September 29th, 2011 | By James Attard
- inspiring awe: an awesome sight.
- showing or characterized by awe
- Slang. very impressive.
That above is how I would describe Edmund McMillen’s The Binding of Isaac. When you first start up the game, you are introduced to Isaac and his mother, who live simple, peaceful lives. One day, however, Isaac’s mother receives a message from God who instructs her to sacrifice Isaac. Being a good God loving Christian, she obeys. When Isaac realizes what is going to happen he makes the decision to avoid his knife wielding mother by making his way down into the basement.
The basement is where all the fun truly starts. The main selling point of the game is it’s genre: Roguelike. Being a roguelike title, the game is heavily characterized by randomization; which means that while exploring the many levels of the basement, no level is the same for any one person when it comes to design, enemies or availability of items. This, of course, results in the player never knowing what to expect, apart from the fact that each time they start playing the game, Isaac will be naked and curled up like a ball crying on the floor.
The difficulty of the game is also something heavily affected by the randomization. While playing the game for the first time, I found that I was able to kill bosses in a few hits with the simple placement of a bomb, levels only lasted a couple of rooms and there was just no real challenge. This all changed once I died and started a new game. The very first room I walked into contained wave after wave of different enemy types who easily slaughtered me while I ran around the room like a headless chicken. On my third play through, I found myself fighting the boss after having only walking through two rooms and killing a fly. It’s ‘never knowing what to expect’ but always ‘preparing for the unexpected’ which makes playing this game so great.
Although I didn’t come across them all, the game contains a large amount of unique items which affects how you play the game. Although the few that I did find were simply brilliant, which included an anarchist’s cookbook (allowed Isaac to cause a heavy downpour of bombs), kamikaze (turned Isaac into a suicide bomber), magneto (Isaac dons a magnet on his head causing all items to attract to him) and mom’s lipstick (gives Isaac’s lips that little extra something).
The game’s art direction is simply brilliant. Although most level designs, and the shop, feel like something direct from Zelda titles, it’s the highly disturbing character, enemy and boss designs which really demonstrate Edmund’s creative ingenuity and give the game a certain flair. The soundtrack also gives the game that extra something, but it’s the voice acting of the mother — while she’s talking to God — which really stands out.
At the end of the day, The Binding of Isaac is one of the only roguelike titles that I’ve fully enjoyed in the past few years. The game contains a heavy amount of replay value when it comes to unlocking all of the characters or trying to discover all the hidden rooms or unique items. If you’re a fan of Edmund McMillen’s previous work or you’re just into the plain bizarre, I truly recommend that you check out the game. However if you are not a fan of roguelike titles then proceed with caution.
Pros:High level of replay value, small price tag, never knowing what to expect, multiple enemy and boss types, unique items
Cons:May offend some, never knowing what to expect