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The Binding of Isaac : Review


That's what it cost me to obtain The Binding of Isaac as well as its excellent soundtrack in digital format via the Steam download service. In this day of 99 cents apps and 69 dollars blockbusters, the 5 bucks it cost me seems to be a perfect price point for Edmund McMillen's latest offering

Team Meat co-founder's style is a favorite of mine and manages to add a quirky 'something' to all of the projects he's had a hand in : Gish and Super Meat Boy have been personal favorites of mine and The Binding of Isaac is rapidly ascending to join its brothers as an all-time classic.

Even though the game has its roots firmly planted in the old-school sensibilities of the original The Legend of Zelda, The Binding of Isaac manages to be a thoroughly refreshing experience largely due to its twisted art style and indie-flavored design choices.


Isaac's quest takes place in the procedurally-generated levels of his basement, filled with spikes, enemies and secret rooms, much like the afore-mentioned Legend of Zelda. Each iteration of the game features 5 levels, each one ending with a boss fight. While this might seem to make for a short game, the difficulty and variety of content will warrant at least a few dozen playthroughs; this game was meant to be played and replayed countless times.

I've always thought that randomized dungeon layouts would be the next step for the debatably stale Zelda series and this game allows me to get a delicious taste of what could be.

The player's main weapons are his tears, which can be fired (or cried) in all 4 cardinal directions. Strafe as you shoot and your tears will fly out at an angle. This mechanic is deceptively simple and accounts for 75% of the gameplay yet its expertly handled implementation makes it fun, even after hours of basement-crawling and turd melting (In this game, Zelda's iconic vases have been replaced with steaming piles of feces which can be washed away by crying at them.).

Rounding out the player's arsenal are bombs (Think Bomberman meets Zelda) and items which will either affect the player's stats, upgrade his weapons or grant him ridiculous powers which keep throwing new twists in the gameplay, making each experience that much more unique.

Permeating this journey are the overarching themes of Christian mythology and family issues. For instance, powerup items that increase Isaac's speed are represented by a belt and a wooden spoon; two mundane items which bring forth images of child beating. It is a dark fiction, as refreshing as it is sickening.

I cannot avoid mentioning Spelunky, another wonderful indie game which preaches 'learning by doing' in a similar manner as The Binding of Isaac. Obtaining an unknown item is always a thrill as its effects can only be guessed at; the only way to learn what an item does is by using it. As with Spelunky, the effects range from amusing to lethal and force the player to pace himself and use his items strategically in order to survive.

As the game progresses and the player fulfills certain secret conditions, new items and monsters are injected in the mazes of subsequent playthroughs. Judging by the 'collection' list in the game, I still have tons of new toys to discover and play with.

On the weak side, the game features no out-of-the-box joystick support, referring the player to google 'Joy2Key' in order to use a gamepad. I have also encountered weird bugs, one of which pushed me outside of the level boundaries, forcing me to restart the game. It must be said that while double-checking the name of the Joystick application in the game, I 'accidentally' managed to squeeze in a few runs, delaying this blog's publication even further. It is this addictive quality which makes all of the products' flaws forgivable.

I also could not find an official site for the game or a place to read more about the developers. For an indie game, especially one of this caliber, I find it disappointing. I would have loved to know more about Florian Himsl's input in this project. Even though the game's credits state that he was the programmer on the project, you can see on his personal site (komix-games.com) that he is also a capable artist and prolific game maker. His site features several games from him and even some other collaborations with McMillen. Most of it seems exploratory in nature, yet every game on there brings a nice perspective on the evolution of their craft, leading to their Steam debut.

If you are a fan of indie games and are looking for a way to completely destroy your free time, give this one a spin, its quirky nature and simple gameplay are sure to BIND you.
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About Xorianone of us since 8:27 PM on 03.29.2010

A life indistinguishable from fiction, where art and science co-exist in an ever-shifting balance.

A mind where shadow and light dance in broken rhythms, where fate dictates the pacing of their eternal steps.

A lethal dose of thought, synthesized, exported and laid out on these pages for all to read.

Welcome to the exposed part of my brain!