Crispy Gamer

Games for Lunch: Zen Bound

Zen Bound

Developer: Secret Exit

Publisher: Chillingo

Release Date: Feb. 24, 2009

System: iPod Touch/iPhone

ESRB Rating: N/A

Official Web site

0:00 When I first asked my friends and colleagues for game recommendations for my new iPod Touch, quite a few people mentioned this one. I'm looking forward to a game that doesn't require much attention or cause much stress.

0:01 The game says it's "designed for headphones," so I spend a minute digging up some ratty old earbuds. Wow ... the trippy music really does sounds a lot better echoing directly through my skull.

0:02 "Zen Bound is a game about slowing down and letting things happen at their own pace." I could use a game like that after a stressful tax season, let me tell you. Apparently I'll be painting structures by wrapping them with rope. Er ... that's not how painting works? Is it? I've never really painted...

0:02 I start with the "Tree of Reflection" because it sounds more, um, reflective than the "Tree of Challenge."

0:04 Immediately I'm impressed with the detailed 3-D graphics. The wooden block has a nice, convincing grain to it, and the tiny iPod handles the full 3-D animation with minimal jumpiness. I'm also digging the interface -- flicking my thumb to rotate the block, tilting the iPod to change the rope direction. It only takes 12.4 of the available 25 meters of rope to get the simple block 100-percent painted with a spiraling rope pattern. The game makes a strong, unique first impression.

0:06 Level 2 is a blocky wooden bunny, with a lot more crevices to get the rope caught in. I use this to my advantage, tucking the rope under his chin and through his legs. I quickly work up to 88-percent painted, then I accidentally end the level when I touch the rope to a flashing nail. My inner completist knows I could have gotten 100 percent, but the rest of me just wants to move on.

0:10 Level 3 is a dark wooden wolf. I spend a few minutes just rotating it in my thumbs, planning out the best method to cover it. The interface makes this incredibly easy -- it's like I'm really holding the thing in my hand. This feels like the future of gaming interfaces ... it really does.

0:13 The rope is actually getting in its own way when I cross over myself, raising up off the wood and preventing me from painting portions of the wood. The way it catches and snaps on the corners feels incredibly realistic, despite some frame rate sputtering on the part of the iPod. Kudos to whoever designed the physics engine.

0:15 Level 4 is all about tying up a wooden turtle. It just occurred to me that the steampunk/bondage/furry fetishists must LOVE this game.

0:17 The key to tying up a turtle completely is catching the rope around on the legs and neck. Good to know!

0:19 I'm glad I'm alone right now, because I'm sure I look quite mad with the way I'm tilting and tapping the iPod all about. Then again, I've played WarioWare: Twisted! on a crowded train, so I obviously don't care what strangers think of me.

0:22 Level 5's elephant goes down after being 89-percent covered in paint. I'm beginning to develop what I think is a semi-coherent strategy of spiraling to minimize rope use while maximizing painting. Working pretty well so far.

0:28 I'm 99-percent done with Level 6's crocodile when a large portion of my rope structure unravels with a snap. I guess I didn't catch on that corner well enough. No worries -- this time I use a simple cross knot to hold the rope in place.

0:32 I find myself making constant tiny adjustments to the camera angle so I can see the rope in relation to the wooden block. In most other games this would be a chore. With the intuitive interface here, it feels perfectly natural.

0:34 I believe this is the first game that has ever required me to make plans plan for rope cross-tension.

0:36 In Level 7 I have to slowly work the rope into a tiny gap to wrap it around a cat's tail. At first it looks like it'll be impossible, but enough fiddling with the position of the rope and block and it slides in there naturally. Nice!

0:37 My only pet peeve remains the end-point nail, which I keep accidentally getting caught on, ending the level prematurely. Why can't a menu pop up asking if I really want to stop?

0:38 After totally wrapping up that cat, I move on to the Tree of Challenge to see if this is going to get any harder or just remain an entertaining, relaxing trifle.

0:41 The first Challenge stage isn't all that challenging ... just a simple cement L-block. The only hard part comes at the end, when I realize a taut section of rope is blocking me from reaching the end. I eventually finagle a way around it, but the resulting twistings reduce my completion percentage from 99-percent to 98-percent. The completist inside me grumbles at this.

0:47 Challenge Level 2 is a stone stair that I conquer with a simple cross-stitch pattern. I'm not really impressed with these "Challenge" levels so far, I must say.

0:51 The third Challenge level gives me a record 100 meters of rope to hang myself. I run into some trouble crossing over my line too much, blocking my rope from hitting the block as it comes back around the thick sides. After trying to get those last few percentage points for many a minute, I settle for a 98 percent again. Stop grumbling, inner completist!

0:56 Level 4, named Protuberance, adds a small, er, protuberance to the L-block. It takes some real finesse to get the rope wrapped around it just so, in a way that won't interfere with my future wrapping. After that, though, it's easy to get 100 percent with a simple spiral shape.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.

Why? It's beautiful, intuitive, relaxing and utterly unique. What's not to like?

This column is based on a downloadable version of the game purchased by the columnist.

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