It’s still really f*cking hard, though
[Dtoid community blogger Corduroy Turtle offers some strategies for achieving 100% completion in The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth. What a guy! –Mr Andy Dixon]
The concept of difficulty is likely different for everyone. Personally, I want to feel a real sense of accomplishment when I beat a game. I thirst for near-impossible challenges and I certainly don’t appreciate having my hand held. I want to feel like I’ve really earned it; like I’ve suffered. I’ve beaten the original NES Ninja Gaiden without dying. I’ve battled my way through Hell in Spelunky and defeated King Yama multiple times. I made Super Meat Boy my bitch. Though I know skill is a factor, I think the fact that I’m just really goddamn stubborn helps a lot too. Once I set my sights on something, I can accomplish just about anything. Eventually.
The latest challenge I set for myself seemed simple enough: unlock all of the items in The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth. For those who are unfamiliar with the game, the items Isaac comes across are selected randomly from a pool of “unlocked” items. Some are unlocked by beating the game a certain number of times or completing specific challenges. Others require the late-game bosses to be beaten with each individual character. This is something I did in the original The Binding of Isaac and I was looking forward to doing it again. Sure, it was bound to be difficult, but I absolutely had to see everything this big, beautiful game had to offer. No excuses.
What I didn’t know at the time was there was a super-secret playable character hidden in Rebirth that required a series of obscure deaths in a specific order to unlock. Luckily, you can use Seeds for the first three steps, which is beyond helpful. This is something that was buried deep within the game; something that creator Ed McMillen hoped would take months, if not years, of piecing together clues to discover. Unfortunately for him, a few savvy gamers peered into the code of the game and figured it out in less than a week. Welp, that’s the world we live in.
This character, known as ‘The Lost’, is a ghost. He can fly right off the bat and his stats are all pretty normal except for one tiny, little detail: he has absolutely no health. This means that not only does he die in one hit, but a bunch of the items in the game have no effect on him or will kill him if you try to use them. As you can imagine, the idea of beating the game multiple times with a character who can die from something as small as a fly was not only daunting; it was terrifying.
Long story short, I did it. It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t fun and to be completely honest, I don’t recommend it! But if you’re like me and you just have to do it, I guess I have some tips for you. These by no means will guarantee your success but hopefully they’ll shed a little light on the long, depressing road that lies ahead of you.
1) Do everything else first
There’s a ton of stuff to do in Rebirth, and almost none of it requires playing as The Lost, so focus on all of that first. Seriously. Enjoy the game. Beat the Cathedral and Sheol paths with every other character on Hard. Complete all of the challenges. Fully upgrade the shop by plopping 999 coins into the donation machine. Unlock every possible thing you can before doing this. Not only will it allow you to get comfortable with the game, but you’re going to want every possible item in the mix if/when you decide to tackle this nightmare.
2) The Lost does have some advantages
Wait, The Lost isn’t a total piece of shit? Well, sort of. As I mentioned earlier, he can fly, which is a huge help. This allows you to grab any items you can see on-screen without worrying about spikes, pits or rocks that would normally block your path. You’re going to want every bomb, key and chest you can get your hands on so this is huge. You also won’t have to worry about the damaging effects of “creep,” which is the poison trail that some enemies leave in their path. This also means that you can “hide” from certain enemies and attacks by hovering over rocks. This tactic is absolutely necessary for survival but just keep in mind that there are enemies that can also fly, and there are plenty of attacks that are unaffected by rocks, so you’re by no means invinsible.
A somewhat pleasant side effect of having no health is it grants The Lost free admittance to all Challenge Rooms. Though they can be a huge risk, Challenge Rooms can have free items inside which are always nice. Plus, if you’re carring a card or pill that allows you to teleport, you can grab the free stuff and immediate get the fuck out of there without having to survive the impending battle.
