The Binding of Isaac Review

NOTE: This post is in our old review format.

Is The Binding of Isaac a biblical epic, or should it be locked in the basement?

Game InformationTitle: The Binding of Isaac

Genre: Roguelike Action/Adventure

Platform: PC (Steam)

Developer: Florian Himsl & Edmund McMillen

Version reviewed: PC Version

Brilliantly Weird, Weirdly Brilliant

Indie games are great for various reasons. They come in all shapes and sizes from a huge variety of people, and several indie games are bloody weird. This is a review for one of those weird games; The Binding of Isaac.

The Binding of Isaac was made by Super Meat Boy artist Edmund McMillen and Coil creator Florian Himsl with music by Danny Baranowsky. The game is based around the biblical story of Isaac and is presented in a dark and twisted style.

The story is described in a short video at the start of the game, and is continued as you complete the game, with various endings unlocked as you progress. Some subtle background story is also added in the form of short ‘flashback’ sequences in between levels and some references with in-game items.

The basic story of the game is as follows; Isaac lives alone with his mother, who is a devout Christian. His mother gets a message from God, who tells her to cleanse her son of all evil, eventually revealing that the only way to do so would be to kill him. She agrees and proceeds to attempt to kill her son. Isaac, being young, has no option but to run, and so he finds a hatch in the floor and jumps down into the unknown depths.

The Binding of Isaac features several boss characters with different visual and gameplay styles. My personal favourite is Monstro, who is pictured above.

The story takes a stab at the questionable morals of the Bible, which is an obviously controversial subject. Personally, I think this style of confrontation is great, and it’s refreshing to see developers who aren’t afraid of confronting something like religion in a universal medium like gaming. However, the gameplay can seem somewhat detached from the story, but this makes the gameplay the primary focus.

The gameplay is based on the classic dungeon-crawling styling of the original Legend of Zelda games, but is given masses of longevity by randomising each room in several ways. The primary aim of the game is to get to the final boss battle, but first you must defeat various other randomly-selected enemies who act as the bosses for each level. Every time you beat a boss, you go down a level until you get to the final level.

The Binding of Isaac is far from your average dungeon crawler, however. Isaac doesn’t wield guns or swords, but instead uses tears as his weapon, which he shoots out of his eyes in a twin-stick shooter style (minus the sticks). Plus, there’s no save files or checkpoints in this game; if you die, you need to start again.

An interesting arsenal

As you progress through the game, you pick up various items, all of which change the gameplay and Isaac’s appearance in some way. Like the levels and enemies, these items are randomly selected, and you never know what could be lying for you within a treasure room or chest. There are a few different types of items, including passive items, which are always active once you have collected them, and spacebar items, which (obviously) are activated by the spacebar, and recharge over time.

You can keep track of every item you have encountered via an item collection page accessible from the main menu. Some examples of items are the Ouiji Board, which lets Isaac’s tears pass through obsticles like rocks and ‘My Little Unicorn’, which temporarily give Isaac an invincible state, similar to Mario’s Super Star. The item collection page is something of an obsession of mine, and my compulsive need to fill up the page probably explains how I’ve spent around 30 hours playing the game.

Other items you can collect are coins, which are used for buying things in the in-game shops and for gambling in arcades, keys, which are used to open shop/treasure room doors and locked treasure chests, and bombs, which do damage to enemies and Isaac, but can also be used to break away walls and obsticles.

Shops are accessed using keys and can feature various different items.

Pills and Tarot Cards are also important. Pills give a random effect which could be good or bad while Tarot Cards add a positive pre-defined effect which only lasts one room. Both of the aforementioned items are activated with the Q button.

Enemies are a huge part of the Binding of Isaac, and the huge range different enemies really reflect Edmund McMillen’s creativity. Enemies range from flies to maggots and aborted babies to headless humanoids. The bosses are especially brilliant and are full of variety in terms of gameplay style and graphical style.

McMillen’s art style is reflected in every part of The Binding of Isaac, and as a result it oozes with characters. The art is hand drawn and animated with thick black lines on the border of most objects along with an interesting use of colour to reflect the dark settings. Imagery can range from the humorous to the disturbing, but everything looks fantastic.

Adding further to the atmosphere is the music made by Danny Baranowsky, who used a range of instruments to make a dark and varied soundtrack. The music changes depending on the room you’re in and the sound can be very different depending on the rooms you enter.

Overall, The Binding of Isaac is a great game with plenty to offer the player at a low price. The art style and music makes the game really unique and atmospheric, and while the gameplay can be somewhat repetitive and frustrating, the longevity of this game is remarkable. I would have liked some extra game modes to further increase replayability, but the huge variety of items will keep you coming back for more.

Perfect for: Classic game fans & anyone who isn’t a Christian.
Good points:

  • Randomised level layout, enemies and items make every playthrough unique.
  • The variety of items is great.
  • Edmund McMillen’s hand-drawn art gives the game a fantastic atmosphere.

Bad points:

  • Gameplay can get repetitive.
  • Some enemies are horribly over-powered.


Very good

Avoid | Try | Buy

CWG Awards:


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