MOTHER KNOWS BEST
Three years ago saw the release of Binding of Isaac on Steam. Edmund McMillen designed the game, and it developed a devout fanbase. Now, in 2014, Binding of Isaac has been brought into a new engine, received new gameplay elements, and ported to consoles.
Binding of Isaac: Rebirth tells the story of a normal stay at home mom and her child, Isaac. They live a relatively normal life, until one day Isaac’s mom hears “the voice of God.” “God” demands the mom remove evil from Isaac’s life in several different ways, culminating in him demanding Isaac’s life. Isaac, completely unaware of why his loving mother is chasing him with a knife, ends up hiding in a basement. To escape the basement, Isaac must fight hordes of grotesque monsters. The game can end in a total of 16 different ways, along with an epilogue that can also be unlocked.
Binding of Isaac features 16-bit graphics as opposed to the original Binding of Isaac that had a generic 2D art style. The 16-bit graphics look nice on the small Vita screen, but the graphics do not look as great when shown on a TV.
Besides the retro graphics, almost everything in the game is gross. The monster designs range from spiders and flies, to zombie-esque creatures that bleed from their eyes and look like Isaac. One of the many bosses of the games, Gurdy, is literally just a pile of organs with a face stuck on. Rooms are always coated in blood and the destructible containers in the game are feces. Items change Isaac’s look and keep in line with the nastiness of the other designs. Certain items are lodged into his head with blood pouring out of the wound, and others give him extra limbs. Even if all of this sounds excessive, none of it cross the vomit inducing level. The game does a fantastic job at remaining consistent with it.
Binding of Isaac is a roguelike. This means that once Isaac dies, he is forced to start at the beginning and items previously obtained are lost. However, the game does have a number of unlockables. Certain hidden objectives, once completed, unlock new items that can be encountered. Additional characters can also be unlocked by meeting specific goals, and each character has different abilities. For instance, Isaac is the standard one, while Lazarus can revive once but has a reduced health bar. These unlockable characters provide a great incentive to keep playing.
Basic gameplay is fairly simplistic. Isaac is controlled with one control stick and the other is used to fire projectiles. The projectiles, falling in line with the rest of the creepy design, are Isaac’s tears. These tears can be modified with a variety of items spread throughout the dungeons. One certain item made tears revolve around Isaac; another increases the amount of tears but decreases damage.
Items are not limited to modifying tears. Several items can increase other statistics, such as speed. Creatures that follow Isaac can also be obtained. They all protect Isaac in some way. One of them charges at enemies for a short time after Isaac is damaged. Even after five runs, there were no items that appeared more than once. Eventually, several items did make another appearance, but it was infrequent enough to not feel repetitive. Consumable items such as pills and cards add even more variety. Pills usually change Isaac’s state, and cards provide offensive capabilities. So, while the combat boils down to shooting tears at enemies, the various items change gameplay up enough to feel fresh.
Along with a wide variety of items, there are a wide variety of enemies to fight. Stationary, floating heads fire projectiles, and small worms charge at Isaac. Rooms that are filled with a variety of enemies force Isaac to constantly be moving and dodging many different attacks. Bosses are encountered at the end of a level. They are not as varied as the enemies, but each encounter can be intense, especially if Isaac is low on health. Combat does not have to be handled alone. Another player can join when whenever they choose. The second player becomes a small companion for Isaac. It receives a section of Isaac’s health, meaning that if it gets hurt, both players are penalized. The co-op does not included an online option, but it works very well as a couch co-op game.
Since the game is available on Vita and PlayStation 4, the game features cross-saving. By hitting “sync” progress on one system can be accessed on another. As of right now, the sync option is not working. Also, the game will not work on the PlayStation 4 for me. These issues will be fixed in the near future, but they did negatively impact my opinion of the game.
The Verdict: 8.4 out of 10.0
The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is a fun roguelike. The gameplay is simplistic, but the variety of items keeps it fresh for a long time. The artstyle, while disturbing, gives it a look that is unique for the game. It provides a number of unlockable characters and endings, which also keep it fresh. Even though it is playable on Vita and PlayStation 4, the Vita version looks the best and the game is perfect for a portable system. Whatever the system it is played on, Binding of Isaac is great.
For more information about what the score means, check out our official review scale.
Riley Berry has never been more grateful that his mother is not crazy. Well, at least not as crazy as Isaac’s mother. You can follow him on IGN.