However, the biggest advantage The Lost has over the other characters is that he gets free Deals with the Devil. Devil Rooms will sometimes open up after boss fights and usually you have to sacrifice precious health to gain the items inside. But since The Lost literally has no health, everything is free! There are some really great Devil-exclusive items so grab what you can. Damage ups are a definite. Items that cause fear are also nice. Just be careful and remember that not all Devil items are helpful. The Razor Blade actually hurts you when activated, which will obviously kill you before you can enjoy the increased damage. The Dark Bum, who is normally a welcome addition to any run since he can spawn soul hearts, offers no help to The Lost. In fact, since there’s a chance he could spawn a enemy spider instead, he’s actually a huge liability. Trust me.
3) Play on Hard at all times
Here’s the thing: most of The Lost’s items can be unlocked by beating the various end-game bosses on Normal. BUT, if you truly want to unlock every item in the game, you need to realize that one of those items is called Godhead and it requires that you beat all end-game bosses with all playable characters… on Hard. Since you definitely won’t want to play as The Lost any more than you have to (trust me), you might as well knock out Hard mode right from the start. It’s not as bad as you think. Playing as The Lost is already hard as fuck so you probably won’t notice anyway.
4) Be wary of champion enemies
Since you’ll presumably be playing on Hard, champion enemies will be more common. More often than not, these guys will have more health, as well as added quirk that can really be a pain in certain situations. Dark teal enemies will explode upon death, but light blue ones release an 8-way tear shot when killed. These two version have killed me countless times so it’s good to keep your eye out for them so you can act accordingly.
5) Abuse the donation machine
If you followed my earlier tip of donating 999 coins to the Donation Machine, you can thank me now. Not only do fully upgraded shops offer more items to choose from, but certain extremely helpful items will only spawn in fully upgraded shops. Also, you can use the Donation Machine as an ATM when you’re low on cash, as long as you have the bombs necesssary to make a withdrawl. I used this tactic so often that my savings went from 999 coins down to a measly 22 cents by the time I finally completed my Lost playthroughs. Not going to lie, I was scared. Anyway, here are a few shop-exclusive items that can help you out big time:
Black Candle – A passive item that prevents/removes curses for the rest of that run. Some curses cast darkness over entire levels, hide the map, or even disguise items as question marks until you pick them up. Since these happen randomly and are always a pain in the butt, the opportunity to avoid them completely is lovely.
The Candle, Red Candle – These are space bar items that can do massive damage if your aim is true. They also recharge every few seconds which means you can use them multiple times per room. They absolutely chew through bosses.
Stop Watch – A passive item that slows down all enemies in every single room. Need I say more? This obviously gives you more time to react to certain attacks but also slows down and shortens the range of enemy projectiles. It’s somewhat rare but one of the best items in the game. There’s also a Broken Watch item that sometimes grants the same effect, but also has the chance of actually speeding up the enemies in a room. Yikes. Maybe think twice before picking that one up.
Blank Card – A space bar item that mimics the effect of any card or rune you are currently holding. Though I wouldn’t recommend this 100% of the time, it can be amazingly powerful under certain conditions. For example, if you’re holding the Chaos Card, you now wield a throwable projectile that can kill any boss/enemy in the game immediately, and it recharges every four rooms! Insane.
There’s Options – This item will let you choose from two items after defeating a boss, instead of being stuck with one. This is sort of a big deal when you consider that a lot of items offered after defeating a boss are just simple health upgrades, which do nothing for The Lost. It’s nice to have options.
6) Guppy items are your friend
Collecting any combination of three Guppy items will cause you to transform into Guppy himself, which makes you super powerful. As Guppy, you spawn tons of blue flies as you do damage. Not only will blue flies follow you from room to room and kill enemies for you, but their damage scales to your current power level. As you get stronger, so do they. No matter who I’m playing as, I’m always fantasizing about transforming into Guppy. It’s awesome. Here are the items:
Dead Cat, Guppy’s Collar – Extra lives! These are basically necessities when playing as The Lost. No matter how powerful or prepared you are, certain rooms or difficult bosses will take you by surprise and all it takes is one small mistake to ruin a promising run and send you back to the main menu with nothing. You’ll want the insurance of a few extra lives to save your ass in a crisis.
