Indie game reborn; harder than before

ISAAC FIGHTS to stay alive in The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth , a remake of the original game. The new version adds difficulty and new gameplay to the old playing style.

I don’t think I’ve ever played a video game like The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth. I’ve played similar roguelikes, such as Faster Than Light, but I’ve come to realize that The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is near perfect. For those that don’t know, roguelikes are a genre of role-playing video games that usually include randomized level generation, randomized item pickups, and most usually, permanent death. Additionally, they require and incentivize multiple runs, unlocking new items, characters, and levels with each successful win. Roguelikes also require a certain length of time to become skillful at the game and even more time to become masterful. However, most games of the genre, including The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, are such that new players can just pickup with no prior experience and still progress far into a run. In my opinion, The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is the hallmark of the roguelike genre.

The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is a remake of a game of the same name; it features updated graphics, more characters, items, bosses, and levels, adding hundreds of hours to the original game. However, the plot, inspired by the Bible story of the same name, is still relatively the same. Isaac, a young child, and his mother live in an isolated house on a hill. They both enjoy their lives consisting of Isaac drawing pictures and playing with his toys, while his mother watches religious broadcasting on TV. One day, Isaac’s mother hears a voice from above, telling her that Isaac is corrupted with sin and must be separated from all things evil. She obliges, but then the voice tells her that it questions her faith and demands that she sacrifice Isaac to him. Upon seeing his mother pick up a butcher knife, Isaac pulls away his carpet and jumps down a trapdoor, before his mother enters the room. This is where the game begins.

Rebirth is a top-down dungeon crawler in 2-D, similar to dungeons in The Legend of Zelda series. There are 10 total levels, each with a boss room and a number of rooms increasing per level. Rooms must be cleared before moving on, or the player could use a bomb to force open the doors. In game, the player controls Isaac, and as they are unlocked, other figures from the Bible, such as Magdalene, Cain, and Eve, who are also characterized as children. Each child shoots tears from their eyes, which damage enemies and can be altered by pickups, found in treasure rooms, boss rooms, or devil rooms. The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth revolves around item pickups and are vital for getting to the end game.

Certain powerups can either guarantee a won run or ruin the current setup a player may have. Knowing which items to take differentiate a beginner player from advanced players. For example, should the player take charge tear shots or increase damage, while decreasing fire rate? The player could even not take the item at all. The possibilities are endless during each run, and with the item, the D6, Isaac can reroll unfavorable items and turn around a difficult game. A favorite item combination of mine is brimstone with the Ludovico technique (a reference to A Clockwork Orange), which provides a laser barrage and floating tears, respectively. This changes the player’s regular tears to a floating, red circle of powerful lasers. Another favorite is mom’s knife with Loki’s horns (a reference to the Norse god of mischief by the same name), which replaces tears with knives and shoots them in the cardinal directions. The number of interactions between different powerups is near infinite. The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re gonna get.

I found out about this game from a friend right before Winter Break. As soon as I arrived home, I bought and downloaded the game, and now I’ve put over 100 hours in it. The game has hundreds of hours of entertainment, and I never get bored of it. I still become more skillful with every game and find more, new interactions within the game. Though each run is different from the next, the randomly generated seed can be written down and played later, if favorable items are presented within the first few floors.

Overall, this game has everything that I want: a distinct art style, mechanics with a high skill ceiling, and high replay value. A downloadable content release, titled Afterbirth, was announced on February 13, with an unknown release date. It will reportedly add hundreds of hours to total gameplay. And you can bet that, as soon as it comes out, I will be crying my way through the game’s hundreds of rooms.