Three years ago Edmund McMillen, the designer of Super Meat Boy, released a seemingly basic game combining simple twin-stick shooting and Zelda dungeoneering. It wore its indie-ness on its sleeve, and you could, therefore, be forgiven for assuming it would be quite shallow and light on content. However, spending a while with the game reveals that it has a hell of a lot to offer. The game has now been remade, as The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, with a new engine and tons of new content.
Rebirth offers more detailed, Game Boy Advanced styled graphics, far less slow down than the original, and a limited co-op mode. The remake was in the safe hands of Nicalis, who ported Cave Story and VVVVVV and the whole project was overseen by McMillen. If you are familiar with The Binding of Isaac and want to know if this remake is worth it, the answer is yes. If you are not familiar, read on!
While the game should be fun for hardcore gamers focused on challenge, it also should resonate with explorative players. Levels are randomly generated, but unique is the way items, familiars and other modifiers drastically alter gameplay. One playthrough you could be a cat shooting laser beams, and the next a floating devil with a swarm of insect familiars. As a rogue-like, you are expected to run through the game many times in order to experience it in different ways, and The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth has a lot of depth.
The element of randomness means that, play-throughs can be very hard or very easy, depending on chance. However, becoming powerful is a challenge in itself as strategy is needed when deciding which items or risks to take. Once you unlock extra levels that extend the game the difficulty continues to ramp up, even if it continues to fluctuate.
The game encourages discussion about how exactly you got to your end. The journey is more important than the destination, and the journey is always different. That is not to say the game is aimless. Unlocking new content, including characters (who all have their own gimmicks), is consistently rewarding.
Isaac is a boy abused by his mother who believes God is asking her to kill her son, and when the game proper begins, The Binding of Isaac continues to be about feeling lost, alone and scared, even if the story is not very prominent.
Since the game could not be designed like a survival horror (mapped out as a difficult or stressful experience), the game’s visual design does a lot of heavy lifting in setting the tone. The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth has a subtle, disturbing atmosphere throughout, combining the horrific and the adorable. The menu music is beautiful, sounding like a Danny Elfman score, though some of the ingame music is underwhelming.
With a game such as this, any review is premature. There’s plenty of content I have not seen yet, but I could be playing for weeks on end without seeing everything. I do not doubt the developers when they say that some players can enjoy 500+ hours with the game. The time I have already had with the The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is enough to endorse it. For those who value exploration and want a game that lasts and keeps suprising, there is no hyperbole when I say, this game is perfect for you.