Guppy’s Head – A space bar item that spawns two to four blue flies per room. It’s far from being the best space bar item but if you have nothing else in that slot, it’s certainly nice to have. An important sidenote is that it counts as one of the three Guppy items needed for the transformation regardless if you keep it on you or not. Just picking it up once is good enough. Nice.
Guppy’s Tail – Drastically increases the number of red chests you come across, thus greatly improving your chances of seeing other Guppy-related items. The Left Hand trinket does sort of the same thing. Red chests can be risky, since they can also have troll bombs or spiders inside but that’s just a risk you have to take. Be prepare for anything to jump out!
Guppy’s Hairball – Arguable the least attractive of all the Guppy items. This lump of wet hair gets flung around your body and can damage enemies, growing in size with each kill. It’s more of a distraction than anything, in my opinion but it’s not totally useless. It can also sort of block projectiles sometimes.
Guppy’s Paw – Nope, I was wrong. This one is almost totally worthless. For a character with health, Guppy’s Paw can turn one red heart into three soul hearts. Pretty cool. For the Lost, it just gets him one step closer to the Guppy transformation which I guess is just fine. Remember, just like Guppy’s Head, you don’t have to carry this around forever. Just pick it up and put it right back down if you want to.
7) These can make your life a lot easier
Not all items in Rebirth are created equal. In fact, some are stupid good, especially when playing as The Lost. Besides the aforementioned Dead Cat which grants you with nine precious lives, here are a few items that can really take a run from “ok” to “OMG this could be the one.”
Brimstone – This item turns your tears into a full-screen beam that can clear entire rooms in less than a second. Sure, it needs to be charged fully before it can be shot, but you can negate that a bit by charging it before you enter a room. Plus, it passes through all obstructions which means you can just point and shoot without worrying if things like rocks are in your way. Combine this with Spoon Bender (homing tears) and, holy lord, you don’t even know.
Daddy Longlegs + Gnawed Leaf – Yeah, I know I said “single-handedly” earlier but if you’re lucky enough to stumble upon this combo, you’ve won the lottery. Daddy Longlegs is really good on his own since he seeks out enemies for you and stomps the shit out of them. But combine that with the protection of Gnawed Leaf, an item that makes you invulnerable as long as you don’t move, and you can basically clear rooms by doing nothing at all. I’m going to be honest with you, I’ve never actually gotten this combo myself, but I’ve read about it and I’m jealous.
Holy Mantle – This passive item negates one hit per room. It doesn’t seem like a lot but when that’s all it takes to end a run as The Lost, it’s a really big deal. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been hit by a boss mere seconds before I could deliver the final blow. It’s heartbreaking. If you come across the Holy Mantle, thank your lucky stars.
Mom’s Knife – The ultimate killing machine. On its own, it’s already a force to be reckoned with, but when you combine it with damage upgrades (like Polyphemus) it has no equal. It absolutely obliterates bosses and can make your life a whole lot easier. It also has the added advantage of doing damage to anything it touches without having to be shot. Obviously you don’t want enemies to get that close to you, but if they do, all you gotta do is carefully poke them to death.
Trinity Shield – This item protects you from enemy shots in whatever direction you aim it. It makes certain boss battles, like Mom’s Heart, a lot less stressful. In all my hours of play, I’ve only seen it pop up twice, so don’t hold your breath for this one.
8) Please don’t pick these items up
This feels like it should go without saying but, y’know, I’m gonna say it anyway. Certain items are what I call “run killers.” Others, while not necessarily the worst thing in the world, will definitely hurt you more than help. To clarify, it’s okay (recommended, actually) to pick up any and all space bar items you come across since it will remove them from the pool of items that can show up later. Plus, these can be dropped when you come along something better. What I’m referring to here are passive items which have a permanent effect on your character after being picked up.
