Well it’s been a long time, but Super Meat Boy co-creator Edmund McMillen’s follow up The Binding of Isaac is finally available to non-PC, non-Sony gamers, recently debuting on Microsoft and Nintendo systems after initially releasing on Steam in 2011 and for PS4 last November. A bevy of upgrades and add-ons have been grafted onto this release, making it sort of a “game of the year” edition, including a new Super Nintendo-esque graphical treatment and several new bosses, items and playable characters. I’ve always been interested in Isaac, mostly for the art style, off the wall subject matter and of course its pedigree, being a huge Meat Boy devotee, but I’ve always been more of a fan of straightforward retro gaming experiences, unable to deeply get into previous short burst, randomly generated adventures I’ve tried. Could Isaac’s blend of body horror, religious satire, Smash TV and Zelda make me a convert?
Upon booting up Isaac we’re greeted with a short, animated story sequence. Isaac’s mother, a rabid watcher of televangelists, receives a message from God that her son must be sacrificed to prove her love for Him, and as she approaches poor Isaac with a butcher knife to do the deed, he locates a hidden door in his room and retreats into his monster, trap and item filled basement. Gameplay closely resembles Nintendo classic The Legend of Zelda, specifically the dungeon sequences, though all map layouts, enemies, item placements and boss encounters are randomized, creating a fresh experience every time the game is played. Isaac doesn’t brandish a sword though, he faces down enemies with his tears, constantly upset as he is that he’s had to descend into a Lovecraftian hell hole to avoid being murdered by a formerly loving parent. Makes sense. The controls take the form of a classic twin stick shooter, similar to Robotron or the aforementioned Smash TV, though Isaac can only shoot in the four cardinal directions, which adds a bit of challenge to the proceedings.
Protip: Try not to die.
Once an initial six dungeon floors are conquered, Isaac faces off against Mother. You think this would be the end, but it’s just the beginning! Additional floors and bosses continue to be added to Isaac’s “battle plan”, and along the way you’ll unlock alternate floors and bosses, new items and weapon modifiers, additional characters that add or subtract from the difficulty, and challenge modes that offer set abilities. I’m a big fan of “tank” mode, where the player can walk through bricks and rocks, just watch out for bombs!
So it goes without saying that I’ve “seen the light” as far as Isaac’s unconventional appeal goes. The game is seriously addictive (I’ve got a blister on my thumb from being unable to put it down for the past few days) and was well worth the wait. The game is hard, don’t get me wrong, but just like Meat Boy before it, it never feels unfair. If you die deep into a run and have to start all over, even against the later bosses, you’ll always remember where you failed and be ready to not repeat those mistakes. I was intimidated by the game’s structure at first, finding it hard to make it past the third dungeon, but soon enough I was laying Mom to waste and preparing myself for the horrors that await beyond her. The satisfyingly twitchy gameplay, beautifully rendered retro graphics, amazing music and excellently horrifying creature design always kept me coming back and itching to see what fresh hell was beyond the next padlocked, bloodsoaked, skull adorned door.
The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is now available for just about everything that plays worthwhile video games so there’s no excuse not to play it.