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SummaryA dark aesthetic and stiff difficulty make this a shining example of the genre
- Different stage layouts each playthrough make replaying easy
- Randomly chosen items with a variety of effects, both visual and mechanical, further encourage replay
- Satisfying, challenging combat
- Easy to put down and pick back up later
- Effective morbid aesthetic
- Great sound design
- Copious amounts of repetition required to reach the end, more than the game's variety can justify without breaks
- Bullets' trajectories are affected by the velocity of their source which gives aiming an unexpected learning curve
- The random nature of the game makes some attempts needlessly frustrating
- The story takes a backseat to the game, despite clever its twists
- The game makes itself harder once you have played it to the end a number of times which makes the game harder to show to others.
The Bottom LineIn The Binding of Isaac, you play as Isaac who is being hounded by his mother who has heard a voice from God telling her to sacrifice Isaac in his honor. Isaac flees into his basement where the game becomes a top-down shooter and the story becomes unfortunately irrelevant to the proceedings. What is most disappointing is, despite how surprisingly affecting the story is (requiring some interpretation), that one is required to run the length of the game more than a dozen times before really seeing its end and a lot of this time features no character development or progression. The players who would most appreciate the clever story may grow tired of the game long before reaching its final twists.
The gameplay, however, is certainly not bad: Isaac's stream of tears reduces the deformed enemies and flies to bloody pulps in wet, viscerally satisfying explosions. It can take some time to get used to the way the player's movement affects the trajectory of the bullets, but the game features more than enough content to tide players through this learning curve. Learning monster and boss patterns is important, as the game does provide a reasonably stiff challenge. While the early stages have mostly clear rooms, later floors have particularly cramped terrain that impedes the otherwise simple combat.
Though each dungeon floor is randomly arranged each time one plays the game, it leads to very little true difference from one playthrough to the next. What does make each run feel different is the variety of items Isaac can find and buy, most changing Isaac's abilities and appearance. Unfortunately, the random items are one of The Binding of Isaac's most exciting and worst features simultaneously. Items can be found in treasure rooms, shops, secret rooms, and after beating bosses on each floor, but because of the random nature of the stages and the items, it is very possible to be dealt a crappy hand, which forces players to whittle away at boss's or even enemy life bars, turning an individual run into a real drag. This can be easily outweighed by combinations of items that make Isaac into a powerhouse, but in all truth most commonly the items will be found effective enough, even if not ideal.
The Binding of Isaac is reasonably short, taking, usually, about an hour to reach its final boss. Where its length comes is in replaying the game-- and assuming one is fond of top-down shooters and a moderate challenge in the first place, replaying The Binding of Isaac is a very easy thing to do. Replaying it is even fun so long as the item pool remains sufficiently unexplored (after long enough though, one will get tired of seeing the same items). The game's aesthetic is not enough to carry it through its repetition if a player didn't desire a top-down shooter in the first place, but if that want is there, The Binding of Isaac is a great choice.