The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth ReviewJoe Green
Edmund McMillen: a man with a clear oddball sense of humour and style, but unquestionable skill and ingenuity in game design. The Binding of Isaac's creator and indie developer Edmund is well known for his zany game concepts, outlandish character creations and 8-bit difficulty levels. His joint effort in the superb recent title, Super Meat Boy put him on the map as an iconic developer and since then his solo project, The Binding of Isaac has become a cult-classic with abundant fans - myself among them.
What we have now is a wonderful reimagining of the original game in Rebirth, with the game given a new lease of unconstrained life beyond its flash game origins. Rebirth takes the classic game formula and doesn't attempt to reinvent the wheel in any way, but what it does add is content. And a whole lot of it.
Whereas before, the game could only afford to have so many enemies and effects on screen at once, Rebirth sees the game play at an impeccably smooth frame rate of 60fps (on both PS4, PC and PS Vita incredibly). The game has been given a greater degree of depth and novelty by way of trinkets, abilities and held/reusable items, all new to the game series. The iconic nature of the game, means that the player doesn't know or at least fully appreciate the impact of a given trinket, item or ability until it perhaps becomes of use, is used for the first time, or more often than not, comes about by complete accident. What may seem a bizarre concept for a newcomer to the game, is actually part of the game's greatest charm. The randomly generated and unscripted nature of the game, coupled with the novelty of a multitude of original and unique items - the use for which the player doesn't fully appreciate at first - makes for some compelling gameplay and incomparable replay value.
It's hard to articulate an example of the forms of items and effects the player may come across, a) because of the sheer number of them, and b) because of the outright outlandishness of them. You may transform into a devil with the ability to shoot red blood beams of light from your eyes, an ethereal ghost whom can shoot through objects and hover over spikes and areas normally inaccessible to Isaac. Each playthrough of The Binding of Isaac is a completely fresh experience with an un-paralleled ability to cause confusion, intrigue and amazement.
So what is it all about exactly? The plot goes as follows. Your name is Isaac, the game begins with a cutscene explaining you're a young boy, enjoying a content life with his loving, but fanatically God-fearing Mother. She hears the voice of God telling her to cleanse Isaac's sin as a result of living in an impure world, which ultimately leads to her willing to sacrifice you to please her God. Isaac runs to his bedroom and in his haste to escape, happens across a concealed trapdoor leading to the basement. He jump through the hatch and so the game begins.
What you end up finding through that hatch door, is a rogue-like procedurally generating world, filled with enemies of nightmares, from the woeful to the down-right disgusting. These may be religious inspired devils such as the Seven Deadly Sins, poo (yes that's right, I said poo), or of course your mother...
The objective of the game is to navigate your way through each level, consisting of a map which takes up your immediate top-down field of view, and reach the end of that level complete with a boss. Once beaten, you open a hatch and proceed further into the depths below.
Each new depth you reach ramps up the level of difficulty and normally the number of enemies to face. By all means, this is a difficult game and Rebirth's added tokens and items of use make no dent in simplifying the existing formula. I can tell you the first time that I reached the final area and successfully defeated Isaac's mother was a monumental accomplishment. Once 'complete' however, the game is far from over, as the reincarnation of his mother appears once again at the end of those basement depths, but this time further below and with the addition of new increasingly difficult levels in order to reach her.
There is of course also the compelling nature of the game's replay factor and a multitude of new items to discover, challenges to conquer and characters to unlock. The game has become a cult classic on the online community and you will find a myriad of videos on Youtube and Twitch, with gamers' best efforts to secure a successful 'run'. The ability to play the game on the PS4 is a welcome addition, as the console's share button lends itself very well to the quick capture of footage and the live streaming capabilities of Twitch.
Whilst your footage cannot be captured on the PS Vita, the development of the game for the handheld has been done impeccably well. As mentioned above, the game runs at the same smooth frame-rate and by and large looks every bit as good on the handheld in all its 8-bit glory. The 'pick up and play' nature of the game is perfectly suited to a handheld device, meaning you can dip in for a quick bit of action anytime on the go. The controls are very simple, with each stick acting as movement and attack and with touchscreen use for abilities, pills and tarot cards. The controls can also be completely revamped to suit the player's preference, which is ideal.
The Binding of Isaac was already an incredible accomplishment in independent game development, with a sense of style and unashamed wackiness which has taken over the lives of a large community of gamers. The addictive nature of the game will inevitably leave you saying, "just one more go" and the added abilities and content of Rebirth go a long way to reinforce this. The added pleasure of playing the game on console for better visuals and ease of video capture is most welcome, and the free to play anywhere nature of having it on handheld is the perfect compliment. Oh and did I mention the fact the game is currently free to download on both PS4 and PS Vita for all PS Plus subscribers? That's right, all this glorious content for free. Go grab this devilishly bizarre charm while it's hot.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.