Friday, 17 February 2012

Game Review: The Binding of Isaac

The Binding of Isaac Review

Distributor: Valve 
Platforms: Steam
Genres: Action-Adventure, Roguelike 
Release Date: September 28th 2011
Price: £3.99

It may look quite disturbing but the gameplay is fantastic...

It is very rare that a game initially intended as a week-long project will gain so much interest that it becomes a hit. However that is exactly what happened when Edmund McMillen, of Super Meat Boy fame, and Florian Himsl teamed up for a game jamming session in place of the former going on vacation. The result became what is now "The Binding of Isaac", a unique roguelike dungeon shooter with a premise of the game based on a story from the Hebrew bible.

The opening cut-scene to the game follows this eerie tale with Isaac's mother being told to sacrifice Isaac to prove her love to God. After watching his mother accept this command, Isaac finds a previously hidden trap door leading to the basement where many monstrosities await.

This is where the game begins and the player is able to experience the game in all its glory. Using W, S, A, D to move and the arrow keys to shoot tears (your starting weapon) the player must navigate Isaac, a crying, naked boy, through multiple rooms in a style very similar to the original "Legend of Zelda" dungeons. However as well as having multiple rooms, there are multiple floors. The player may progress down to the next floor after defeating a boss on the floor they are currently on.

The game can seem very difficult at first however once a player gets used to how the game works in terms of items it becomes much more manageable. On most floors there is an item room, a shop room and on every floor the is a secret room which may contain items which aid the player.
Passive items will permanently increase a stat such as hearts or improving speed while activated items give the player the ability to use a special attack in accordance to the item picked up. This attack can be used whenever the player wants and will recharge over time. Other items which can be picked up are pills and tarot cards. Their features vary and can sometimes be harmful to the played meaning they are not as useful as the other items mentioned. They are also one time use items and cannot be recharged.

Gaining access into rooms containing these items does come at a price. The core collectables on each floor consists of keys which grant access through locked doors, bombs which can destroy the environment and coins which can be used to purchase items from the shop rooms.These three collectables are vital as they are needed to gain entry in to the previously mentioned rooms by either unlocking doors or blowing up walls.

The game boasts 132 different items some of which have different effects not only in terms of attacks or stats but also in terms of appearance, for example picking up the "PHD" item will result in Isaac wearing a doctors mask or picking up a coat hanger will result in a coat hanger through the head. Though is not an essential part of the game, it creates a desire to see what every item does to the appearance of Isaac.

Another great feature is the vast number of enemies and bosses with unique attacking styles. There are easily enough enemies to keep the game interesting, even after multiple play-throughs and boss fights are always interesting as there is no way of knowing which boss you will face until you gain access to the boss room.

The game is pleasing on both the eyes and the ears with the visual style being very cartoony and containing dark humour. The music score is composed by Danny Baranowsky (Super Meat Boy) and is superbly done capturing the right mood with every track.

The element of surprise is a key feature in the game as everything is randomly generated for each play through meaning that no run will be the same.

With the range of items to collect and enemies and bosses to witness the game will keep a dedicated player busy for a surprising number of hours. On top of the collectables there are also unlockables, in the form of extra characters and bosses, and achievements (through steam).
I myself have managed to log over 35 hours playing and although I have completed the game, I still haven't found every item. It was one of the few games I have became truly addicted to when I first played it and not many games have that effect on me.

Spending 35 hours of time playing a flash game is something I never thought I would do so it's a credit to the creators for making a game which has never felt boring to me. The game can be very difficult when first playing; I guarantee you will die in it. Although this can be frustrating it as the game uses a perma-death system, it's simply a case of the more you play the better you'll get.

I could say much more about the game however I feel experiencing the game would be more beneficial. For those interested in buying the game it is currently avalible on Mac and PC for £3.99 through steam and I believe it is worth every penny.

I personally rate it as one of my top games of 2011 so if anyone is on the fence about purchasing the game I recommend it without a second thought.

- Tom Seed


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