The Binding of Isaac is an awesome little top-down rogue-like with a unique theme. Now that the sequel is kicking down Steam’s doors, it’s time to take a look back at what made the original game so great that it deserves a sequel. I’ll be playing Rebirth, the remaster of the original game, as it added a bunch of great new details. The opening cutscene sets the stage nicely, with several horrifying elements introduced. Highly recommended viewing. Rebirth is 15 bucks on the Steam store page and is worth every cent.
The story of young Isaac is a wild one. A child, who appears to be single digits in age, is condemned to death by God, and his mother approaches with a butcher’s knife to complete the deed. He flings himself into a heretofore unknown hatch in his room that leads to a basement of horrors, where the primary thrust of the gameplay occurs.
The gameplay is familiar rogue-like. It’s primarily a top-down dungeon scroller, with the classic arrows, bombs, and powerups along the way helping you defeat a variety of horrifying monsters. In this case, you control a small nude stick figure boy with pixelated junk who is desperately attempting to navigate an abattoir he had no idea existed. The “arrows” are his tears, the enemies are his older siblings (in a variety of horrifying forms) and the monsters they have attracted.
The dungeon layout is also familiar. You traverse separated rooms, each with a variety of resource based puzzles, enemies, or traps to navigate. Your health is always of top priority, because Isaac is weak and he’s fighting off monsters with tears. On each floor is an upgrade room, where you can get a unique upgrade to Isaac that can help or hinder. Each floor also features a boss fight, some of which will have familiar mechanics to veterans of rogue-likes.
My most recent run was interesting. I immediately grabbed the floor’s upgrade, “Number 1” which changed my tears into urine and dramatically increased my fire rate. The next room I entered was a massive arena, it’s floor littered with piles of feces and air thick with dangerous biting flies. Spraying the entire thing down with my pee, I bombed the rock walls and got my coins, only to leave disappointed because I had no key to unlock the prize door. Ah well, off to the boss fight.
The boss was named “Larry Jr.” and appears to be older twins. Two wormlike creatures with ravening maws began chasing me around the room, running in tracks between huge rocks. I sprayed my urine at them as much as I could while avoiding their bites, but they worked together and managed to take a chunk out of me while I whittled down their health bars with my mighty bladder. They also take enormous craps while chasing me, which not only rattled me a bit, but blocked my potential pathways to escape them. In the background, an intense piano tune kept pace until the battle was finished. I had drowned my abandoned, feral older twin brothers in my own pee and emerged victorious. Time to collect my rewards and go down to the next level. In this fight, my worm-twin brothers dropped a set of bandages to cover up my face with.
The next floor was more of the same, with an advancing sense of horror. The new enemies I encountered appeared to be weeping children with extreme disfigurement of the head and body. When I approached too closely, their anguish intensified until they burst in a shower of blood, gore, and stinging insects. Fortunately, I got another upgrade right away, in the form of a crown of thorns that increased my damage. Now my urine is tinted with blood, and I look like I have severe kidney failure. But my damage is increased and I can take on this floor. Boss fight number two was Monstro, my older brother ball creature, who honestly acts like a giant slime. He bounces around trying to crush me with a sadly innocent smile on his face until he vomits blood at me from moving too much. When he dies, a look of genuine shock and hurt replaces his innocent smile until his internal organs and bones shower the room. He leaves behind a speedball upgrade, which is exactly what it sounds like. Cocaine and Heroin for a small child trapped in a nightmare dungeon. Nice thing is that it ups my damage and speed, while giving Isaac giant saucers for eyes and a faintly unhinged smile to help deal with the tears that still stream uncontrollably down his face.
In essence, this is a great rogue-like game. The theme is a huge turnoff for a lot of players, but as an old hat where horror is concerned, this is excellent stuff. It really pulls no punches, and delivers a creepy, unsettling, and deeply satisfying gaming experience. I look forward to the sequel a great deal.