“Isaac and his mother lived alone in a small house on a hill”
I’ve written about The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth before. It’s one of my favourite games and according to Steam I’ve played it for 233 hours. So I decided to write about it for this section even though, if we’re fair, I haven’t really stopped playing it. I just can’t stop. Send help.
I will admit this is a strange game. The story is allegorical, it’s inspired by the biblical tale of the same name. The intro tells us that Isaac and his mother lived alone in a house, and they were happy. But then Mom starts hearing a voice from above, telling her that Isaac is corrupted by sin. So Mom does whatever the voice tells her to, until it tells her it has to kill Isaac. So Isaac runs into a trapdoor and that’s how the game starts.
But there’s a lot more to this. The endings in the game paint a completely different story, and piecing it together is both satisfying and disturbing.
“Are you sure you want me to die?”
The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is a 2D roguelike game. In it we play as Isaac (or any of the other unlockable characters) and we have to make our way through many dungeons fighting enemies and bosses until we get to Mom, and whatever there is after her. You can shoot in four directions with your tears, get special items that will let you do stuff, use bombs and also shoot poop until a smiley face remains.
One of my favourite aspects of the game is that you have to adapt to it. It’s procedurally generated so you never know what you’re going to get. Especially in terms of items. For example, if you get the Ipecac then you will shot only one tear at a time, but that tear will be explosive and make a lot of damage to your enemies. And there are many synergies between items, they have effects that complement each other or that can make things difficult for you. Or even other pickups like pills, you might end up using a pill that diminishes your health.
That also applies to the levels, while they always follow the same layout you can get alternate versions of them. For example, the Basement can become the Cellar or the Burning Basement. And something similar happens to the bosses, as you defeat them you can end up facing alternate “undead” versions of some of them and in one case a boss gets completely replaced after beating it several times. The bosses are really cool, you have really disgusting stuff side to side with bosses inspired by the Four Horsemen or folkloric figures like Krampus.
This is a game both of skill and luck. And it’s also massive. Rebirth has two expansions that almost mean infinite replayability (technically the game is now The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth +) and there’s also a dedicated community. Making mods and sharing seed numbers of their best or most challenging runs.
Edmund McMillen and Nicalis have finished making content for the game. That doesn’t mean the game is dead. It has mod support, and the best mods can become part of the game through the Booster Packs.
As of this moment The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth + has the following: About 80 bosses, more than 500 items, seven chapters, and 14 playable characters. It also has several playing modes (including daily challenges) and a victory lap mode that lets you continue playing once you’ve beaten the game.
In all the years since it came out, not much has changed. I still love this game. Sometimes it’s unfair and it makes me scream in frustration. But I always end up coming back to it.
A while ago, I felt like trying the old Binding of Isaac because I hadn’t touched it since Rebirth came out. It was a strange experience, like getting off a bike because you want to ride a tricycle. . And as much as I loved the original game it had its flaws, Rebirth fixed a lot of them, and it’s a proof that sometimes a remake can be better than the original thing.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to play some more of this. I will probably die because I keep playing in Hard Mode, but it doesn’t matter. The next run will be better, the next run is always better.
Angry Spaniard, adoptive Irishman. Writer, reader, tea drinker and video game player/designer.