The Binding of Isaac review
“The Binding of Isaac is a cartoony dungeon crawl where the player pilots a small child through the labyrinth which is his mom’s basement. Isaac ran into the basement because his mother is convinced that she has been commanded by a higher power to sacrifice her son.” This was the description (or close to it) given to me by my older brother as he tried to convince me to play Isaac for the first time. I was resistant, but with good reason. My older brother was (and still is) known to have strange taste in general, and those preferences really seemed to go off the rails when it came to music, movies, and games. That, and the fact that defeating Freudian enemies by crying seemed like something I could accomplish on my own in my room.
After finally breaking down and playing my first round (only making it to the boss of the first floor) I was more than hooked. I have since played both the original and Rebirth for over a combined 2000 hours over the last several years, and I still play almost every day. 2000 hours seems like a lot of time devoted to a single game, and with a play-through lasting only about 30 minutes, how could I possibly still be captivated by the same game? The answer is simple, I’m not playing the same game.
I mean, yes, I have been LITERALLY playing The Binding of Isaac for 2000 hours, but the game changes with each play through meaning that level 1 is not only vastly different than level 2, but it is also different than level 1 was the last time I played. The rooms and layouts are both randomized, but the real change is the items. Currently in the game there are 436 items, you are given the opportunity to take at least 2 items per level as you progress through a full run. The items all have various effects on your character’s speed, luck, health, damage, range, projectiles, size, and tons of other stats. Also, the items often can interact with one another meaning that an item which was mediocre in run A can be insanely powerful in run B. Aside from the thrill of discovering new item combos, Isaac’s variance provides another interesting aspect to the game, difficulty.
As I mentioned earlier, my first ever attempt in The Binding of Isaac did not go to well. The unapologetic difficulty is what really pulled me into the game initially and what makes me continue to enjoy playing after so many hours. At first, it was about pride. How could I possibly not beat the very first level? I’m a gamer. After beating the first floor, floor 2 presented new enemies and challenges, plus more rooms which needed to be conquered instantly turning up the level of skill needed. After deciding that I would not give up until I defeated Mom, I began to learn the ins and outs of the basement and beyond through a rough trial and error process. The ability to see progress was huge. Going from the first time completing level 1 to completing level 1 on a regular basis made me feel like I was growing as a player, an aspect which seems rare in many games today.
Isaac became a good friend of mine, serving as my only form of entertainment for months as I was poor and living in a new place. The drive to play pass the hours as I got established, found friends, and began to build a life in my new home. Just like a little brother, challenging, frustrating, occasionally infuriating, but always ready for the next adventure. I still recommend the game to everyone I meet who needs something new to play. Most of them have the same reaction as I did when my brother described it to me years ago. “Crying my way through a basement? Sounds like fun, I’ll totally check it out.” I just hope that they finally will break down and take a chance like I did, and if they do, I hope they have plenty of free time on their hands, because it is about to be monopolized.