on 20 March 2012
To make it quick: I love this game. It is extremely creepy, full of subtext and nearly endless replayability.
In The Binding of Isaac, you take on the role of a young child, who flees from his mother's violent psychosis into the nightmarish basement of their small house on a hill and further down into the darkness, where Isaac has to fight strange monstrosities, insects and demons to survive. How much is reality? Fantasy? Nightmare? Much of the plot is unclear and only parts are revealed in tiny chunks throughout the progress of the game.
Do not be fooled by the cutesy art style; this game has a lot of gore and disturbing imagery, touching upon topics like child abuse, attempted abortion, violent religious delusion and others, although it leaves much of this up to the player to figure out.
Some of it may simply come in the form of an item or an effect it bestows, like the wooden spoon that increases running speed and leaves welts all over Isaac's body; or maybe you picked up a simple wire coat hanger, which is subsequently lodged in the character's head. And some may be revealed through the design of enemies and boss monsters or other design choices. In keeping with the dark tone, there are a lot of Biblical references, as you might gather from the title of the game itself, but they tend to be very vague and unspecific and in my opinion mostly serve to help build the atmosphere.
The gameplay itself consists mainly of a top-down shoot-em-up, using Isaac's very tears to fight off the creatures he encounters. To do so, the player uses WASD to move and the arrow keys to shoot (allowing Isaac to shoot and move in different directions). As he progresses through the levels, he can pick up many different items that may simply boost his stats like health, damage or speed or grant special abilities, like hovering over rocks and pits or slowing enemies.
And this is where the enormous number of hours of fun come into play: The game takes, hm, around 1 hour to complete, but most of the time (and especially during your first few attempts), you will end up dying. There are no continues, no quicksaves, no checkpoints. Death means starting over.
Yet, as you go through the game again and again, you unlock new items, penetrate a bit deeper into the dungeons below than before, manage to defeat that one boss that mangled you previously!
Yes, the game would be very short if it were meant to be played through only once. But the contrary is true: It is filled to the brim with aspects that heighten its replayability, from around 130 possible items, to six characters (all of which unlock different items upon completing the game), new bosses and entire levels that are to be unlocked, not to mention the fact that the very levels themselves are randomly created from a relatively large number of preformed rooms, including the boss encounters!
So why did I remove one star from the fun rating? Well, mainly because this game is thereby of a type that is not accessible to everybody. Players must be somewhat resistant to frustration, as the very hard gameplay punishes them over and over again. But if you are the kind of player who wants to beat the odds, who is not deterred by permadeath but encouraged to try again and beat the game this time, then this game might be for you!
Another reason for the slight reduction is the performance. This is a flash-based game and sometimes causes quite a bit of slow-down, especially with multiple enemies or projectiles on screen. This can sometimes really take one out of the game, which - considering the nice but simplistic graphics - really shouldn't happen on modern systems these days.
Overall, though, this barely impacts my impression of the game. Highly recommended!
Oh, and regarding the contents of this special edition in particular?
There's a poster of Isaac drawn in a more realistic style in there which, honestly, I wouldn't want to hang on my wall. It's well drawn, but considering the content, I kind of prefer the more unrealistic style of the game itself.
Much more to my liking is the booklet which features loads of concept art. It's small, but a very nice addition and grants a little bit of insight into the development of the game and thought processes involved, including a few alternate but abandoned items and so on.
On the CD itself is the very good soundtrack in MP3 format. Definitely worth a listen!
The DVD case comes in a box with a flap with some nice pictures of ingame bosses and the like, but the case itself I like even better, as it is made to look like an old book, reminiscent of some editions of the Bible.
on 8 May 2012
The Binding of Isaac is a top-down, single-room, randomly generated dungeon crawl. Sort of...
You initially play the role of Isaac, a young child who fled his God fearing mother by leaping into the unknown depths of the trapdoor in his bedroom. Starting with The Basement and working downwards, Isaac must battle (by shooting enemies with his tears) through randomly generated rooms filled with randomly generated monsters and items. The game is fiendishly difficult, and death is permanent - although your achievements are logged and there is a lot of content to be unlocked along the way.
The game boasts an extremely simple learning curve in terms of gameplay and mechanics: Enter a room, clear out all the enemies, move onto the next room, rinse and repeat. The very first room you spawn in gives you all the information you need, and whilst not everything is initially obvious, the more you play the more things fall into place and make perfect sense.
Where this game really excels is 'bang for the buck'. For a relatively low price you get an infinite amount of replayability due to the very random nature of the game. No 2 playthroughs will be alike, and there are several unique characters to unlock with 'give & take' aspects to them. For instance, Isaac is the well-rounded character which neither excels in any particular area nor does he fall short anywhere. However, without spoiling the experience, there is a character who is extremely powerful in combat, but on the flip side extremely fragile. Another has lots of health, but does relatively little damage so battles take a lot longer to complete and therefore pose more risk. Each character forces you to re-think your game style, and a lot of the time you will find yourself having to make judgement calls to try and maximise your situation, which can often be dire. Make no mistake, you will die a great many times during your Isaac career. This is intentional...
To summarise, although the game seems fairly lo-fi and simplistic at first glance, the extremely clever game design means you will be playing it again and again and again. Success and failure, generally speaking, is determined by how lucky you have been with your item drops, and indeed, one of the more challenging aspects is to try and soldier on despite a myriad of useless items. You never know if and when the game-changing item will drop.
The Binding of Isaac is anything BUT a 'casual' game. It has replaced Skyrim as my goto game of choice when I want to just immerse myself for a couple of hours.
I can't praise this masterpiece of a game highly enough. Definitely worth the asking price, and extremely enjoyable albeit frustratingly difficult.
on 1 October 2012
This game is truly amazing. every playthrough is different, and replayability is very high as well. The box features a poster that although awesome looking, may be a bit too creepy to hang on a wall, and a booklet by Edmund Mcmillen that explains much of his inspiration for the various bosses and enemies in the game. Sadly, though, the game does not include the 'Wrath of the Lamb' DLC, and this needs to be bought extra through steam. The game still is amazing without, however!