To do this properly, you’re going to need to know what every item looks like, whether they are passive or not, and what their effects are. It’s not easy. I’ve played these games for hundreds of hours and I still get Ipecac (explosive shots) and Chemical Peel (damage increase) confused from time to time. Here are some that I learned through painful trial and error to avoid completely when playing as The Lost.
Ankh, Judas’ Shadow, Lazarus’ Rags – These items cause you to transform into another character upon death, which is bad. For example, if you die and respawn as Lazarus, then go on to complete the game, you obviously won’t get credit for beating it as The Lost. Also, don’t quote me on this, but I think they can even take priority over the 9-lives item, meaning you would transform into another character and be stuck as them before you start dipping into your extra lives. Bad news. Basically, they offer absolutely no advantage to The Lost so don’t pick them up!
Ipecac, Fire Mind, Dr. Fetus, Bob’s Brain – These are items that change your tears into explosives, or in the case of Fire Mind, cause random explosions. Explosions are powerful but incredibly dangerous. Seeing as how the game is already hard enough when playing as The Lost, why add the constant threat of blowing yourself up? Take my advice and ignore these items. The ONLY situation in which it might be okay to pick one of these up is if you luck out and pick up Pyromaniac beforehand, which makes you immune to explosive damage. Even still, explosions push your character around and could possibly push you into something that could hurt you so,… just don’t pick them up.
Eve’s Mascara, Ludovico Technique, Number One, Soy Milk, Strange Attractor, Tiny Planet – Maybe I shouldn’t be lumping these tear modifiers all together but they’ve all single-handedly ruined decent runs for me in the past. The problem with these items is the disadvantages outweigh any advantages they might offer. Eve’s Mascara, for example, increases damage, but slows down your tears so much that it’s hard to hit anything. Same with Ludovico Technique, which gives you one massive tear that you can steer around on its own, but very slowly. Tiny Planet is just a total disaster of an item, and Strange Attractor actually makes your tears magnetic, which is terrifying. Maybe you don’t hate these as much as I do but you have been warned. Pick these up at your own risk.
Bucket of Lard, Tarus – These items reduce your movement speed. Not a great idea since you want to be able to dodge attacks as quickly as possible. Even though Tarus can grant you a few seconds of invincibility after a certain amount of time, it’s just not worth the overall decrease in speed.
Leo, Thunder Thighs – These items grant you the ability to crush rocks, pots and mushrooms that you come in contact with. Usually, this is a really handy, but as The Lost, this actually removes the ability to hide within those items to avoid damage. On top of that, bomb rocks and some mushrooms can actually cause immediate damage, which will end your run. Not smart.
Guillotine, Isaac’s Heart – To be completely honest, I avoid these items no matter who I’m playing as. The Guillotine causes your characters head to float around their body, which can make it hard to aim your tears accurately, and also makes it sort of difficult to keep track of where your body is exactly. It’s weird. Isaac’s Heart makes your character immune to damage (cool…?) but forces you to protect a heart familiar that follows you around. Anything that touches the heart will do damage to you, which will kill The Lost immediately. Definitely not cool.
9) Take your time
This is probably the most important piece of advice I can give you, besides #10 I suppose. There is no reason to rush so make sure you’re taking your time when you play as The Lost. Be patient. Wait for openings. Don’t just bum rush everything and hope for the best. I had plenty of promising runs get cut short because I stopped paying attention to the little things and got careless. If you’re going to do this thing, you need to be focused the whole time.
10) Don’t die
Hahaha, yeah, that’s not going to happen. You’re going to die A LOT. Over and over. It’ll feel like there’s no hope. Just keep in mind that all it takes is one good run. Well, two if you want to get technical about it. No matter how badly you just did or how close you got, victory could be just around the corner. I had no idea when I picked up Sagittarius (piercing tears) in the first floor of the basement, after hundreds of attempts, that I would be claiming victory in the Dark Room less than an hour later. You really never know. Maybe this collection of tips will help you capture the elusive Godhead item and you too can feel the immense sense of relief wash over you as you realize you’ll never have to play as The Lost ever again…
…until Afterbirth comes out, that is. Fuck.