When the iPhone was first unveiled by Steve Jobs during the Macworld 2007 keynote, most of the people in attendance stared in slackjawed amazement.  During those two hours we were exposed to perhaps the most innovative mobile device ever created.  So much cutting edge technology all wrapped up in a multitouch / accelerometer-based package.  And when, a year later, Apple announced the freely available iPhone SDK, it was immediately clear that what we'd seen from the iPhone so far was just the tip of the iceberg.  And my first thoughts?  Gaming--and no surprise.

We knew then that amazing things were to come... And they have.  There are currently over 20,000 applications in the iTunes App Store--a large number of them games.  And while, true, many (most?) aren't particularly noteworthy, there are some true gems out there.  But of those precious gems, which shone the brightest?  Which best utilized the iPhone's unique combination of controls?  That was a hard question to answer.  A hard question to answer--until Secret Exit's Zen Bound [App Store] made its debut.

I usually save the overall assessment until the end of the review.  But I will go ahead and say it up front: Zen Bound is the most polished and ideally suited game created for the iPhone platform.

Zen Bound involves wrapping various shapes of stone and wood--blocks, whales, birds, and the like--in a paint-soaked rope in order to, as completely as possible, cover them with paint.  It sounds like a basic and perhaps bland proposition, frankly.  But as Secret Exit suggests, it's a calm and meditative experience.  And I can tell you--not a boring one.

The game features 51 levels across two different paths: Tree of Reflection and Tree of Challenge.  The former consists of animal shapes, the latter more basic geometric objects.  Both routes present the player with a tree that winds its way upwards, adorned with a variety of shape symbols, punctuated by lanterns.  Selecting a shape symbol brings forth the indicate 3D object to be wrapped with rope.  Each lantern is marked with a number that indicates how many flowers must be acquired in order to light the shapes above it.  It is possible to achieve up to three flowers per object, depending on the percentage of the object that you are able to cover in paint.  (To achieve three flowers requires 99% coverage.)

Each object presented is shown suspended in mid-air in front of a backdrop.  The graphics quality of everything onscreen--object, backdrop, rope, and lighting--is superb.  The objects look very realistic and exhibit high quality texture filtering and glass-smooth animation.  The game presents some of the best graphics I've ever seen on the iPhone.  A soothing audio track plays throughout with realistic rope creaking sounds that add greatly to the overall experience.  The game features binaural audio processing that, when used with headphones, creates an enveloping soundscape that is truly immersive.

When we inquired into the game's release date with Secret Exit back in January, they underscored the fact that they were more focused on polish as opposed to the earliest release date with Zen Bound.  And while screenshots and gameplay videos clearly demonstrate the high level of polish to the game's visuals, what's less easily noted is just how well the touchscreen controls have been implemented.  The onscreen wooden objects can be smoothly rotated in any direction with a single-finger swipe and can be spun radially with two fingers.  The angle of the rope is determined by the orientation of the iPhone.  This all comes together to provide a control system that is, in a word, perfect--it truly makes you feel like you're rotating an actual object in 3D space.

Zen Bound really does cause you to get "lost" in a play session.  And the more you play, the easier it is to become fully engrossed, thanks to the increase in skill that comes with experience.  And while a PC version of the game exists, its control setup is nothing compared to that of the iPhone version.  It's really an iPhone exclusive.  I've found myself holding my iPhone at a distance during gameplay on the daily subway commute so that bystanders might see it, so impressive are its visuals and gameplay mechanics.

Gameplay video by iPodTouchLab:

Any reader who finds some degree of appeal to what I've just described owes it to him or herself to download Zen Bound and spend some quality time with it.  It's a wonderful game that perfectly exemplifies just what the iPhone is capable of as a game platform.  I can't recommend it highly enough.

Game Details
Name: Zen Bound (v1.0) Price: $4.99 [Buy]
Developer: Secret Exit / Chillingo Size: 37.8 MB
Device: Tested on iPhone 3G
Zen Bound is a meditative game involving wrapping objects of wood and stone with rope.  It has an appeal that's hard to describe and is the perfect demonstration of what iPhone gaming can be.

