Reviews: The Binding Of Isaac

Just One More Run, One More Floor, One More Reroll

I remember watching some of my favorite Youtubers and streamers play this game. When I realized that it was free in November 2014 for Vita owners, I downloaded it ASAP. Of course, I was hooked. Whether it was scraping by and hoping I'd get through the next room, flying through as Guppy and shooting exploding tears of doom, or using Undefined and repeating the Dark Room as long as I could, I was having fun for almost every bit of it. Players of the game probably know what bit wasn't fun, but thanks to being on Vita and being able to reload cloud saves, even that character wasn't too bad.

The huge number of possibilities with the item pool makes for a bunch of synergies that can change how you play, from blasting through rooms with no fear to planning a strategy for the big rooms and tough enemies. Getting a new item on the sheet, a new ending, or a new mark on your stickynote is something to look forward to, something to strive for, and especially something to have fun doing. Definitely get if you have the chance, as it provides hundreds of hours of time-wasting fun.

Weird and (mostly) wonderful

It's clear within minutes of starting the game that Edmund McMillen was not expecting this game to be the runaway success it was. You play as a small pink boy who stumbles through floors reminiscent of The Legend of Zelda while flinging tears at a variety of odd enemies, with the help of various power-ups (most of which physically mutilate you), pills which have as much chance of permanently lowering your stats as they do increasing them, and a variety of tools, familiars, and bizarre religious imagery up the wazoo. And yet, it works.

The layout of the game is randomized, with each floor (for a while anyway) having a shop, a treasure room, a boss, and truckloads of enemies in between. It would probably be quite a standard game if it wasn't for the items. There are the usual suspects; bombs, keys, a map... and then you find your first treasure and all hell breaks loose. Your tears can be replaced with explosive bombs you vomit on enemies. You can cut your head off and fly around while your body follows as an assistant. You're even occasionally given the chance to trade your health for powerful upgrades which can result in a demonic Isaac flying around and spewing a screen-wide stream of blood on enemies. A lot of the best items are unlocked the more you play, but it keeps you coming back.

That's not to say the game is flawless. While most of the unlockable characters have their strengths and weaknesses, Samson just sucks. Plus, at its core, the game can sometimes be overly dependent on luck - sometimes you can make it quite far before you get the sinking feeling that you have almost no health, a basic attack, no speed, and you just didn't get any useful power-ups. When that happens, it definitely feels more than a little unfair.

All in all though, it's a very replayable game, and I can't imagine any player not feeling satisfied when they find one of those glorious combinations that turns Isaac from a helpless weeping boy into a winged and horned laser firing monster with the power to decimate everything on-screen in seconds. It's unfair, confusing, sometimes impossible, and genuinely filled with the exact kind of creative passion that makes independently-developed games that most exciting and original in the industry.

Rebirth: Dark, Depraved and Addictive.

As a game, The Binding of Isaac makes for a very interesting blend of genres- combining the original Legend of Zelda with roguelike elements, bullet hell type sections with drips and drops of Tim Burton and Francis Bacon added in for good measure. With such a bizarre combination, you'd expect Rebirth to be a dud or a confused mess... but oddly enough all those elements are meshed together so seamlessly and for a truly wicked and addictive experience.

You play as Isaac (Kinda, there are plenty of other characters you can pick but all are essentially 'Isaac' anyway), suffering under the hand of a fanatical psychopathic mother. She hears the voice of God commanding her to destroy you, and out of desperation you flee to the basement of the house for sanctuary.... only to find it littered with even more monsters, pathways to Hell and Heaven, and all manner of other bizarre things. The game is a little stingy when it comes to plot, and similar to Hotline Miami it leaves breadcrumbs rather than solid slices of story. You decide how much you want to know about events, and much of your understanding is your interpretation of things.

Gameplay, is of course, the main draw. Throughout the game Isaac can pick up various power-ups and buffs that can alter both your appearance and ability, and as you can get at least two per floor you could wind up looking like Nurgle's pimple by the halfway point. As each floor is randonly generated, each playthrough does feel unique and gives a lot of incentive to replay. Outside of constant deaths anyway. I feel I should say this, and I know it sounds really petty, but game if you're going to insist on squashing me frequently then you could at least let me restart instantly like Hotline Miami does. I know it's only a few seconds of waiting, but plenty of bile can stew in that waiting period.

I suppose my main criticism though is that same randomness, as a good deal of difficulty can depend on how good/crappy your luck is. While skill of course plays it's part, many losses are likely to be attributed to the game giving you items that seem to exist solely to hinder you.

Oh well, that aside it's definitely worth it's minuscule price and makes for a tough but fun experience.