I’m a huge fan of genuinely difficult games. Not unfair games mind, but games which challenge you as the player well beyond your normal abilities, and provide you with considerable rewards for succeeding in doing so. To say that The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is challenging critically undersells the experience. It’s a game which will have you frustratedly throwing your controller at the wall, only to pick it up again so that you can ensure another chance at success. It’s a game which draws you in with unique and lovable visuals, and then retains you with fast-paced, thrilling gameplay. And most of all, it’s a game which has kept me hooked since its initial conception with the 2011 vanilla game, titled The Binding of Isaac.
The story for The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is identical to the initial game’s in 2011, but here’s a quick catch-up for newcomers. Based upon the biblical story of the same name, Rebirth has you playing as a young boy named Isaac, whose fanatical Mother has forced him to confide to the basement below his bedroom. Isaac’s Mother is told by God that she must sacrifice her son in order to prove her utter devotion to his authority, and being a devoted Christian, she plans to do just this. However, before she can murder him, Isaac manages to find a trap-door in his room, which leads him into a nightmarish world of monsters and ghouls, all who seem to be living right below his very house. The aim of the game is to descend this maze of rooms one-by-one, and eventually encounter your Mother herself, which culminates in a difficult boss fight to say the least. Also, death is permanent due to the ‘rogue-like’ elements of the game, and so failing will place you all the way back at the beginning of the game.
However, once you defeat Mum, the game is far from complete. The game randomly generates dungeons every time you play, which includes every single enemy and item within said dungeon. This means that, due to the 300+ pick-ups now available in Rebirth, you will no doubt be playing for weeks after purchase. Every item has a unique appearance, many of which translate to your character sprite, and therefore add a comedic and dynamic aesthetic to every playthrough. On top of these items, there are also numerous passive abilities which may alter a whole plethora of variables – from your movement speed, all the way to how large the tears you fire actually are. There are also several characters to pick from, although they must first be unlocked by completing respective requirements. These characters change the base-stats you begin each game with, and some begin with unique items which make them play relatively different to Isaac.
As mentioned, your primary form of combat is the firing of tears. It’s an aspect which may sound a little morbid, but one which manages to encompass the dark tone of the game. You fire tears either up, down, left or right, and movement operates in a identical manner. The triggers on your controller are for items and consumables, and that’s about it. It’s a simple control scheme which you can quickly learn, and perfectly suits the pick-up-and-play nature of the game. A single run may last you up to 40 minutes if you play meticulously, or could even be over immediately if you blindly run into danger. On most occasions, death is your fault, and that makes the game feel fair. Sure, some enemies spawn in unfair locations upon entering a room, but for the most part the game can be completed with the right amount of skill…and just little luck.
The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth solidifies the series as one of my favourites I have ever played. For players coming back after playing the original vanilla game, there’s an incredible amount of new content to keep things fresh. And for new players, the content will likely appear almost overwhelming in its variety. I’ve been playing the game consistently for years and am still yet to see everything. The random nature of the gameplay allows endless replayability, and the fact that it is currently free on Playstation’s PS+ service is an incredible offer. Basically, try this game. You may not immediately love it, but once you comprehend how deep the simple mechanics truly go, you’ll no doubt be hooked.
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