Platforms: PS4/PS Vita
Price: $14.99 (Free For Plus Members In November)
Buy Here: The Binding of Isaac Rebirth
Be not deceived by the name of this game. The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is not a children’s tale about Abraham and Isaac. It’s a sadistic satire of the bible…and a damned fun game. If you’ve played any of the top-down Legend of Zelda games, you’ll be instantly familiar with The Binding of Isaac — except that this is not available on Nintendo platforms (and I’m not sure if it ever will be).
Isaac is our main hero, and his mother is the main villain. She’s been told by god to sacrifice her son who then escapes into a series of dungeons hidden beneath his bedroom. From there, you begin killing a variety of hellspawn using your tears and other power-ups you find. When you enter a new room, all the exits lock until you’ve destroyed every enemy. You can collect keys to unlock special doors, bombs to blow up enemies and secret passageways, and coins to purchase items in stores. There are hearts and pieces of hearts to restore your health, you can find passive and active ability items, and there are a variety of bosses and mini-bosses on every level. On top of that, there are unlockable familiars, and an assortment of characters to choose from besides the main character.
When I first sat down to play The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, I thought it looked like a knockoff version of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and that resemblance grew stronger the more I played. There are dungeon maps, compasses to display items on the map, and large hands that fall from the ceiling transporting you the beginning of the map. All of these features are found in A Link to the Past — which is a good thing to me as that’s one of my favorite games of all time.
Despite all the similarities, I still found the game to be difficult…at first. It took a while to get a handle on the controls and the strategy behind staying alive. Even though it looks a lot like The Legend of Zelda, the way Isaac attacks is more along the lines of something you would find in Resogun, Geometry Wars, or Super Stardust HD, where the right-analog stick is used to fire projectiles in any direction. In Isaac’s case, the projectiles are tears, and their trajectories aren’t the easiest to control. Enemies are often just outside of your range, or seemingly duck just beneath your fire. And even though the analog sticks would seem to provide players with a fuller range of access over Isaac’s motion and attack, I reverted to using the D-Pad and buttons for stricter controls over the analog.
Everything about the game is random, and that’s something I was unaware of beforehand. It took me a while to get used to that randomness, but it always kept the game from going stale. The map layouts always change, and the bosses switch as well. Even the abilities and treasure finds are randomly generated. For example, you can find some blue pills on one playthrough that will increase your damage and attack range, then on the next playthrough, those same pills will decrease your speed or health. So, you never know what to expect.
Isaac even looks different every time you play the game. While playing, you’ll gain random abilities and items which disfigure your character’s body. The more abilities you gain, the more grotesque Isaac appears. Even the familiars who follow you around look hideous, but they offer a whole lot of help. Between you and them, the worse you and your group looks, the better you are. Sometimes, you’ll gain a really cool (and ugly) ability, then you’ll die and be unable to find the same ability on your next continue. That randomness can be frustrating at times, causing you to die early on during some playthroughs, while being able to complete the entire game on others. But it makes things challenging as well. If you can accept the challenge, know that this game takes skill to beat, and a bit of luck.
I’ve completed the game several times now, and every ending has been different. There are 16 endings in total, and I aim to see them all. Of the characters I’ve unlocked, Azazel is easily my favorite. He looks like a large bat, and has the ability to breathe fire and fly over obstacles that Isaac must walk around (or explode) to bypass. Besides him, there are other biblical characters to choose from, and they have their own pros and cons. Lazarus can resurrect from the dead, and Mary Magdalene has more health than any of the others. You’ll have to guess what Cain, Judas, and Samson can do — not to mention the rest of the playable characters.
What I like least about this game, is picking up items and abilities, then searching the internet to learn their effects. Although pills are labeled as question-marks when you pick them up, the alerts displayed on the screen saying "Speed Up" and "Health Up" are self-explanatory. There are hundreds of other items in the game, however, with vague or useless descriptions, and that's terribly annoying.
Consider the following items and descriptions taken from the game. Knowing that you can only equip one and drop the rest, which would you choose?
- Broken Remote - "It's broken."
- Cancer - "Yay, cancer!"
- Cartridge - "I remember these."
- Mom's Toenail - "???"
If you answered, "I have no [censored] idea, but let's go with ____ ," then bookmark this cheat sheet and prepare to go on a crazy adventure.
Take it from me, this game is definitely worth playing (if you can get past its religious mockery and 16-bit graphics). It’s got some creepy sights and sounds, and will make you say “WTF is that?” a handful of times, but it’s one hell of a game and a whole lot of fun. Sacrifice a few minutes of your time and you may find yourself playing The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth for the rest of eternity.
If you’re a PlayStation Plus member, make sure you download The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth this month while it’s still free. You’ll be repenting if you don’t!
- High Replay-ability
- Element Of Surprise (Never knowing what to expect)
- Difficult For Amateurs (No Easy Setting)
- Items And Abilities With Unknown Effects