Fair warning: This is not a review. This is a confession of why I’ve become addicted. My current drug (and one I’m not looking to kick no matter how many interventions my girlfriend tries) is the Binding of Isaac: Rebirth.
I wasn’t into this game from the get-go. A co-worker told me her son played it and it was weird. She plays video games but calls herself a ‘bad gamer’, so naturally a grain of salt was taken. Out at the beginning of November as a free PS Plus game, I did the automatic download, and kinda stashed it.
At the time of release I was spending most of my time still sailing the open seas of Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag, while getting pretty amped up for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare as I was in a bit of withdrawal from teenagers calling me racist terms that don’t apply in the slightest. On the horizon was Dragon Age: Inquisition, still my game of the year from last year. But I had a couple weeks to mess around with COD, plus I was collecting anti-cubes in Fez, just completed Dust, and was driving myself crazy with how much I enjoyed/rage hated Spelunky, another rogue adventure. One day I decided to give the ‘naked baby shooter’ an honest play. I told myself I’d give it an hour. It’s free so why not.
How can I put the themes for this game simply? Your mom got a message from God to kill her only son (Isaac) and now you have to escape her clutches by going deeper into the basement. You shoot your tears as projectiles, drop bombs and pick up keys very much like classic Legend of Zelda. You fight monstrosities like enemies made of poo, and evil copies of yourself. You can sacrifice health to the Devil to become more powerful. It’s surely strange but all works in the scheme and styling of the game. Oh and did I mention Isaac starts naked? Weird yes, but very accessible to get in to, featuring dual stick play, one for mobility and one for shooting your tears at your mother (Designer Edmund McMillen must have had a serious Oedipus complex).
After 20 minutes and a couple deaths while getting the handle, I became more and more intrigued. You can get access to different power ups as you progress through the 6+ levels on each play through, some that help your health/luck other stats, and some that are just crazy. They can either synergize with each other to give you god-like powers when defeating the poo monsters or evil spiders lurking in the basements and beyond, or they can hinder you which causes instant regret and torture when you went from one hit killing enemies to now feeding them ridiculous amounts of ‘tears’ just for an easy kill. And with the amount of items in each of the pools to find, multiplied by the number of unlockable characters each with their own strengths and weaknesses, the game leaves plenty of room for discovery and trial.
It has been 6 months since I first gave Isaac a chance, and I’m glad I did. It has almost become my safety blanket, a game I come home from work, fire up a couple rounds and see how powerful each run can become. I’ve put probably close to 150 hours into it now and I’m almost finished the game (if there’s an end, it is in my sights). I spend time researching items online, watching some Let’s Play episodes of Isaac on the Youtube, and generally studying this game. Consumption is a hell of a drug on its own, and Isaac is very consuming. You’ll have moments of blinding rage, but the payoff for some accomplishments in the game are well worth seeing red on certain playthroughs.
So on your next rainy day, fire up some Binding of Isaac: Rebirth. It will weird you out, but reward you for your leap of faith. Developer Nicalis and McMillen have announced DLC upcoming entitled ‘Afterbirth’, which should drop just in time for summer, and Rebirth will be released for Xbox and WiiU in the upcoming months for all of the other system holders. Just be prepared for some puzzled faces when you try to explain to your friends that you are addicted to being a tear-shooting baby trying to kill his mom.