PlayStation 4Review

The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth Review

Developer: NICALiS
Publisher: Edmund McMillen
Review Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: November 4, 2014

In an era where gaming is saturated with sameness in the AAA field, we are thankfully graced with a consistent splurge of indie games. These games are born out of arguably more creative and artistic integrity than any other games being released these days. One of such games is The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth. Yes, it is a rogue-like. Yes, it is a twin-stick shooter. Yes, it has 16-bit visuals. But when all of Isaac’s interesting twists and advancements congregate, you get a gameplay experience quite unlike any other.

The Binding of Isaac presents itself as perhaps the most absurd retelling of a bible story to date. A play on the story in which Abraham was told by God to kill his son Isaac, the game sets up that Isaac’s mom believes God wants her to kill her son to prove her faith. In fear, Isaac escapes to their basement. The rest of the story exists far beneath the surface – literally. As you explore deeper into the underground, Isaac faces both his demons and greatest fears until the final confrontation against his mother. Any other story is relatively bare, but piecing this all together is definitely interesting as you discover the multitude of endings.

The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth_20141107140636
A look at what an empty room might look like after clearing it of foes.

Without spoiling anything, the true final endgame is much deeper and more intricate than one might expect, but most players will face death a dozen or so times before finally slaying mom or beyond. Part of what made the original Binding of Isaac great for me was slowly discovering just how deep the game was. Beyond mom, there exist a handful of other seemingly “final” bosses. The game will have you replaying it multiple times (not including the inevitable deaths that await you) before you can access these bosses, but the experience, or the discovery, is part of what makes this game so appealing.

Isaac is a game whose appeal fixates on the joy of exploration. Its charming-yet-revolting disposition is an excellent backdrop for one of the best item discovery games I have ever played. The base game allows for dozens upon dozens of usable items; anything from gaining more health, stronger or modified tears, the power to fly, and everything in-between. Each of the early levels contain a treasure room, and defeating a boss will reward you a treasure. As the levels grow harder, Isaac will grow stronger. Learning what items do (as well as how they interact with each other) and using strategically found pills, cards, and trinkets, is a blast and will keep gamers coming back for more.

Much of the games’ assets were reused from the original. It’s important to point out that this game is a remake, not a sequel. Fans of the original will find much of it familiar. You start a level, you kill every enemy in the Link to the Past-style dungeon rooms, get some loot, fight the boss, and progress to the next level. The bulk of the changes come to the addition of new bosses, tear types, pills, trinkets, and items.

An end-game Isaac character. Not atypical!
An end-game Isaac character. Not atypical!

The inclusion of big rooms is new, too. These don’t really make the experience more fun, however. They’re often quite frustrating and don’t contribute much to the difficulty other than simply housing more enemies than a standard room. I often found myself having to scour these rooms to find a final enemy to kill.

Despite the inclusion of additional endings, fans will find that the endgame is also very similar to the previous games’. As someone with 141 hours in the original Binding of Isaac, I enjoyed this experience immensely – it all just felt a little too familiar. If this is your first entry into the series, however, look no further.

Diehard players of the original are bound to see many familiar faces in their journey, along with some new ones. After a dozen or so playthroughs of the original, the boss encounters become a bit stale. The inclusion of additional enemies keeps this remake from becoming dull.

For those unacquainted with the series or rogue-likes in general, the initial difficulty curve may be off-putting. The twin-stick shooter controls won’t do noobies any favors. Coupled with the constant enemies and overwhelming amount of unfamiliar items and abilities, the game may be frustrating. However, the more you play and the more you discover, the better you will get. You will begin to see the charm through the layers of blood and poop.

Despite the difficulty, the majority of your deaths will be on your hands. The game’s mechanics function exceptionally well. Each enemy has their weaknesses. It may not seem that way at first, but discovering how to take down a particular challenge is immensely satisfying. Some runs will be more ruthless than others, but you will leave every run with knowledge of a new boss, item, or enemy type. This is the kind of game that will keep you up at late whispering “Just one more run”.

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Dimitri Gedevanishvili

Dimitri is a busy fella living, working, and going to school near Seattle, Washington. Video games and writing are his passions and he hopes to combine them into a career one day.

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