Review by OhNoPeppyHare
"Unfair, brutal, and worth every penny"
In 2010, Edmund Mcmillen released a nice little gem to the gaming world known as Super Meat Boy. It was the perfect balance of difficult and fun, and no one could deny that it wasn't worth the low price it was at the time. This year, he has done it again with the Binding of Isaac. While Super Meat Boy obviously drew its gameplay from the likes of Super Mario Brothers and Megaman, the Binding of Isaac is geared towards the fans of old school dungeon crawlers and the Legend of Zelda. The aim is simple; you trek through dungeons, battling monsters and collecting items. And if you're expecting something easier than Super Meat Boy, well, be prepared for something even more unfair. You're going to be frustrated, you're going to feel ripped off, and you're going to feel like every move you make may be your last.
And you're going to love it, provided you're the sadistic, yet determined type.
The Binding of Isaac is centered around little Isaac, a boy being pursued by his mother who was "sent" by God to kill him. He travels into the depths of a conveniently placed trapdoor in his house, and battles the horrors that are just as bloodthirsty as his mother. You're not entirely screwed though; you collect randomized powerups to affect your abilities and depending on what powerups you get, your style of play drastically differs. Isaac also has to collect coins, bombs, and keys, which serve obvious purposes. Coins allow you to buy powerups or gamble, bombs allow you to blast rocks that are in your way, and keys open up certain areas. The floors all contain a treasure room, which pretty much means a free powerup, a shop that sells items, a boss room that houses an incredibly powerful enemy, and a hidden room, which rewards you for finding. You'll also sometimes encounter Devil rooms, which offer you incredibly powerful upgrades at the cost of your max health, and arcades which allow you to gamble coins for keys, bombs, more coins, or health. With randomized floor layouts, randomized enemy and boss arrangements, and randomized powerups and item drop rates, you'll never get the same experience twice. Randomization works as a double edged sword in Isaac; a randomized floor layout may reward you with easy to access rewards, but you are just as likely to encounter rooms rich with rewards but render you unable to reach them since they're surrounded by pits. Couple that with the fact that the room is swarming with enemies and the pit limits your maneuverability by a lot. Or maybe you will be blessed with a boatload of bombs for you to pick up but have no keys to access a really important treasure chest. Randomization does keep the game remarkably fresh, as you can see. Every time you restart the game you need to treat each floor as a new challenge and use the powerups you get to work alongside you. There are also character "classes" that allow you to start the game with different stats, in case one method of play doesn't float your boat. More defensive players that need to keep health a priority may find favor with "Magdalene" while offensive players will find absolute wrecking power with "Judas." Enemies in this game range from annoying to traumatizing; you cannot afford to get hit in this game and part of the Binding of Isaac is to react according to an enemy pattern while in combat. There are enemies that jump over rocks, enemies that shoot in a plus formation, enemies that can only be hit from behind, and a lot more. Bosses are the same way; while incredibly powerful, you need to understand their movements to fight effectively. As you can see, the Binding of Isaac is all about determination.
I've probably scared most casual players about the intensity of such a simple, random, unforgiving game. But the magic with Super Meat Boy was despite all the odds being stacked against you, the game is BEATABLE. The Binding of Isaac is the exact same way. Sure, you can blame the game sometimes about putting you in a room with enemies you couldn't beat or you being forced to skip a treasure room since the floor had no keys to offer you, but the game is beatable. You will eventually read enemy patterns and scoff upon seeing them, you will eventually be able to understand the balance between coins, bombs, and keys and know when to pass up certain rewards, you will go through bosses without taking a single hit. The game can be beaten with relative ease with enough practice, dedication, and yes, even luck. Beating the game or certain parts of it unlocks more items, and believe me, using them in battle makes the game that much more fun. With the various incentives for winning, you can definitely not mind beating the game more than once.
I said earlier that the magic of Super Meat Boy was the challenge of the game. That's not all it was known for; that game and the Binding of Isaac possessed a charm that Edmund Mcmillen is probably now famous for. The game's story is overly simplistic, and relies more on presentation to hook a player. It definitely works, from the art style to the wonderful score composed by Danny Baranowsky, who also composed the music to Super Meat Boy. The demonic, religious imagery is conveyed as "cute" at times, and the humor is very low-brow, yet welcome. Isaac's memories, while depressing, are funny simply due to how they are conveyed. All of the powerups you get in the dungeon affect Isaac's appearance in usually morbid ways, yet are worth a chuckle. For those that want examples, a coat hanger powerup that upgrades Isaac's tears is shoved through his head and the Mom's Underwear powerup shows Isaac wearing panties as if it's nobody's business. Ed Mcmillen's other works are referenced quite a bit in this game as well, such as some characters from Time **** and definitely references to Super Meat Boy.
The game isn't without it's criticisms, though. It lacks an autosave feature, which means that players have to beat the game in one sitting or literally die trying. Also, the game is literally thrust into you. There is no tutorial, explanation of game mechanics, or even a detailed explanation of the powerups you obtain or the stats you can raise. While the understood intention is "experimentation," this can be incredibly frustrating to those that cannot fully grasp game mechanics as much as a player who has had experience with games like Zelda. For these reasons alone a casual player may be turned off incredibly by the Binding of Isaac, and I believe that these are legitimate concerns. But do not get me wrong, this game is amazing and truly worth the small price. Not to mention there are DLC plans which will definitely freshen up the game for even Isaac veterans.
In closing, the Binding of Isaac is a challenge to gamers that dares you to conquer it with open arms. The only question is, do you have the determination to trudge through? Believe me, it's a good feeling once you do.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 10/20/11
Game Release: The Binding of Isaac (US, 09/28/11)
Got Your Own Opinion?
You can submit your own review for this game using our Review Submission Form.