Zen Bound review
Ever since the Apple App Store launched, the iPhone (and iPod touch) has become a pseudo-handheld console. All we've needed are the killer games. Zen Bound from Chillingo may be the first of many exclusive iPhone games that catapult the device into the same arena as the Sony PSP and Nintendo DS.
The iPhone is fundamentally different to most other game consoles because of its multi-touch screen, accelerometer and lack of buttons. The swathe of terrible racing games available that involve tilting for steering is testament to how shoe-horning traditional games into new control methods doesn't necessarily work. Now the iPhone is an established platform, we're starting to see games that have been designed specifically for the iPhone, and Zen Bound is one of the first to use all of the iPhone's unique control features in an organic and natural way.
Zen Bound is a puzzle game, but it's not like any other puzzle game ever made. So what does it involve? Well, you have a wooden block carved into a shape (often animals, but also geometric shapes); the piece of wood has a length of rope attached to it and a nail sticking out. The idea is that you spin the piece of wood to wrap the rope around it; as the rope wraps around the block it changes colour, cover enough of the block and touch the rope to the nail to get to the next level. Like all puzzle games it plays better than it sounds (try describing Tetris, for example).
Where it gets tricky is when you've wrapped the rope around a shape and it starts to block off other areas. As the rope gets increasingly tangled you may find yourself unable to paint the requisite 75 per cent to continue.
The aforementioned controls make the game. You spin the wooden block with your fingers, and rotate it by tilting the phone. It's completely intuitive.
The lack of pressure is also refreshing. Most puzzle games involve dealing with an increasingly heavy workload until it overwhelms you and the game is over (these are often referred to as ‘falling s**t’ games). In Zen Bound there are no time limits so you can relax and think about the puzzle in front of you – and some of them get intensely cerebral as you move up the levels.
There are two modes: Tree of Reflection, and Tree of Challenge. The Tree of Reflection has you wrapping infinite rope but gives a better rating for less rope; while the Tree of Challenge restricts the amount of rope you can use.
Finally, the graphics are very stylish and the sound is fantastic (very deep bass Chinese-style tunes), which makes it even more appealing.
Zen Bound is a staggeringly good game. But it's also a game that wouldn't be possible on any other system; it's designed specifically for the iPhone and plays brilliantly for it. Chillingo may well have developed the iPhone's first truly killer game. And it's only £2.99 – an absolute steal.