A re-imagined return to the Basement, this is a game that is fun for veterans and beginners of the rogue-like genre alike.
It’s an odd thing to remake one of your own games with dev work beginning only two years after the initial game was set free in the wild, and it’s an even more odd thing to completely redo it in a completely different graphical format on a completely different engine in a completely different style… And yet somehow retain the–charm? Is that the word I want to use? Charm of the original?
Hey, do you remember the teaser trailer for Binding of Isaac: Rebirth? I’ll bet you don’t, I’ll bet you never watched it or knew about it. That’s ok, and probably a good thing. I am going to embed it here, but also recommend you don’t watch it.
See? All of that charm, all in one little 1 minute package! The creepy artwork, uncomfortable story, and general disquieting crazy that made the original Binding of Isaac a cult classic definitely make their return, and we haven’t even loaded the game up! Forgive me for using a tired internet expression, but I know I felt (prior to its release) that “dis gon’ be gud.”
I love the rogue-like genre, the idea that your fate is mostly your own, the idea that you are going to tackle the same problem from different directions to see what happens. Each time you start a game of Isaac, you start with the same stats and abilities on the same (sort of) randomly generated levels. As with most games in the genre, it starts out benign enough, with a few bullets (tears, to stick with the theme and story of the game) in a fairly wide room, but as you get deeper into the basement it becomes cramped, almost claustrophobic, and begins to resemble a bullet hell game. Here, have a comparison:
See? That’s pretty tame, right? Even if you don’t know what you are looking at, you can parse it. There’s a few babies bleeding from their eyes (that’s normal, right?), a few rocks, nothing too out of the ordinary.
OH GOD WHY?! I am unmade by the end of times!
It has been said, by other reviewers, that the difficulty of this game is lower than the original–but that’s not quite right. This game contains all of the difficulty of the original, translated almost word-for-word, but there are many more items, and item combinations, that allow you to mitigate the otherwise harsh conditions of the Basement than were available to players of the original. As the game progresses, you collect items in each level of the basement that have varying levels of usefulness. There are the almost completely useless (there is an item that makes your bullet tears travel in circles, making aiming next to impossible) to power the likes of which makes every other item and enemy seem almost trivial (Polyphemus+Brimstone=Slow Saunter to Victory). The game manages to keep things interesting by this method, though; there are easy fun runs, where you walk to the final boss of the game with an easy saunter, and there are difficult runs where you scrape and claw your way to try to make it to the end of even the early or middle floors, the gods of the game having abandoned you to the desert of poor items.
It is in these poor runs that you will find yourself praying to the lords of the video game ether, and particularly to the patron Saint of Randomness, RNGesus (Random Number Generator Jesus). If you find that even with dire items the game offers you little challenge, there are certainly options open to you that allow you to crank the difficulty dial up a little; since the original, new characters have been added that give you the ability to cater the game to your own personal tastes. Eden, one of those new additions, starts the game with completely randomized stats and items; when you press Start, you never know what you will get. Still not difficult enough? Once you’ve mastered the game with the regular characters, you will be able to unlock The Lost, a character with little power and no health–and I mean that seriously. Items that would usually increase your HP have no effect on The Lost, and you will die in a single hit almost completely regardless of which items you have.
Ah, but I’ve been talking about people who want a serious challenge. What about those days when RNGesus has abandoned you and you just need a rest? Another of the new characters, Azazel, awaits your call; while perhaps not intended to be the incredible powerhouse that s/he is, the damage and power of this character are difficult to overstate. New players, or those looking to take a rest from the sometimes punishing difficulty of the game can find some solace in this character’s embrace.
All of the previous information adds up to one thing; a game with incredible replay value. Sometimes you play it to get to the end, sometimes you play it to see how powerful you can become (and wow, the heights of power to which the patient can reach are truly mountainous).
The graphics are 16-bit era inspired pixel art, though with modern lighting effects that give the game a glow, and a feeling of being alive. There are tiny details inserted into the basement–graffiti, little ritual altars on the floor, bugs walking around, water dripping–it all adds to the feel of the game. After you’ve been playing Isaac (either the original or the remake) for a long time, the horror factor tends to get lost in the noise of adventure and exploration, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Don’t get me wrong, on your first few playthroughs, if you pay close attention to the enemies and details, the game certainly is creepy. That being said, even after thousands of hours of play, there are item combinations that will still be left to surprise and delight you. With hundreds of items to pick up, and some with fun and interesting synergies, you won’t ever get bored of the possibilities the game offers.
As far as gameplay, it has some of the hallmarks of a dual stick shooter, though you can only shoot in the four cardinal directions by default. Originally designed for the keyboard, a controller feature has been added to the remake… And it wasn’t a hasty, Ubisoft-style feature that was stapled on at the last minute, either–the analog joystick for movement has full sensitivity; you can walk or run, something that is denied to keyboard purists. You have the option, for shooting, to use either a second joystick or the generally standard four button layout of most controllers to shoot in the four directions. Something worth noting is that there are items that give you the power of fully directional shooting or tear movement, though, and the controller lends itself incredibly well to this–halfway through the run you may find that you switch your shooting seamlessly from four button style to dual stick style without ever even realizing it.
Thanks to the modern era of video game streaming, you don’t have to merely watch a video or take my word for it; you can watch the game played live. My general recommendation for Isaac would be to watch CobaltStreak who is incredibly friendly, willing to teach anyone and everyone to play, and generally a pleasure to watch. He streams 7 days per week, from 5pm CST until 11pm CST.
If you like the rogue-like genre, or want to try the rogue-like genre, this is definitely a great game to pick up.
Binding of Isaac: Rebirth
Game Score - 9/10
A great rogue-like game with a dynamic, randomly generated dungeon that is sure to keep you coming back for more, Binding of Isaac:Rebirth is a great game to pick up to kill 30 minutes as easily as it kills 6 hours. If you are a completionist, the massive number of unlockables cannot be overstated, and the variety of characters and modes make it so that there will always be something new waiting for you in the Basement.