|The Binding of Isaac|
|Platforms||Windows, Linux, OSX|
|Genre||Rogue-like of Biblical proportions|
|Buy from Steam|
Following in the wake of the widely popular Super Meat Boy, Edmund McMillen’s latest entry, The Binding of Isaac, takes its name and narrative from a story in the Book of Genesis. In that tale, Abraham is called to sacrifice his son, Isaac, as a proof of his devotion to God. Isaac is bound by his father and placed upon an altar on top of Mount Moriah, where an angel appears to stop Abraham just before the slaughter.
The Binding of Isaac has players taking control of the titular character, whose mother is called to kill her son as a sacrifice to God. In this story, however, there is no angel to stop the fanatic parent; it’s up to Isaac to survive, fleeing the clutches of his murderous mother in the basement of their house.
The artwork and style are synonymous with that of McMillen’s other works, such as Super Meat Boy and Gish (both of whom make cameo appearances), but, taking a break from platforming, level design and gameplay share similarities with The Legend of Zelda. The interface also shares a resemblance. However, unlike the series from which it seemingly draws inspiration, The Binding of Isaac features fully randomized levels, items, enemies, and even bosses. Another key feature is the aspect of permanent death. You have one and only one life to clear the dungeon-like levels and defeat the final boss, which serves to make The Binding of Isaac a very challenging and nerve-racking experience.
Delving deeper and deeper into the depths of the basement—and beyond—players will fight their way past enemies and obstacles utilizing bombs and projectile crying as their main arsenal. Every level features a boss room that must be cleared before descending lower into the dungeon. Along the way, keys will be used to unlock doors, and coins to purchase items from precariously placed shops and the like. A typical game will see very limited resources, so part of the challenge for players will be using items sparingly and making the most out of what they find.
The highlight of the game is its weird and comical equipment. In addition to permanently boosting your health and stats (speed, damage, range, rate-of-fire), most equipment will also change the appearance of your character. With high heels, devil horns, wigs, hats, and so much more to find, most characters will look pretty ridiculous by the game’s end. There are many items that add interesting properties to your tears as well, such as life stealing or homing abilities. There are 131 such items to collect, which players are encourage to do to fill a ‘Collection’ gallery that keeps track of those that players find. Unlockable secrets (63 in total) will see new items, enemies, and bosses to find on subsequent plays, as well as additional characters to play.
Grotesque and plentiful are the enemies in The Binding of Isaac. Mostly being of the undead variety, the malformed and disgusting monsters vary greatly. Floating heads, living organs, zombies, ghouls...there’s always the question if these weren’t former siblings of Isaac’s who failed to survive a situation similar to his. Running back and forth holding the attack button down isn’t enough. Enemy attack patterns can be punishing and their movements very fast, so you’ll need to think faster. The AI isn’t bad either. Many enemies will come around impassable obstacles from multiple sides to surround you. Boss fights, as expected, are particularly challenging most of the time, and satisfying as a result, though the rewards for defeating them are sometimes subpar.
The controls are quite simple (and customizable). By default, the WASD keys are used to move and the arrow keys to shoot in one of the four cardinal directions. Diagonal shots can be achieved by moving while firing; a necessary skill that doesn’t take long to get used to. The E key drops bombs, which can be used offensively but more often than not to blow past obstacles or unearth hidden rooms. The Q key activates the pill or tarot card the player may be carrying. Pills have many properties, but most permanently increase (or decrease) your stats. Tarot cards do various things—from teleporting your character to key rooms to summoning devastating attacks. Unfortunately, in both cases, you won’t know what one does before using it for the first time, so be sure to remember for the next time. Finally, assigned to the spacebar is one of the many special items players will find. Though unlimited, these items require recharging between uses.
The music is moody and memorable, and the sound effects exceptional, lending their cartoonish style to that of the game quite well. The shrieks of certain enemies can be surprisingly creepy (if not a little annoying), and the squishy, fleshy explosions that come as a result of slaying enemies is satisfying on a morbid level. For what little story there is, it works well. The style and humour is somewhat dark, violent, and more than a little gross. Enemies spit blood, puke acid, and drop fecal matter; items include body parts, dead cats, and the ghosts of aborted foetuses; sickening stuff for the light-hearted. But even if that’s not your thing, the game should be enjoyable as long as the gameplay is appealing. I’m a sick bastard, so I had an absolute blast playing this.
The only real complaint I have with The Binding of Isaac is the drastic drop in frame rate that often occurs while fighting in a room with lots of enemies performing lots of attacks. The need to push multiple buttons at once (moving and shooting) compounds the problem. Because it’s not uncommon to find oneself in such a situation, especially late in the game, this problem, while not game-breaking, is particularly disappointing. Lowering the graphical quality doesn’t seem to help much either.
The Binding of Isaac has a lot going for it for the $4.99 sticker price. Pick-up-and-play friendly, a full game plays in as little as 20 minutes, but being addictive as it is, afternoons are happily wasted with this title as well. With randomly generated...everything, the replayability is through the roof. Even after dozens of plays there will still be plenty to find and unlock. Its greatest strength can also be the game’s greatest weakness however, when items drops are below average and inadequate for seeing you to the end of the game. It can be frustrating, but luckily doesn’t happen very often. For the most part, the difficulty is scaled very well in The Binding of Isaac.
The Binding of Isaac is a sick and twisted, chaotic, non-apologetic, unforgiving action-adventure title of biblical proportions. I’ve played many of McMillen’s games, and his latest is a worthy addition to his catalogue. I look forward to seeing what his sick, demented mind comes up with next.