Zero Lives Left – The Binding of Isaac

Game: The Binding of Isaac
Released: 2011
Available On: Mac (Review), PC, Linux
Genre: Dungeon Crawler

What better story to base your video game on than the biblical story of Isaac, sacrificed to God by his father. It’s those kinds of stories that warm hearts whenever they’re told. A perfect father’s day. Love. The Binding of Isaac is based on that story but some liberties were taken with the story. Instead of his father, it is Isaacs deranged mother. Instead of being set in the biblical time, it is set in a modern setting. Instead of being clothed, Isaac is naked. Yup, so that’s The Binding of Isaac in a quick nutshell. A naked boy running from his knife wielding mother.

The game’s art and mood can be summed up quickly with the word: unsettling. It’s not uncommon to walk into a room and see a new enemy type in the game and just let out a noise of discomfort. You know the noise, a slightly quiet and muted ‘oongh’ at the sight of something that just makes you feel off. The enemy types you’ll face range from spiders, to flies, to deranged looking humans, to humans who have their whole head infested with bugs until they become husks of misfortune shooting flies at you and WEEPING at the very thought of their own tortured existence.

Oongh…

The Binding of Isaac is a ‘rogue’-like dungeon crawling game where you explore a randomly generated dungeon and try and get deeper and deeper to eventually battle your Mom and whatever other bosses step in your way. The randomly generated dungeons ensure that the game always stays interesting, and, even though you’ll encounter similar room types, the game will usually always stay fresh. The game spawns upgrades and items that enhance your character — like a belt that makes him run faster, a little blob that follows you around shooting enemies, and a LASER THAT SHOOTS LASERS — all of these items are really fun, and picking all them up and changing your character is probably the most addicting part of the game.

The items can further come together to create an unstoppable demon killing machine. This is exceptionally rewarding when you’ve had a few runs of getting nothing but crap items and suddenly you’re shooting a beam of energy from your face that can one hit kill everything apart from a few bosses. That’s where the random generation thing adds a great, albeit frustrating, aspect to the game. Yes, sometimes you may get a good combination of items, but usually you end up getting a bunch of stuff that just don’t do anything good for you. It’s very common that you’ll restart the first world if your first item room and boss gift is a bad item. To me, in the case of this game, it’s totally acceptable to mulligan if you get a bad roll for item pick up. Especially when the first level will eventually become muscle memory for you — even if it is randomly generated.

The game is fun. It’s very fun. It’s a great way to waste a half hour when you’re tired of picking lint out of your belly button or staring at the ceiling. Another huge factor for the game is just how difficult it can be. Binding of Isaac has a steep learning curve; something that is very common in rogue games. When you die you lose all of your items and have to start all the way back at step one. That way, when you finally get to the final boss the journey there was so hard pressed and stressful that you’ll be on edge when you fight her. Defeating her the first time is one of those big ‘FUCK YEAH’ moments in video gaming; you’ll feel like a god damn champion. After you beat her the first time something funny happens. Suddenly you make it to her every time thereafter and now you set your sights on the new final boss after her. Then after you beat that new boss another new even scarier final boss shows up. However the game just gets easier for you because you’re getting better, you’re climbing that difficulty curve that at once seemed impossible.

The music in the game is great. The art design is a perfect combination of uncomfortably adorable and extremely disturbing. It controls well and the items you pick up are all awesome. They go even further and each item you picks up modifies Isaac in some unsettling way. The game, and its expansion, are cheap. I believe you can get both of them for about 7 or 8 bucks. That is INSANE. I’ve played this game for almost 12 hours at the point of this review and I love it as much as I did the first time. Yes, it gets repetitive — but it’s a god damn rogue dungeon crawler. What do you expect? This isn’t a game that you set out to play for an entire day. No, you play The Binding of Isaac for an hour or two when you’re bored. It’ll fill the boredom gap quite quickly and you’ll feel good when you succeed in it. I highly recommend this game, it’s available on Steam.

The Binding of Isaac: 8/10

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