The Binding of Isaac Review
Deceptively simple, brilliantly random and beautifully cheap, The Binding of Isaac is a must-purchase for fans of the rogue-like genre and classics like The Legend of Zelda’s turn on the Nintendo Entertainment System. It’s weird and creepy and disturbing, and that makes it great.
The Binding of Isaac (PC)
Developer: Edmund McMillen and Florian Himsl
Publisher: Edmund McMillen
Release Date: Sept. 28, 2011
Born of the minds of Edmund McMillan, a dev from Team Meat who worked on Super Meat Boy, and Florian Himsl, The Binding of Isaac has an interesting pedigree and an even more interesting premise. The title refers to a Bible story, and the story of the game finds Isaac, a young boy, being chased by his murderous mother who has been commanded by God to sacrifice the boy. In the last moments before his mom can murder him, though, Isaac finds a hidden trap door in his bedroom and escapes into the basement of his house.
The nuts and bolts of The Binding of Isaac have you moving through randomly generated dungeons in the style of the original Legend of Zelda. The basement is filled with strange, horrible creatures, many of which resemble Isaac quite a bit — suggesting he may have stumbled into some kind of hellish repository of fiends possibly related to the poor boy. The keyboard is used to control Isaac as if you were playing a dual-stick shooter, with WASD taking care of motion while the arrow keys fire off Isaac’s tears, which can fight off enemies.
As you work through each of the dungeons, you’ll also employ a number of other items in keeping Isaac alive. There are more than 100 items randomly scattered through the dungeons, all of which have different, weird effects. Sometimes you’ll come across food, which can increase your maximum health. Other things, like Tarot cards, contain area effects that can be positive or negative. Some items change Isaac’s appearance and boost his weapon damage or defensive capabilities. All of them are weird — like Mom’s Lipstick, Mom’s Heels and even Mom’s Pad.
You’ll also find opportunities to spend money you find throughout the dungeons, both at stores and in slot machines, and rooms in which you can make “deals with the devil” that allow you to trade health for bigger bonuses to your character. Those bonuses are a big deal, because every room with enemies in it locks you in until you’ve cleared them, and when Isaac is killed, you’ll have to start the five-level romp over from the start.
Each section of the dungeon is capped with a big, randomly assigned boss fight, and all of the characters you’ll run across are pretty gross in general. All of the fights have a sufficiently old-school feel and like the rest of the game, they’re difficult without being oppressive. In fact, all of Binding of Isaac is pretty tough — its sending you to the beginning is a pretty painful punishment for failure — but the randomness of the game keeps it fresh every time out.
The great thing about The Binding of Isaac is just how much there is, even though the game itself is pretty simple. You’ll always find lots of new items to try out even after having spent hours in the game, as well as additional characters to unlock, random bosses to fight and alternate endings to find. The Binding of Isaac gives huge value for its $5 asking price; this is a title that’ll keep you busy for a while.
And then there’s The Binding of Isaac’s greater (religious) implications. The game isn’t going to make devout Christians very happy, but it taps into some interesting subject matter from the Bible and recasts it in a fairly disturbing light. The Biblical story of The Binding of Isaac is already a little disturbing — God calls on Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, then stops him at the last moment before Abraham can fulfill God’s demand. The video game version of the story is considerably more sick and awful, but the parallels are interesting and it’s nice to have a rogue-like dungeon crawler that engages your brain as well as your fingers.
It’s hard to say much of anything bad about The Binding of Isaac. It’s tough but fun, deep and gross, with just lots of rewarding content. There’s a bunch of stuff to unlock and find throughout the game, and its price just can’t be beat. Buy The Binding of Isaac. There’s no good reason not to.
- Old-school rogue-like gameplay that takes some inspiration from The Legend of Zelda
- Tough but rewarding gameplay
- Lots of items to find
- Creepy, disturbing art
- Random dungeons keep the game very fresh
- Amazing price
- Uh… not a lot of story?
- Occasionally frustrating difficulty
Final Score: 90/100