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    The Binding of Isaac

    Game » consists of 4 releases. Released Sep 28, 2011

    A twisted twin-stick shooter from one of the designers of Super Meat Boy. Players take control of Isaac, a young boy who delves deep into the dungeons of his basement as he is hunted by his deranged mother.

    marlow83's The Binding of Isaac (PC) review

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    Disgusting isn't enough

    The Binding of Isaac is the latest game from Edmund McMillen (the mind behind Super Meat Boy). It’s a strange Zelda/Roguelike hybrid with a distinctive, cartoonishly gruesome visual style. The setup, in concept, is disturbing and something right up my alley, and could have very well been a disturbing pyshcological trip through the mind of an abused child. Then I learned the game had been made start to finish in 4 months. And that it was 5 dollars. And I realized what the hell a roguelike actually is. Needless to say, The Binding of Isaac was not the experience I imagined it being, nor did it really even try to be. The Binding of Isaac is a game wholly driven on item collection, being played through many times, and 100% completion. There are plenty of people who will salivate at that description. I do not. But as long as I remembered that this game was finished in 4 months and that it only cost me 5 dollars, I allowed myself to enjoy it.

    The roguelike elements utilized in the game are the dungeon crawl structure, the random generation of rooms and the dungeons as a whole, and permanent death. The Zelda influences seem to be limited to the original 1986 “classic,” since the camera angle and identically shaped rectangular rooms have finally appeared again 25 years after Nintendo realized that level design like that could get boring easily and shouldn’t be allowed to infect a developer’s design philosophy. Unless, of course, the game is being finished in 4 months. The gameplay is simple, and in terms of mechanics is almost best described as a dual joystick shooter. But, y’know, with a keyboard. The typical WASD movement scheme is in place, and the arrow keys fire the primary ammunition, Isaac’s tears. The player can also pick up a multitude of items, some of which have passive effects like increasing the range of Isaac’s tears, some are attacks that are activated with the space bar, and some (pills and tarot cards) are activated with the Q key, and have different effects on Isaac. Also, Isaac has bombs used to destroy rocks that block items. There is an economy of sorts in place, in which Isaac will find coins which he can trade for items in shops, which are unlocked with keys that Isaac finds by killing enemies.

    The gameplay is functional, if not too exciting, but then again: 4 months, 5 dollars. The action itself is so simplistic that it would honestly be impossible to critique unless it was completely broken. The higher levels get rather chaotic and difficult, but the average player is going to spend much more time in the first two levels, which can and will get tedious. The randomization does a little to lessen the feeling of reptition, but there are distinct enemies that show up on each level of the dungeon, and the order in which the player faces them matter little. The bosses (and mini bosses) Isaac faces are randomized as well. But again, there are distinct bosses that show up on certain levels, so the feeling of saminess will likely kick in at some point. The only major technical issue with the combat is that it is difficult to tell what the trajectory and hit radius is of projectiles fired at Isaac is, which makes them unfairly hard to dodge in a few spots. This isn’t any sort of major problem, but it still detracts from the experience in a minor way. But all in all, The Binding of Isaac’s biggest gameplay flaw is that it is a grind. The whole point of the game it to collect a plethora of randomly occuring items while slogging through dungeons, in which the player will likely die often and have to play from the beginning over and over again. Played in bursts, it’s an alright experience, but played when played for hours, it gets infuriating.

    The absolute biggest selling point for Isaac is the visual aesthetic. It mixes a handdrawn, cartoon style with absolutely grisly scenery, and it works quite well. In the strange scenario in which this game was made to be realistic looking, it likely wuld have been criticized for being absolutely vile. The enemies in this game are conceptually disgusting, featuring zombie children crying blood, headless bodies that seem to have vaginas on their stomachs (from which they shoot jets of blood), children with flies living in their skin, and a many other mutilated, disgusting sacks of flesh that are after Isaac’s life. The bosses are equally as fucked up, if not more so. I won’t spoil them here, because seeing what twisted, defected freaks Isaac has to fight is the major draw to the game.I suppose I should mention that this game features more feces and urine than your average Tom Six film as well. Naturally the cartoony look offsets the harshness of the reality of what the player is looking at, which goes a long way to making the game less reprehensible.

    Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for fucked up scenarios in games. Games are a form of art, and the audience at large should be able to handle it. But what little story there is in The Binding of Isaac does absolutely nothing to justify its imagery. The story begins with a series of simple animations describing Isaac’s simple life with his obese, Christian TV watching mother. His mother gets 3 messages from God: To take away Isaac’s posessions (including clothes), then to lock Isaac in his room, and finally to kill him to prove her loyalty to her Lord. Y’know, like that one story in that one book. Isaac finds a trapdoor to the basement in his room, which he dives into to avoid being killed. This setup is rather interesting and makes me want to give Edmund a big atheist high five. But none the story itself is rather weak with simply because the actual exposition bits try to be more comedic than anything else, and are told with a suspect amount of whimsy. It’s sad, because the gameplay sections are twisted as hell, and actually imply some of the abuses that Issac has suffered through. For example, Isaac will sometime find health increasing items like rotten meat and dog food, which will be called “dessert” or “lunch,” implying more neglect and abuse than we are made privy to in the opening animation. Devotion to revealing little details like that could have made Isaac far more compelling, but I’m left with the impression that McMillen didn’t even care about developing the idea. In between the game’s levels the player is treated to an image of Isaac crying on the floor while thinking about some trauma in his past. Some of these are actual traumas, like being ignored by his mother or being locked in a trunk, but some of these are just jokes, like having Isaac running out of toilet paper. Isaac has a pathetic “why me” pose he does in almost all of these animations that is also intended to be comical. And the comedy is the problem. We are given a horrid scenario and a gruesome setting, and we are left with “Pills Here!” Left 4 Dead references and shit that turns into smily faces (literally). The game even suggests that what occurs in the basement is all in Isaac’s mind, but it does not address any of the implications of this are regarding Isaac’s character. Instead we get a shitty cliffhanger ending. All in all, it’s clear that McMillen had absolutely nothing to say, meaning the narrative is a 2-Dimensional as the graphics in the game itself.

    But I have to give credit where it is due, and applaud the excellent soundtrack from Danny Baranowsky. The music is properly creepy and somber, but also exciting enough to drive the action and make the game a lot more enjoyable than it would be otherwise.

    The thing is, that’s sort of the problem with The Binding of Isaac. As a game, it starts fun in a flash game sort of way, but quickly devolves into a repetitive grind. But it is a treat for the eyes and the ears. But it is absolutely nothing more than that, with nothing clever or interesting to present with the help of its great visuals. If item collection is that large of a draw for you, then you’ll enjoy helping Isaac kill things with tears. But if you exected an experience as interesting as the game’s concept promised, than you’ll be sorely disappointed. But maybe I’m stupid to criticize Mcmillen and crew. After all, this game was completed in 4 months. And it costs 5 dollars. But then again, the movie Clerks was made under similar conditions, and it has a lot more social commentary. And I saw it for free. So never mind, then.

    Other reviews for The Binding of Isaac (PC)

      It's Ugly But You'll Want to See It All 0

      The Binding of Isaac has at least three hooks: its unique gameplay, its procedural generation which encourages repeated playthroughs, and its very distinctive aesthetic with a sinister sense of humour. Altogether it makes an astonishing package, which everybody should give a go for the laughably low price that is being asked. It's not perfect, but it has serious staying power, and provides a memorable experience, making this small downloadable best-in-class. You take control of Isaac, a small bo...

      5 out of 5 found this review helpful.

      A Game of Strange and Creative Fun 0

      The game's Biblical references are a nice touch.The Binding of Isaac is a downloadable rogue-like from the minds of programmer Florian Himsl, and the artist and designer behind the acclaimed Super Meat Boy, Edmund McMillen. Bearing McMillen’s trademark twisted art and narrative, the game acts as a loose and bastardised retelling of the Bible story of the same name. In its opening we are introduced to Isaac, a young boy who lives with an abusive mother obsessed with Christian TV programmes. Under...

      2 out of 2 found this review helpful.

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