Secret Exit and a dozen other companies are presently sponsors of this site, but that does not affect our choice of coverage or influence our review. We simply love this game.

TouchArcade Rating

StarStarStarStarStar
  • DonBurns99

    I can easily say this game lives up to my personal expectations and so far beyond, this is perfection.

  • DonBurns99

    I can easily say this game lives up to my personal expectations and so far beyond, this is perfection.

  • polyplay

    A great review for a great game. This is the way iPhone games were meant to be!

  • polyplay

    A great review for a great game. This is the way iPhone games were meant to be!

  • Hkiphone

    That was a great review of this game and fully deserving it's accolades.

    However, I would just say to those who are brought up on fighting or shooting games only, driving by adrenaline only, do NOT buy this.
    I can't stand to see such great games get trashed on App Store reviews with a one star comment saying "Dumb. All you do is wrap string around wood."!!!!!
    That's what it's all about!!! Don't tell me you were expecting machine guns to shoot it down??? Gets me so angry.......

  • Hkiphone

    That was a great review of this game and fully deserving it's accolades.

    However, I would just say to those who are brought up on fighting or shooting games only, driving by adrenaline only, do NOT buy this.
    I can't stand to see such great games get trashed on App Store reviews with a one star comment saying "Dumb. All you do is wrap string around wood."!!!!!
    That's what it's all about!!! Don't tell me you were expecting machine guns to shoot it down??? Gets me so angry.......

  • mavis

    Thanks for the thorough review and THANK YOU for the disclaimer at the end. I really think you guys need to keep us lowly readers informed about any possible conflict of interests with your reviews, and the disclaimer here was greatly appreciated.

    That said, the game sounds stellar. I'll be buying it as soon as I can find some wifi. :)

  • mavis

    Thanks for the thorough review and THANK YOU for the disclaimer at the end. I really think you guys need to keep us lowly readers informed about any possible conflict of interests with your reviews, and the disclaimer here was greatly appreciated.

    That said, the game sounds stellar. I'll be buying it as soon as I can find some wifi. :)

  • dave

    great game. the reviews of the game are really very consistent in their praise.
    I only wish the iphone had higher screen resolution for these beautiful visuals

  • dave

    great game. the reviews of the game are really very consistent in their praise.
    I only wish the iphone had higher screen resolution for these beautiful visuals

  • Rohan Dalal

    can someone please explain to me whats the big deal to this game?

  • Rohan Dalal

    can someone please explain to me whats the big deal to this game?

  • Eric5h5

    The review already explained what the big deal is.

  • Eric5h5

    The review already explained what the big deal is.

  • Presnter

    This game sucks (1-star) for the following reasons:

    * No goal or action - I want to see explosions and crunching punches, enemies flying, and blood smeared across the screen.

    * This game is not like Monkey Ball - monkey ball is so much fun and this game is not.

    * No multiplayer - the iphone has wifi for a reason, use it. The game needs more enemies and I want to play with my friends.

    * Music and sounds suck - The music is just gay and outdated. Where 's the heavy death rock metal music?

    * I can't show this to friends - The funny thing about fart apps is the group can all have fun with it.

    * No high scores - What's the point of going up through the levels if there's no global high score list to compare my skills with?

    * I just hate it when one person hacks up something and call it a game and sells it for $4.99. I wouldn't even download this if it were free.

    :)

    • Jason

      Don't forget the zombies with laser beams that you decapitate with the string...

  • Presnter

    This game sucks (1-star) for the following reasons:

    * No goal or action - I want to see explosions and crunching punches, enemies flying, and blood smeared across the screen.

    * This game is not like Monkey Ball - monkey ball is so much fun and this game is not.

    * No multiplayer - the iphone has wifi for a reason, use it. The game needs more enemies and I want to play with my friends.

