical’ 90s platformer. Sound fares a little better but there are just too few samples used too many times for anything to stand out. Everything is crisp and recorded well, with makes the waste of a good soundtrack (normally a saving grace for a freemium title on the mobile market, where some lovely pieces are beginning to see the light of day) even less tolerable.
The story follows the principle character (you, a mute protagonist) and his or her partner as they attempt to make money, clear a mountain of debt and feed themselves. At the games outset you’re lying on the floor at the start of a dungeon without having eaten for almost a week, your partner berates you and forces you to get up and work if for no other reason than to fill your belly. This is where the game starts to come together because the writing and sense of debt that the player is under really works. Banter is normally funny and no too ‘wordy’, letting a few lines of dialogue paint the picture instead of burying the player in ten or eleven boxes full of poorly written text to the same effect. Characters you encounter are similarly funny, and some seem to have their own motivations and on-going journeys of their own. Piles of unpaid bills, empty pizza boxes and junk litter your home as well, a mute testament to the state of the character’s lives and a large portion of the games motivation is to get out there and clear things out, getting your monster hunting business working properly. There is a secondary plot concerning strange generators taking mana from the earth, but it takes longer to really get going. Overall the story elements of the game are a saving grace, but they are few and far between and usually bogged down in other elements or tutorials early in the title.
Gameplay is where the game feels most outdated and overly simple. When Facebook was young there was a certain formula that RPGs began to take to best fit the medium, and that template is exactly what Beast Bound reproduces for the mobile market. Exploration is free and can go on as long as you have the HP to keep moving, with battles enforced at regular intervals. You point-click your way through maps using your finger where you’d normally have used a mouse and the character walks to that position, collecting any coins he walks over along the way. Items also pop up and can be clicked to collect and NPCs or chests require approaching properly and triggering an icon over their heads. Everything in the world can be clicked and get feedback in the form of a small wobble, but no items or currency are going to fall out, taking the fun out of it quickly. Coming too close to a monster on the field triggers a battle, and subsequently removes them from play to allow more exploration on an area-by-area basis. Combat is extremely simple, with more than a touch of the Super Mario RPG flair to it. Clicking a monster in your action turn deals it damage, whilst clicking yourself in their action turn reduces or negates damage if done right. Potions you’ve made can be taken into battle and used but otherwise it’s a repeat-until-somebody-drops affair. New weapons can be equipped to better even these odds. Winning rewards money and sometimes an item, with the amount of money won in battles making collecting individual coins feel like a chore. Money can be used to pay off stacks of bills and clear much-needed space back in your home location, where much of the games systems can be found. Placing items and using them to create potions, become part of the global shopping network (item trading) and more are all ways in which the game seeks to extend its life by keeping you invested in improving that of the characters. For the most part this works, but there are a lot of stacks of bills to pay off, as well as garbage to remove, barriers to break and more, all requiring different items to clear out – or premium currency. It’s basically a dungeon crawler where your encouraged to come back and dump the loot from your excursion into upgrading your base, but the merits of doing so are so small it’s almost silly. Potions mix in real-time and again money can be paid to speed this up. Really the games’ biggest sin is a travelling salesman in the form of a ghost who pops up every two or three screens and forces – not offers you the option, forces – you to watch a trailer for another game before letting you play on. It kills any flow or sense of progression the game has going for it and grates, especially when the game makes a point of joking that you probably hate this kind of thing, as the characters in it do. This kind of forced start, stop play is something that only works between levels of platformers or as an optional event that the player can do to earn premium currency as seen in some other titles. That watching these videos repeatedly gives you nothing is the games’ biggest sin.
Beast Bound is a little too quick to mirror the Mario template with its spinning coins and combat prompts, but seems to have forgotten some of the things that make those titles fun. Attack the Light recently reimagined the Mario RPG template for iOS and Android systems so perfectly that the half-hearted nature of the system found here feels shallow, held up by a few social elements and the incentive to build more. Ultimately it’s not a good game, but the writing on show stops it from slipping into the depths of a 1 or 0 star title.