Hmmm… a disturbing action-RPG, roguelike dungeon crawler that’s only $5? Yeah, why not? 30 hours of gameplay later… How in the heavens did that happen?
The Binding of Isaac is a game by Edmund McMillan, the same warped mind that brought us Super Meat Boy and the whole Basement Collection. McMillan is the kind of person I’m glad is producing games. Because the world would be a darker place if he was a soldier, or an ice-cream salesman.
Firstly, what’s a rogue-like dungeon crawler you might ask? Because all those words together didn’t make a lot of sense to me initially In this context it’s basically a game which randomly generates levels based on a series of connected room where death is permanent. Unlike most roguelike games, The Binding of Isaac isn’t turn based (creatures only move when you perform an action), but you still have a monetary system, plenty of items, monsters and environmental pitfalls.
You play Isaac (or another character if you’ve unlocked them), a toddler whose own negligent mother, so drunk on her own faith, had been told by God to sacrifice her son (common theme in that religion). To escape his mother, Isaac descends into the basement, a warped realm of evil monsters, magical artefacts and crazily-vicious blowflies. You make your way through 5 randomly-spawned levels of the basement (more one you’ve completed the game once), using your own tears and bombs to kill monsters and defeat a random boss at the end of each level until you eventually reach the final boss, your mother’s hairy cankles.
As you move through the dungeons, you find many items which enhance or harm, random pills, keys to unlock treasure rooms and shops, coins, curses, demon pacts and a ridiculous amount of monsters to use them on. There are hundreds of variations of the aforementioned (or even more with the expansion) which means that by the end, Isaac could have become an ethereal, winged black creature with laser vision, tears that can home in on monsters and Super Meat Boy floating around you as a human shield (that actually is entirely possible).
Though the questions remains: what compelled me to play it for hours on end? Very simply, it was a quick game with overflowing amounts of re-playability that I could play while doing a number of other things. Watching Spartacus on one monitor, playing The Binding of Isaac on the other. At the amphitheatre, I can whip out the laptop and still not miss a beat as Othello smothers Desdemona. The average game only takes about ten minutes since ten minutes is your average lifespan. While there are ways to improve your health (which comes in nostalgic hearts), grant extra lives or even reincarnate as a zombie, once you’re dead, you’re dead. The whole game has a ruthless quality to it which has a tendency to randomly spawn a mini-boss in a room which should be a shop, or place a curse on you at the start of the game for no good reason, or give you a pill which kills you, which to me seems to be exact opposite of what a pill should do it. But it’s just… addictive. Every time I play there’s always an item I’ve never seen before or special weapon which I find a new way to use.
I enjoyed this game so much that I even went out (yes, left my humble abode and braved the world) and bought the Unholy Edition, a physical copy of the game which included an artwork book, poster and the soundtrack (a hauntingly suitable series of songs composed by Danny Baranowsky).
The Binding of Isaac is currently available from the Steam Store $4.99 with it’s expansion, Wrath of Lamb, for $2.99.
Cover Image: http://pointlesslyrambling.blogspot.com.au/2011/10/binding-of-isaac.html