Review by Bkstunt_31
"Disgusting, Cute, Addicting, Random... some of the reasons 'The Binding of Issac' is worth your time."
From the creative force behind Meat Boy/Super Meat Boy comes The Binding of Issac, an indie game that is comparable to a rouge-like dungeon romp. It tells the story of a young boy named Issac and his troubles and struggle to free himself from his situation. I KNEW Super Meat Boy was a fantastic game and had quite a difficulty curve, so once I heard about The Binding of Issac I was immediately interested in it (even though I'm not a huge fan of rouge-like/randomly generated games). With the annual Steam holiday sale though, I had no excuse to NOT pick up Issac and play it, so now that I've beat it I can tell you what to expect out of this game:
The story begins by showing Issac and his mother living alone on a hill. They live happily with each-other, each doing their own thing with Issac loving to draw and his mother loving to watch her religious shows on the TV. However, one day Issac's mother begins hearing God's voice, who tells her that Issac is corrupt and full of sin, and tells her she must take away his drawings and video games (the things he likes to do), and so she does. However, that isn't enough: Issac is still in danger of corruption, and so God has Issac's mother lock him up in is room (for protection). This still isn't the end though, as God now questions if Issac's mother loves him more than Issac. To have her prove her love for him, God then asks Issac's mom to KILL Issac. However, Issac saw his mother grab a kitchen knife from the kitchen and approach his room, so fearing for his life Issac searches frantically for an escape and ends up finding a trapdoor in his room, leading to the basement. However, the basement is FILLED with monsters, leading Issac into a battle of survival.
Ok, it is OBVIOUS that this game is based off of the biblical tale of Abraham and Issac (Genesis, Chapter 22), as Abraham was asked by God to bind and kill his son to prove his love for God. I knew of the story as I grew up, but thought less and less of it as I became an adult and had kids of my own. Then along comes THIS game and makes me remember it... and honestly I'm surprised that video games in general haven't referenced this subject before (to my knowledge). This story in particular is a FANTASTIC psychology/theology talking point, and being a dad AND a kid who grew up under religious oppression, its story REALLY got me thinking about the source material. This may not have been the creator's goal (and I'd be surprised if it was anything more then a mere coincidence), but I personally can't deny how much a simple story made me think. As Issac descends further and further into the basement, you'll also be treated to animated cut-scenes showing various embarrassing moments endured by Issac as a child.
Like I mentioned earlier, the game is pretty much a rouge-like dungeon exploration game, where Issac will explore his basement. Issac will encounter all sorts of monsters and will shoot his TEARS to defend himself (tears were a great choice!). The game play itself is VERY simplistic. There's really only FOUR actions you can ever take! You'll MOVE with your WASD keys, and SHOOT using the four directional buttons. Issac can also find and use BOMBS with the E or SHIFT buttons, as well as find and use an assortment of items with the Q button. You'll also be collecting bombs, keys, and money as you play. The levels themselves are randomly generated each time you go DOWN a level in the basement, but the main goal is to find upgrade items and defeat a series of bosses. The upgrade items help to increase Issac's speed, health, and the damage and range of his tears (adding in a very small and random RPG aspect to the game). You'll also have game play items that when used do certain things as well as consumable items that can help Issac out in a pinch. Game play items are rather interesting and you'll find and use a variety of them. They can do anything from stopping time to turning you into an invincible unicorn. Consumable items include a variety of "???" pills (which may or may not end up helping you!) or any of the tarot card deck (which again do random, usually beneficial things for you). There are also merchant rooms and arcade rooms where you can spend the money you find to buy items and upgrades. Hurray!
EVERYTHING about this game is randomized, including the enemy placement and items you'll find. As you can imagine, this kind of randomization can lead to some FRUSTRATING results: enemies that you suck at defeating being given to you like candy, no TRUE upgrade items being give to you floor after floor, not seeing enemies drop ANY health for you room after room after room... however without a doubt I can certainly testify that your skills WILL improve through sheer practice, and your victory will be that much sweeter. The game actually has a decent difficulty curve, as the harder enemies, while random, only show up in the lower floors. The same goes for the bosses, who are cleverly designed and can often present quite a challenge, but the HARDER ones will always show up later.
The graphics in the game are a mixture of CUTE and disgusting... a rather curious combination. The gore in the game is very prevalent, as many enemies incorporate it into their design and often leave behind gross residue/blood as they move or are defeated. The character and enemy designs throughout the game are fantastic though, with the "big eyes" and general cartoon-like features. The level designs just HAVE to be inspired by the original Zelda game, as their layout and look in general remind me of Zelda. One HUGE thing that impressed me greatly was that how, with every power-up that Issac found and used, Issac actually visually changed. Find a hanger? Issac will shove it into his temple. Find a crown of thorns? Issac will wear it. All in all the game is visually well-done.
The music in the game is perfect for this title. As you explore a catchy tune will play that is soon accented by drums and guitar. Boss fight tracks are dramatic, exploration tracks are catchy as all get out, and menu music is nice and smooth, what else could you ask for? Good sound effects!? You got those too! Sure, there's not a TON of sound effects but what is there is good. You even get a bit of narration in the beginning of the game (as the story is told) which is also well done.
As for re-playability, given it's random nature you are BOUND to play the game over and over again and keep finding new things. I've got 10 hours into it (easily) and I've found about HALF of the games items list. Oh, and you unlock different characters as you play and accomplish new things. There are five characters to choose from all together, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.
Given how CHEAP this game is on STEAM ($5, less on sale) it is EASY to recommend it. It's disgusting, cute, addicting, and just plain fun. If you can stomach the game's random danger, and don't mind battling through the imminent frustration, you are BOUND to have a good time. Plus, you'll most definitely get your money's worth. Have fun and keep playing!
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 01/04/12
Game Release: The Binding of Isaac (US, 09/28/11)
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