Review by FawfulTheGreat
An addictive, well-drawn, 2D dungeon crawler where every encounter is a random encounter! And not just the monsters.
The Binding of Issac does a very good job at taking the best pieces of many games and mixing them together. The best part is that it does it well and makes each element its own, improving them and syncing them together. It makes a completely unique gaming experience. I can't think of any way to describe the game besides, "Well, it's like X meets Y with a touch of Z and samples of S, T, and U." It's the fact that the Binding of Issac makes a completely creative work out of elements of many great games that makes it so wonderfully addictive.
The premise for the story of this game is as follows: Issac and his mother are living a happy life in their home, but one day, Issac's mother begins hearing God's voice. God tells Issac's mother that Issac is corrupted and it is up to Issac's mother to end his corruption. Isolation from the corruption in the world isn't enough though, and God eventually asks Issac's mother to kill Issac to prove her loyalty to him. She complies. Issac manages to escape into the basement before his mother can kill him, though. The game centers around Issac's descent into the basement through a world filled with abominable horrors.
This is all shown quite beautifully in the animated introduction. It isn't the world's strongest story, but it is great to get the ball rolling for the game. You'll mostly forget about the story; the game doesn't get too deep into it. To the point that the main character is interchangeable with any of the other characters. The voice acting still even refers to you as Issac no matter who you play as, showing just how unimportant the story is for the events of this game.
This is what does matter to the makers of this game: Gameplay. It is also the most difficult to explain. Essentially, picture a game with a control scheme like Zelda. It has some elements of bullet hell games, so instead of a sword, imagine fighting with projectiles. For scenery, imagine the grotesque oddities of Dante's Inferno, a legion of horrifying, hellish creatures attacking you as you descend downward through dungeons. And you essentially are now thinking of the Binding of Issac.
That's the general gameplay structure. You walk through dungeons shooting enemies with projectiles to kill them. But wait! The dungeons are entirely randomly generated. As are the upgrades, bosses, enemy rooms, almost everything is randomly generated. This makes every single gameplay experience unique from the last. Since you upgrade completely randomly, you can go from a tank with huge amounts of health dealing massive damage to a fragile speedster who can fly. Additionally, you may or may not have a wire hanger through your face.
The only things certain about each gameplay experience is that every floor (minus two) will have a boss room, a store, a room with an upgrade, and a secret room. There are other rooms (arenas, mini-game rooms, and mini-boss rooms, to name a few), but the game generates these randomly.
The addiction factor is in the random generation. You never know what abilities your character will have from one game to the next and you never know what's behind every door. You'll be tempted to explore everywhere to upgrade yourself, you'll be tempted to make sacrifices to upgrade your abilities, and you'll probably be weirded out quite a bit by most of the upgrades. The fact that each upgrade cosmetically changes your character as well only adds to the fun! Even if you get to the final floor and die, the randomness of seeing a character with a puffy face, flies around him, X-ray goggles, demon horns, and panties on makes a big enough impression that you'll want to play again right away to see what else is in the game.
However, this all said, the game does have some negative qualities. The main being that it is in Flash. You can have a top-of-the-line computer or any old laptop, it'll probably run with some lag. It is generally minor, but enough that you'll want to turn the quality down a notch, probably. And it might still be slow if there are a lot of objects on the screen. It is never game-breakingly awful, but it does occur in the rooms filled to the brim with enemies and projectiles.
The games graphics are done in the gorgeous 2D style of Super Meat Boy. If you like that game's art style, you'll like this ones. The 2D is sharp and enough that you'll feel something towards every little abomination you have to beat up. It's all rather smooth and stylized in a unique way and it is all fun to see.
As stated earlier, random upgrades also add cosmetic changes to your character. Some of the best fun to be had in the Binding of Issac is simply admiring the image of whatever awful upgrades are added to your character. Alone, some are tolerable, maybe slightly unsettling. But together, they can create a hilarious orchestra of emotions, ranging from pity to not knowing even what to feel.
Unfortunately, you may have to see the beautiful artwork on a lower setting than you normally would because of some lag. This is lamentable, but tolerable.
The games soundtrack is also fairly nice. It goes along with the games themes and can emphasize how dire whatever situation you are in is when necessary. Character and enemy noises also sound nice and go well with the game. Meaning some are especially disgusting, such as the constant buzzing of flies and the splats of dung as you search for treasure.
Relying on random generation to make dungeons, upgrades, and boss fights occur did a wonderful thing for this aspect of the Binding of Issac. You will die. Whether you are an over-upgraded behemoth or you just make a bad deal with the devil, you will die. And it won't matter which you are: Newbies and pros alike will make mistakes and simply want to play again right away to see what else the game has in store for them. With a plethora of items, a cornucopia of enemies, and multiple characters to have witness the horrors of the world, you'll want to play this again. Additionally, the game has multiple endings, a treasure trove of unlockables, and enough style to make you fall for it and give it as many runs as you can. Which will probably be a lot.
Story ~ Not essential to the enjoyment of the game, but there is a thinly laid story to describe the themes of the game and the situation, to an extent.
Gameplay ~ 2D dungeon crawling with shoot-em-up elements and a randomly generated EVERYTHING. There is a lot to see, a lot to unlock, and a whole lot of game to play. However, due to being in Flash, there is likely to be some lag.
Graphics/Sound ~ Beautiful 2D graphics in the art style that the makers of Super Meat Boy do so well! Almost everything is a cute type of grotesque (or a grotesque type of cute), and random character cosmetic changes with customization is always fun to witness as it unfolds. However, due to being in Flash, you may have to turn the quality to make the game more smooth.
The soundtrack fits the themes the game was going for and the sounds themselves do as well. And they sound great given the themes!
Replayability ~ Great replayability. Random generation, unlockables, multiple endings, multiple characters, and the simple beauty of the horrid abomination that is your character will invite many playthroughs.
Price ~ This game is cheap! At $5, it should be fairly easy to obtain without having to work overtime or sacrifice a meal.
While the game does have a few issues (mostly due to being in Flash), the beautiful artwork, gameplay, and hours of mindless, randomly generated fun are well worth it. If you have $5 and some free time, I would definitely look into the Binding of Issac. This could easily warrant a $15-$20 purchase with all of the content and replayability within and it would be almost tragic to miss out on such a wonderful example of new creative ideas in the gaming industry.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: The Binding of Isaac (US, 09/28/11)
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