The Binding of Isaac

The Binding of Isaac

I didn’t realise that the Isaac (a nude baby, the eponymous protagonist of The Binding of Isaac) was tossing large spheres of his own lukewarm salty tears at his enemies until I’d attempted the game a handful of times. Forgivable, I think, as Binding is filled with dozens of depraved, silly plot points, enemy characters and items with which to dispatch them.

Isaac’s mother, the final, most horrifying boss character in the game, is the victim of shocking religious hallucinations. She traps Isaac in the basement to satiate her version of the Abrahamic God’s thirst for sacrifice, along with discarded clothes that grant Isaac additional powers and a floating decomposing head that belches throatfuls of flies to murder her son. All pretty standard.

The labyrinthine basement is randomly generated and subsequently packed with a network of rectangular rooms full of pits, rock falls and locked chests. It’s instantly recognisible; the player is immediately comfortable in a soft cushion of gaming tropes lifted straight from the ’80s. Stacked on top of these simplistic foundations are a tremendous variety of upgrades to Isaac’s projectile (often altering the tears to a more potent bodily fluid) and an almost-as-large collection of enemies.

It would be easy, once you’ve grabbed a few items, and Isaac has a coat-hanger through his head and a dead cat that floats around behind him and one red stiletto on, to think that The Binding of Isaac is all edgy visual design and a generally offensive aroma. That would be wrong – the game is great because each upgrade has such a tangible effect on the simple 4-directional combat. Ghostly tears, for example, can pass through enemies but cannot put out fires as quickly. Bombs can crush rocks to make bridges over pits, but only if you detonate the explosive in the correct location. Attention to detail is the game’s greatest strength.

Every room is different, every enemy encounter is different, every combination of brilliantly creative power-ups is different. The Binding of Isaac is what happens when you combine unique, evocative visual design with a ton of variety and tight, simple controls – as it is randomly generated this is a game with near limitless replay value.
This article first appeared in Issue 5, 2012.
Posted 4:26pm Sunday 25th March 2012 by Toby Hills.