Some people are simple. They like their Coca-Cola straight and their ice cream vanilla. Some people are adventurous and mix in cherry and chocolate syrup. Then some people live on the edge and sample from every goddamn fountain on the soda machine. Edmund McMillen makes those people look like children. The Binding of Isaac is a Legend of Zelda style top down shooter (in the style of Crash TV) with action RPG elements and semi-roguelike design. Try categorizing that, GameStop.
After a compelling opening movie explaining the premise of the game (which you should avoid showing your hardcore Catholic grandmother), the player is cast into a crazy world where your only scant instructions are printed on the ground of the opening screen. After that, you are on your own, so plan on dying. A lot. But don’t plan on running back into the battle to defeat the boss. While the game is only 6 levels long, those levels change every time you die. Each dungeon is random, and you will (probably) never see the same dungeon twice. To up the ante, you only have one life.
If you’ve ever played Super Meat Boy or any of McMillen’s other games, you should know what to expect in terms of difficulty. However, just like Super Meat Boy before it, the difficulty never feels unfair…except when it does. There are scores of powerups in the game that drastically affect the game, but not always positively. The effect of each item is rarely straightforward at first glance, so the player must use simple trial and error to learn each item and it’s potential power. I can’t really communicate how mind-bogglingly huge this game is. Every playthrough is likely to reveal some new game-changing element that you never even imagined.
For instance, you may be saving that pill you find for the boss only to find mid-fight that it lowers a critical stat. While it may seem random or frustrating at first, you’ll find yourself appreciative of a game that doesn’t hold your hand for a moment. Every victory is sweet and redemption is as easy as clicking replay.
Addictive gameplay aside, the creativity of the game alone is worth playing over and over a hundred times. Binding of Isaac is rife with allusions ranging from retro games to modern day Valve shooters as well as Internet culture. In fact, I daresay that the mini-bosses could be renamed “Rage Faces: The Game”. The game oozes McMillen’s trademark visual style, and each frame is ocular bliss. This coupled with Super Meat Boy alumnus Danny Baranowsky’s pitch perfect soundtrack make the game a joy to experience.
Every time you play, every time you die because of some bomb out of nowhere, you start a totally new game with the same brilliant rules. It is a master class in iteration and training through experience, and though you may quit out of momentary frustration, you will find yourself opening the game in 20 minutes intent on reaching the end. You collect knowledge along the way as well as a bit of skill, and take it into a never ending romp through one of the most expressive, interesting games out there.
Oh, and it’s $5.
The Binding of Isaac
|Pros||$5, beautiful graphics, perfectly coupled sound design, HUGE depth and replayability.|
|Cons||Controls take a few deaths to used to.|
|Verdict||A crazy experiment gone right that everyone should try.|