The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth / Afterbirth

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Gross.

Isaac and his Mother lived alone in a small house on a hill.

Every once in a while, we play a game that changes a lot about your views in gaming. Dark Souls was one of them. More recently though, it was Binding of Isaac. Man, what a game this was, for better or for worse. Let’s take a look at Binding of Isaac. Note: I recently bought the Afterbirth update so I have some things that aren’t available in the Rebirth version.

THE GOOD

The gameplay is what I would call easy to pick up and play but very difficult to master. There are so many ins and outs of playing this game (you can find many, many different strategies online) that it would make your head spin. There are so many items to use and some have synergies with some and don’t work well with others. An unlucky item drop can sometimes screw an entire run.

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I mean this is just one page of items out of four. It’s astounding.

This makes every single run of this game interesting and unique. Maybe I’ll get more damage based pickups and be able to blast through enemies? Or maybe it’ll be more health pickups and I can be riskier with my Devil Deals and blood machines?

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The Devil will give you powerful items in exchange for one of your life slots. Not just a single heart that you can get back. He will take one or two of your abilities to get back hearts.

By having such a large amount of items throughout this game, you ensure that no two games will be the same. The game randomly generates the floors that you can play through, shops randomly have items from the “shop item pool” and items are randomly places the items in the item rooms. And by picking up an item, it can be unlocked to be seen more in future runs and potentially can be found in shops from that point on. The replayability  of this game is infinite.

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Here is a caffeine pill, an item that I got from defeating a boss in this room.

Adding to the replayability, there are a large variety of characters to choose from, each with their own pros and cons. Some start with flight, some have the ability to be resurrected once upon death, some have a pickup that makes them very powerful when at low health, and some have a lucky severed human foot.

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They are all different versions of Isaac as well.

The difficulty of this game is another definite plus. The floors do get harder the farther along you go in the story, but it all comes down to your ability to use the items that you have gotten along the way and the risks you have taken. If you took 4 Devil Deals and only have one heart when you reach the womb, that’s your fault. You didn’t plan it out and manage risk reward. Even if you can do a fair amount of damage to your enemies, if you get hit once then you are screwed.

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Get ready to see this screen a lot.

The next thing I love about this game is the pixel art. I won’t spend a lot of time on the graphics because they aren’t really a necessity to a good game, but I am a real sucker for good pixel art. And boy, does this game have it. You can see the long hours that went into every room, every enemy, every power-up (and how it changes Isaacs look). Everything just has a layer of time and effort that is very apparent.

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Every poop was handcrafted with love.

Moving on now from that, I love the way that this game’s story is designed. There is a boss at the end of every level, and the screen before gives you a boxing promo look of “Isaac vs Boss”. It is very well stylized. The bosses in this game are also recycled with every playthrough. They are selected from a pool of bosses from that particular floor, therefore, you have a chance of getting a bunch of bosses you know how to beat or a chance to have a bunch of bosses you suck against. Or a mix.

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IN THIS CORNER: A LARGE GELATENOUS BLOOD BLOB. AND IN THE OTHER CORNER: A SMALL, CRYING, TREMBLING BOY. WHO WILL WIN???

Now that we have established the long list of things I like, lets have a look at some of the things in Isaac that would be more mixed.

THE NOT SO GOOD

The first thing I want to bring up is the story. I really like the story as a whole, but man some of the things in it are super dark. The entire premise of the game is that Isaac’s Mother received a message from God saying that Isaac was full of sin and needed to have all his things taken away, all his clothes taken away, and eventually, God says that Isaac will need to be killed. Really heavy and a sad storyline.

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Who on the dev team had mommy issues?

There are a lot of endings in the game too, and I won’t really spoil them for you, but let me just say that the majority of them have pretty upsetting endings. Even the items that you pick up along the way have pretty disgusting associations. You can pick up things like a Fetus in a Jar, a coat hanger used for abortions, and Isaac’s dead cat’s head.

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Isaac’s tears are red because of an item called “Blood Clot” which gives Isaac bleeding tears because of a blood clot in his eye. Jesus Christ, game.

All these terrible things that are occurring in this universe are occurring to a child because his Mother was attempting to kill him and he ran into the basement to escape. I know this is a game and you have to separate yourself from it, but that doesn’t make it any less depressing that it is occurring. Isaac’s views of the enemies he comes across, including his own Mother as an enemy later, are all skewed and bastardized because of all the trauma that Isaac has gone through in life. There are several major hints throughout the game that Isaac is made fun of in school, is a child of divorce, and has been severely abuse by his Mother.

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Here is the depiction of his own Mother, who is actively trying to kill him.

You know that a game is going to be pretty heavy when they have a character that is literally just the corpse of the main protagonist. “???” also known as “Blue Baby” is just Isaac after he has died. But don’t worry. You’ll never have to play as him because he sucks to use.

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Complete with big cartoony X’s over his eyes.

Don’t get me wrong. This story is very well written and clearly a lot of time and energy went into the writing. But fuck, guys. I could have done perfectly fine without some of the scenes in between levels. No wonder this kid is crying non-stop. Now that that is out of the way, lets move on to some things I did not really like about this game.

THE BAD

Despite the fact that I was kind of tuned off by how intense the story was, there was not much of this game that I did not like. I guess one thing that was a huge ding was that there seem to be items put in to tank a run and items that will just single-handedly win a run. If you have played this game, you are aware that I am talking about Soy Milk (bad) and Brimstone (brokenly good). Soy Milk makes it so you shoot tears at a very rapid rate but absolutely tanks the amount of damage you do. So if you pick it up, every damage boost that you picked up was essentially wasted and you need to rely specifically on dodging and killing enemies with 1000 cuts. Brimstone is a weapon that you charge up and it shoots a large laser out from your character until it hits the room wall. You can also charge it up completely before you enter a room. So you can charge it, walk into a room, use it, kill all the enemies that spawn, and move on. Rinse and repeat and you have a quick path to the end of the game.

Also I get that challenges are supposed to be…well challenging, but man the challenged in this game are so goddamn hard. I have cleared only a few of them. And there are certain items that can be very useful that you can only unlock after you have beaten the corresponding challenge.

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I have beaten a grand total of two.

CONCLUSIONS

But as a whole this game does a really good job balancing difficulty, fun, and interest. The progressive difficulty with random potential for spikes at bosses make this game a real treat to play. Tight controls, fun to use power-ups, a simple pick up and play control scheme, a rogue like style to unlocking items and an interesting (if sometimes depressing) story make this game a powerhouse on the PS4. I have put many hours into this game and hopefully you will too if you pick it up. Binding of Isaac gets an 7/10 with just Rebirth. By tacking on the Afterbirth DLC, this games moves up to a 8/10.

 

 

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