Oct 022011

Publisher: Edmund McMillen / Developer: Edmund McMillen and Florian Himsl / Platform: Mac, PC

It seems like Roguelikes are making a comeback.  Dungeons of Dredmoor, 100 Rogues, Legends of Yore and now The Binding of Isaac are all recent examples of additions to the masocore, die-once-and-start-over genre of RPGs that I personally find myself addicted to due to the games’ emphasis on everything being completely random, and the sheer number of things that can go wrong (or in very rare cases, right).

While Isaac may deep down be a Roguelike, it actually borrows as much from Legend of Zelda as it does Nethack.  Rather than moving along square-by-square and time isolated to every time you take an action, Isaac‘s dungeons are split into individual rooms and everything moves in real-time.  Your character’s stats are simplified into your overall health (now a series of hearts), speed, damage, fire rate and range.  You can only carry one usable item at a time in addition to your standard shot (Isaac will shoot his tears at enemies, but you can pick up different types of primary weapon), but you will find more permanent upgrades that may boost a stat or poison anyone who touches you.

There is, in fact, way more to find and collect than I described above, but attempting to list everything I’ve found on my playthroughs (which isn’t anywhere close to everything the game has to offer) would be insane.  Isaac is a relatively short game, only spanning a few floors, but the game’s difficulty paired with the fact that you’ll constantly be unlocking new items to find or bosses to fight for subsequent playthroughs really makes the game as long as you have an interest in it.  There are a total of three characters to unlock (that I know of), and how fast you’ll unlock them will ultimately depend on how lucky you are with item drops.

While the sheer amount of stuff to find in Isaac is staggering, the game’s disturbing imagery may be even harder to swallow for some.  While it was never enough to make me want to turn the game off, you will find yourself fighting bloody, disembodied heads, crying, tumorous children that belch flies, and many enemies that resemble some kind of disfigured fetus.  The game repeatedly deals with religion, demonic pacts and tarot cards in one way or another, although these elements do more to contribute to the overall feel of the game than it does feel like an attempt at making some sort of religious or artistic point.

The Binding of Isaac may seem like a short game at first, but the absolutely jaw-dropping amount of stuff to discover and unlock makes it much longer than you may think.  While I have beaten Isaac‘s main storyline, I may never truly complete this wonderfully disturbing game.


James has been writing game reviews for a few years at (the now mostly dead) getxbox.net, and more recently began writing with Kate at Critical Hit. James enjoys character customization, indie games and RPGs of somewhat questionable quality. Replayability is a huge focus of his enjoyment of a game, and graphics are something he usually doesn't pay much attention to as long as there is good gameplay to back it up.

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