Every now and then, a game comes along that changes our perception of the way games are supposed to be. These games create an experience that cannot be rivaled, becoming a paragon in their field, and something cherished for years, if not decades, to come. These games are rare, but they hold something special.
Of course, some games involve a naked child running around in his basement of doom, while his psychotic mother tries to murder him. In those games, or more specifically this game, you crush your enemies underfoot not with sword and shield, but tears and occasionally a dead bird. Given the description, it should be obvious that The Binding of Isaac is not the most normal game you will ever encounter. This, however, does not mean that the game is not a lot of fun.
The story is insanely twisted…as mentioned, your mother is out to kill poor Isaac, and he’s fled to the basement in order to survive. Armed with an inexhaustible supply of tears, Isaac sets out to do battle against what I can only assume are a constant flow of his former siblings: beheaded, bleeding corpses, malformed abominations, disembodied brains, and that one, large, fat thing that attacks you with pee.
Yes, you read that right. No, I’m not joking. If you haven’t figured out the gist of this just yet, this one is not for young children.
The game itself plays much like the obvious inspiration: the dungeons are laid out exactly like the original Legend of Zelda, complete with secret rooms that can be unveiled by bombing the right walls, items that are found or purchased with coins, and bosses on each level. However, it adds an infinite level of replay by randomizing your experience each time. Maps are arrayed differently, and the special items you receive will change as well. This means you could potentially receive nothing but health increases, or reach the final boss with nothing but power upgrades.
The game is challenging as well: while the controls work well, the enemies are designed to be difficult to dodge in some situations. Other enemies rely on distraction to open you up to ranged attacks, or require special tactics to defeat. Add in the dozens of items that are found, and unlocked as you play, and you have quite enough to deal with. Of course, you also unlock several other “characters”, though I wouldn’t say for sure they’re different people. Magdalene, for instance, appears to just be Isaac in a blond wig…which I’m pretty sure is the joke.
To tie the game together, developers Edmund McMillen and Florian Himsl (the creators of Super Meat Boy, among other titles) included a wonderfully integrated soundtrack, courtesy of composer Danny Baranowsky. The music adds a perfect feel of malice and tension to the game during play, but is also fantastic enough to listen to in your free time as well. Meanwhile, a collection of simple, yet effective in-game sounds from enemies helps to keep the adrenaline flowing.
All in all, The Binding of Isaac is an easy purchase for Steam users. It retails for a generally cheap amount, and provides hours of entertainment…and possibly some aggravation after yet another death. Better yet, a single expansion has been announced for the future, meaning more carnage, more blood, and infinitely more tears to be shot like a cannon out of your face.
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