    * Music and sounds suck - The music is just gay and outdated. Where 's the heavy death rock metal music?

    * I can't show this to friends - The funny thing about fart apps is the group can all have fun with it.

    * No high scores - What's the point of going up through the levels if there's no global high score list to compare my skills with?

    * I just hate it when one person hacks up something and call it a game and sells it for $4.99. I wouldn't even download this if it were free.

    :)

    • Jason

      Don't forget the zombies with laser beams that you decapitate with the string...

  • ReDStaR

    I have the game, it's not my favorite game but the review was spot on.

    I didn't understand the x-plane craze either, but it's a sim and thats it. No guns nothing. I just could get on the rolando bus either, and while sway made me giggle, it's still to adolecent for my taste.

    So the "big deal" (and it was hard for me at first too) is that for the puzzle genre in the appstore this game is the best in immersive (get lost in thought) gamplay.....and quite possibly the whole store.

    Yes it's simple, and it doesn't boast a lot of high octane.
    So it's simplicity is what makes it beautiful not to mention it's graphical detail. Combine that with the perfect control scheme and hypnotic music and you got a near little package that can melt Siberia.

    No glitches, no missing sections no hiccups. It's pretty damn complete.

    I think thats the "big deal"
    no hype just a pefect game and proper do's being payed

  • ReDStaR

    I have the game, it's not my favorite game but the review was spot on.

    I didn't understand the x-plane craze either, but it's a sim and thats it. No guns nothing. I just could get on the rolando bus either, and while sway made me giggle, it's still to adolecent for my taste.

    So the "big deal" (and it was hard for me at first too) is that for the puzzle genre in the appstore this game is the best in immersive (get lost in thought) gamplay.....and quite possibly the whole store.

    Yes it's simple, and it doesn't boast a lot of high octane.
    So it's simplicity is what makes it beautiful not to mention it's graphical detail. Combine that with the perfect control scheme and hypnotic music and you got a near little package that can melt Siberia.

    No glitches, no missing sections no hiccups. It's pretty damn complete.

    I think thats the "big deal"
    no hype just a pefect game and proper do's being payed

  • matt1308

    mine opens fine, starts, fine, can be used, fine... until you actually try and start a level WTF, i'm resyncing and trying again

  • matt1308

    mine opens fine, starts, fine, can be used, fine... until you actually try and start a level WTF, i'm resyncing and trying again

  • Man of Mystery

    ^^presnter i realllyyyy hope you're just doing that to be a jerk, if not i feel sorry for you ):

    i agree with ^ except for the first (2nd really) paragraph, as i enjoy all the games mentioned

  • Man of Mystery

    ^^presnter i realllyyyy hope you're just doing that to be a jerk, if not i feel sorry for you ):

    i agree with ^ except for the first (2nd really) paragraph, as i enjoy all the games mentioned

  • Flopsy

    I really think Presnter was being sarcastic :)

  • Flopsy

    I really think Presnter was being sarcastic :)

  • Bookabisco

    This game is truly the climax of iphone apps/games so far. A flawlessly executed inovative meditative perfection. Thank you for reminding me why i own an iphone.

    If you dont like this game you have no brain

  • Bookabisco

    This game is truly the climax of iphone apps/games so far. A flawlessly executed inovative meditative perfection. Thank you for reminding me why i own an iphone.

    If you dont like this game you have no brain

  • http://www.visionaryart.biz nanokiwi

    i haven't played the game long
    but i can say that here we have a masterpiece
    a defining experience for the itouch that only the likes of
    supermonkeyball, snailmail, fastlane and rolando can match
    all hail zenbound!
    all hail plankton!

  • http://www.visionaryart.biz nanokiwi

    i haven't played the game long
    but i can say that here we have a masterpiece
    a defining experience for the itouch that only the likes of
    supermonkeyball, snailmail, fastlane and rolando can match
    all hail zenbound!
    all hail plankton!

  • http://waxy.org/ Andy Baio

    Hands-down best game for the iPhone. The review explains it perfectly, thank you.

