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REVIEW: The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth (PS4)


Binding of Isaac: Rebirth

Before reviewing The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, I need to get a couple of disclaimers out of the way. Firstly, I never played the original flash-based game on PC, I know a couple of people who did and really enjoyed it, but I just never got around to giving it a go; much like with The Last of Us, this remaster is my initial experience of this videogame. So, if you’re coming into this with the first iteration under your belt, you may feel differently about certain aspects than I do. Secondly, I find this game to be *extremely difficult*, despite completing games like Dark Souls or Catherine numerous times over, The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth has given me a real run for my money. I don’t usually review videogames until I’ve finished them, and this morning I finally finished this, or so I thought… in fact it was just my first completed run-through and it looks like the real ending(s) come afterwards, once you’ve finished the game at least once. So, I’ve not done that yet, and this review is based upon hours of gameplay but only a single completed game. Not that it matters. To be honest I think I’m going to be playing this game on and off for months to come! You see, The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is like some sort of horridly addictive drug that at once gives you an awesome high and at the same time provides enough disturbing images for nightmare fuel and ensures you’re still thinking about it long after you’ve switched off your console for the evening.


The setting and story of the game might be something that is quite divisive amongst people, depending on how religious (specifically Christian) you are and how tolerant you are of your religion being dissected. Isaac’s mom is an obese and neglectful woman, who spends her days sat eating in front of the TV watching evangelical “god channel” programmes, until one day she hears the voice of God telling her to punish her son and prove her devotion. After stripping Isaac of all his worldly possessions, including his clothes, she is eventually ordered to kill him. The poor naked boy cowering in his room hears his mum coming after him with a knife and makes his escape into the basement of the family house through a trap door. The rest of the game is probably all happening in Isaac’s head as he scrambles about in the dark, often through the remains of brothers and sisters who may or may not have met a similar fate at the hands of their religiously psychotic mother. As I said in the opening, it’s real nightmare fuel, but thankfully the presentation of the game itself stops it from ever becoming too serious or harrowing, and the gameplay itself is actually fairly light-hearted for what could have been one of the darkest videogame concepts ever put to pixels! Edmund McMillen has used the platform of a videogame to exercise some of his personal demons, but despite its divisive nature the experience is all the richer for it.

Eew eew!

Gameplay itself is like a mix between the original Legend of Zelda top-down dungeon crawling and a twin-stick shooter like Dead Nation, with some rogue-like elements thrown in such as loot collecting, levelling up, etc. Typically you spend much of your time entering a room, enemies spawn and then you avoid their projectiles like a bullet-hell shoot-em-up while delivering your own shots in retaliation; enemy bullets here tend to be congealed blood while your own are child’s tears. What makes this all far more compelling than usual though is the fact that the whole game is procedurally generated on the fly each time you begin a run-through, so you’re never quite sure what you’re going to get. There are many layers to the dungeon, and in each you’ll have an inkling about what sorts of enemies will spawn and what bosses you’ll have to fight between each stage, but aside from that there is a *lot* of randomness. This is both a blessing and a curse as your successful journey through the dungeon relies almost as much on luck as it does on skill, with some playthroughs giving you an assortment of useful and powerful weapons early on and making a mockery of the so-called high difficulty; while at other times you’re hardly given anything of worth and spend the entire experience covered in beads of sweat, trying desperately to defeat another boss monster (with enemy assists) using your starting pap-pap tears. What saves the game in this regard is its short length, with a run through the dungeon taking roughly forty minutes, so if you’re dealt a bum hand just reload the game and try again.

Eew eew eew!

Graphically, The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth has been reworked into a faux-16-Bit art style, and it looks fantastic. The sprites are all very expressive and have a lot of personality, even the hideously deformed boss monsters and discarded siblings that you meet have their own cartoonish charm, and the whole game has a very stylish look to it. There is also an option in the graphics menu to enable a “filter”, which smoothes away the large pixels and recreates more of a hand-drawn art style, which in my opinion looks infinitely better; I’ve become quite jaded with ‘indie’ games always using pixel art of some variety. Enable the filter! The environments and levels of the basement look like a child’s interpretation of hell, with lots of blood and cartoon excrement splattered and heaped in piles all over the place. It’s yucky but in an adolescent and amusing fashion. Special mention must also go to the sound design, as the different baddies all cry, moan and make vomiting noises in the most outrageous and laughable way possible. The music is also fantastic and one particular track often gets stuck in my head in-between playthroughs, with the only solution to remove it being to dive back in for another run. In fact that is often the solution to the dilemmas this game creates, and it has a powerful “just one more go” feeling that keeps me playing it again-and-again!

With so many power-ups, secret rooms, bosses, baddies, level layouts, unlockable game modes, challenges and characters to play as, I just can’t see the appeal of this game being exhausted. Not to mention that now I’ve beaten the final boss, I now need to go back in and beat the real final boss!! At the time of writing, The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth was given free to me through PlayStation Plus, and I’ve been playing it on my PS4 and (through remote play) on my PS Vita, but I would not hesitate to pick up a copy full price further down the line; especially if they’re going to release some DLC for even more depth, randomness and secret stuff.

(excellent game)

There may be a *lot* of randomness involved, but this is also the reason why this game is such a success; you can literally play it over-and-over again and it's different every single time. The sheer amount of replay value is further reinforced by unlocks, collectibles, secrets and trophies to pick up through each playthrough. An unusual concept, charming (if a little gross) graphics, top-knotch music and rock solid gameplay make The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth one of this years highlights, and a truly exceptional game. At the time of writing it's also completely free!
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About n0signalone of us since 2:01 AM on 10.06.2014

Videogames have come a long way since the 8-bit and 16-bit days of old, and it is now one of the most interesting and constantly-evolving storytelling mediums. I started blogging about videogames a few years ago because I am very passionate about certain experiences I've had, which I don't think could have existed outside of our unique hobby, and I wanted to share this with other like-minded people on the internet.

I'm based in the UK and my favourite videogame of all time is probably still Shadow of the Colossus, but other more recent games such as the impeccable Dark Souls and Journey have given it a run for its money. My other interests, and things I have blogged extensively about, are board games and Japanese anime. I've got a degree in Media Communications and Film, and I'm currently a Teacher of ICT.

I post fairly regularly on my personal blog at https://n0timportant.blogspot.co.uk/, so please visit there for legacy videogame reviews and articles on anime, boardgames, etc.