Review by Rakothurz
"The gruesome tale of a twisted child that offers endless entertainment"
The Binding of Isaac is the latest brain child of Edmund McMillen who is well known for last year's indie hit Super Meat Boy which gathered rave reviews from a multitude of popular gaming websites and Florian Himsl who created games such as Coil and Triachnid. Don't worry; I have no clue what those are either.
The Binding of Isaac's story is a modern re-telling of the classic biblical tale. You play as Isaac, a small child who flees to his rather large basement after his overly religious mother is ordered by the voice of God to kill her son Isaac because he is corrupt with sin. The plot is quite interesting depending on what perspective you view it and although the game is named after a religious story religion doesn't have anything to do with the game besides the name and the throwaway plot.
The best way to explain the gameplay The Binding of Isaac is a cross between a twin stick shooter and The Legend of Zelda. You move your little character that, to no surprise, goes by the name of Isaac with the WASD keys and you shoot tears in four directions with the arrow key. The controls are perfect but can feel a little awkward at first. You can shoot tears with the mouse which is how I choose to play and unfortunately the game does not support any gamepads but rather refers you to a program that allows you to assign gamepad buttons to certain keyboard buttons.
The game is split up into several levels each with an item room, a shop, a challenge room, a secret room and a boss room with little extras sprinkled across other floors. You traverse each room in a fashion similar to that of the original Legend of Zelda game. You move towards a door and it scrolls to the next room of enemies and what-not. The real kicker of The Binding of Isaac is that everything is randomly generated from the room layouts to the items you pick-up and even the bosses are picked randomly from a handful of choices. Only specific bosses will appear on specific floors so you don't need to worry about coming across an incredibly hard boss on the first floor. After you put a few hours into the game you do notice the same room layouts and even on smaller levels whole level layouts being repeated but the experience does not suffer one bit from it. You eventually end up figuring out the best strategy for certain rooms which helps you out greatly because this game is immensely difficult and can be very daunting when you first play. Luckily with the simplistic pick up and play controls you'll find yourself jumping right back in for just one more try nearly every time you die. The randomised nature of the game increases the fun of the game tenfold along with the replayability. You'll be playing the game for hours on end. I've ranked up 30 hours and I've only seen three-quarters of what the game has to offer.
As I mentioned before each level has an item room which can be opened with a key found randomly in rooms or dropped by enemies. Keys are just one of the three pickups the game has to offer along with bombs and cents, the game's currency. In an item room you'll be able to obtain one of the game's 132 items. Certain items can be activated by pressing the spacebar and certain items are passive. Passive items will increase one or more of the five stats: health, speed, damage, rate of fire, attack range or they might have a random effect like allowing you to shoot through obstacles or being able to fly. The passive items also have a visual effect on your character. Picking up an item entitled The Common Cold for example will turn your characters face a sickly green colour while obtaining Brimstone will give your character large goat horns and turn your skin a dark black. By the end of the game you'll have an interesting and usually chaotic looking character. It's nice to see what effects certain items will not only have on the gameplay but Isaac himself. The item system is interesting as finding a new item is like opening up a Christmas present, you're not sure if you're going to want to but you're curious to find out what it does. Each item offers a positive effect but depending on your playstyle certain items may not be helpful. The item system is also one of the complaints I do have with the game. The items, especially on later levels, will make or break your experience. I've had runs in which I've gotten nothing but health power-ups making it incredibly slow to kill enemies rendering the health power-ups useless and vice versa. It's hard to complain about the item system because even though is it flawed it's the most interesting part of the game. It's what makes The Binding of Isaac what it is; a completely random fun filled experience with frustrating moments here and there.
The Binding of Isaac is presented in the cartoony style that the game's artist Edmund McMillen is known for. The characters are presented in an adorable fashion and even the more macabre looking enemies have a certain cute factor to them. The choice of enemies in the game is a little odd to say the least. On my first playthrough of the game I felt very confronted by some of the enemies which range from harmless flies to almost human looking characters with bloated heads that cry, whimper and will run away from you if you try to get near. The feeling of confrontation and confused morality soon disappeared as I killed it and forgot about it moments later. With the unrealistic presentation of The Binding of Isaac world it's hard to get emotional about killing even the more humanistic of monsters. The enemies are varied especially on later levels with each one being unique in health, damage and abilities. They certainly are quite creative and I applaud the two designers on their ability to not make repetitive foes. The game is programmed using Adobe Flash and due to this the game can lag when multiple explosions occur at once but it's extremely rare. The game should be able to run on lower end systems with medium graphical settings easily.
Through your adventure exploring Isaac's basement to escape his mother's wrath you'll be accompanied by background music that varies from head-banging inducing heavy metal to calming tunes that sound like they're something out of a meditation CD. The sound effects are quite well done. The sound of Isaac's tear and projectiles hitting the enemies never gets old or repetitive and explosions have a rather nice bang sound to them. The sound of the game isn't anything spectacular but it complements the game rather well.
The Binding of Isaac lives up to the expectations of Super Meat Boy and arguably surpassing it in greatness. This $5 indie title has one or two flaws that prevent it from being perfect but I have never come across something with more value for money. With 10 possible endings, 132 items, 9 separate levels and 5 additional unlockable characters you'll be playing this game for days, weeks and even months.
The Binding of Isaac - 9/10
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 03/05/12
Game Release: The Binding of Isaac (US, 09/28/11)
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