  • http://waxy.org/ Andy Baio

    Hands-down best game for the iPhone. The review explains it perfectly, thank you.

  • Future777

    Secret Exit did a great job with this. Kudos to the whole team!

  • Future777

    Secret Exit did a great job with this. Kudos to the whole team!

  • http://heiseheise.com Zach

    Well, I was looking forward to buying this game (have been for the past 3 months) but thanks to Apple changing their ToS so that those of us with American credit cards but not currently IN america can't buy apps or music or do anything with the app store....well then.

    I don't think I've been this angry with Apple as a company for a long time. No, it was probably when they took Firewire of of iPods, that was the last time.

    I'll have to live vicariously through you guys...

  • http://heiseheise.com Zach

    Well, I was looking forward to buying this game (have been for the past 3 months) but thanks to Apple changing their ToS so that those of us with American credit cards but not currently IN america can't buy apps or music or do anything with the app store....well then.

    I don't think I've been this angry with Apple as a company for a long time. No, it was probably when they took Firewire of of iPods, that was the last time.

    I'll have to live vicariously through you guys...

  • aen

    i love to play it in bed before sleeping (amongst almost any other possible occasion).

  • aen

    i love to play it in bed before sleeping (amongst almost any other possible occasion).

  • http://www.mavisxp.com mavis

    @Zach: odd, I haven't had any problems (American in Japan) ... Of course I use gift cards ... Maybe that's it?

  • http://www.mavisxp.com mavis

    @Zach: odd, I haven't had any problems (American in Japan) ... Of course I use gift cards ... Maybe that's it?

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  • http://ilans.pl shpyo

    yup, game is amazing, music also. everyone should try this game!

  • http://ilans.pl shpyo

    yup, game is amazing, music also. everyone should try this game!

  • http://www.fftrealm.com Noah

    The "goal" is clearly marked in each stage... 70%, 85%, 99%.

    My personal goal is to get 100% in every level. I'm doing well so far :)

  • http://www.fftrealm.com Noah

    The "goal" is clearly marked in each stage... 70%, 85%, 99%.

    My personal goal is to get 100% in every level. I'm doing well so far :)

  • http://www.metroccolis.com your personal robot

    The graphics are STUNNING.
    The sound is STUNNING.
    The Gameplay is fantastic.
    This is pure iPhone perfection!

  • http://www.metroccolis.com your personal robot

    The graphics are STUNNING.
    The sound is STUNNING.
    The Gameplay is fantastic.
    This is pure iPhone perfection!

  • http://www.thequartermexican.com chase

    i have become addicted to this game. it's very immersive and fun.
    i will say it's a little frustrating when i am at like, 75% complete and accidentally hit the glowing nail, thus ending it. i guess that's part of the challenge though...

    but my BIG question is: in the video, where did the tree of nostalgia come from? is that something that's unlocked after you finish both trees or something??

  • http://www.thequartermexican.com chase

    i have become addicted to this game. it's very immersive and fun.
    i will say it's a little frustrating when i am at like, 75% complete and accidentally hit the glowing nail, thus ending it. i guess that's part of the challenge though...

    but my BIG question is: in the video, where did the tree of nostalgia come from? is that something that's unlocked after you finish both trees or something??

  • hafiz

    prestner...hahaha reeeeeally funny but i hope he isnt THAT stupid as he uses to be

  • hafiz

    prestner...hahaha reeeeeally funny but i hope he isnt THAT stupid as he uses to be

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  • Lix

    So, when it says on the page before this one "Only on iphone" does that mean they won't work on the ipod touch? I'm confused....

  • Lix

    So, when it says on the page before this one "Only on iphone" does that mean they won't work on the ipod touch? I'm confused....

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    .. dang, can't seem to come across it now but as I was reading the submissions following that one seriously connective one I thought to myself, "Self, you should comment on this dudes website. But not this weblog post the following one." And here I am. Hope to get a lot more shares from you in the future! google search engine optimization

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