“The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth” is, as quoted from its Steam page, “a randomly generated action RPG shooter with heavy Rogue-like elements.” If these terms mean nothing to you, then let me explain. With basic WASD shooter controls, you control Isaac, a crying child exploring the depths of his basement to escape his murderous mother. There, you meet monsters of all types, from burning zombie babies to living fecal matter, which Isaac promptly kills with his tears. A new layout is generated specifically for that playthrough each time you play. As you unlock more powerful and strange items, you slowly learn more about Isaac and his mother’s motivations. If this also meant nothing to you but you find yourself intrigued regardless, welcome to “The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth.” Note: this will be about “Isaac” with all its downloadable content (DLC), all the way to “Repentance”. You could get all the DLC for around 20$ extra in a bundle when it’s on sale (including from now until July 13th), and if you decide otherwise, know that you will be missing 50+ enemies, 40+ bosses, 350+ items, and a new ending.
TRIGGER WARNING: this game can delve into grim topics and depictions such as religious taboos, child abuse, and mutilation.
Starting with its gameplay, it has simple controls alongside a variety of different enemies and bosses to challenge you. The fundamental controls are simple: move or shoot in a direction. You choose a from its roster of 34 characters, venture forth into its 12 possible completion marks, and either you lose and do it again or win and do it again. Everything surrounding that basic game plan is where things become complicated: how to dodge each enemy, how to use each item, or how to manage consumables. The immense scale of all three lead the same simple controls into a fully fledged-out game. For perspective, there are 196 enemies, 102 bosses, and 20 minibosses you have to learn to effectively dodge. They also use different room layouts to use enemies in synergy with each other. Therefore, it also expects us, the player, to use items in synergy together. With its newest update, it has a total of 719 items, and many of them have unique interactions with each other. You unlock items by gaining those completion marks with unique characters, so there still is that sense of progression with each victory. And do you still remember how each run is randomly generated, meaning each time you start up a game, it will always be different from the previous? One run could end you in the first floor, while the other one-shots every enemy in the game. The rogue-like design of the gameplay promotes replayability above all. The large scale of content makes it possible to sink hundreds of hours into this and still have more to play for. Trust me, I would know.
Although I value the gameplay above all, I can’t ignore the storytelling of this game. My experience with it will most likely differ from yours, as I experienced it first through YouTube, but if I could describe it in one word, it would be “grotesque.” From the introductory scene of the game, we are told that Isaac’s mother is hunting him down because she heard God’s voice tell her to do so. In each of the endings, you discover more about his life in his lonely home, which depicts the fallacies of religion. There is also the visual storytelling, and this is really where the word “grotesque” shines – or smells, I guess. Its art style is a continuation of its previous game, with its 2-D pixel sprites modernized. The stylization of the game really wants to bring the monsters out in their enemies. The large enemy count is even more apparent in the range of what Isaac fights: maggots, ghosts, bombflies, poop, angels, devils, and even your mother. The few helpful to Isaac are the corpses of shopkeepers, beggars, and gambling machines. It’s the antithesis of what you should show a child.
“The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth” is an endlessly replayable roguelike with an abundance of content to back up its never-ending catalog of entertainment while still showcasing the brutal upcoming of Isaac himself. If you like your games with a spice of variance, can bear the terrible implications, and need a good way to pass time, I wholeheartedly recommend this game.
And if the content provided wasn’t enough, there is an active modding community producing content as high-quality as the base game, if not better. If you are still on the fence, there is an older version named The Binding of Isaac with a free demo on Newgrounds. It has much less content and is more difficult, but it is free!