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Oh great, another videogame review

The Binding of Isaac is a video game developed by Edmund McMillen and Florian Himsl. It references the biblical history contained in Genesis 22, in which Abraham is commanded by God to sacrifice his only son Isaac to prove his faith.

In-game, Isaac is a child living with his mother in the present day. Isaac's mother hears a voice from above commanding her to remove his son from sin and sacrificing him to prove her loyalty. When she goes into Isaac's room to obey the voice's instructions, he finds a trapdoor leading to the basement and jumps down to save himself. The adventure begins here.

  • Title: The Binding of Isaac
  • Developer: Edmund McMillen and Florian Himsl 
  • Publisher: Edmund McMillen 
  • Date published: Sept. 28, 2011 
  • Soundtrack: Danny Baranowsky
  • Platforms: PC, Mac OSX, Linux (all via Steam, the remake is announced to be on PC, PS Vita and PS3)
  • Minimum specs
    • Windows
      • OS: Windows XP, Vista, 7 
      •  Processor: 2.5 GHz 
      •  Memory: 1GB 
      •  Hard Disk Space: 50MB 
      •  Video Card: Direct X9.0c Compatible Card 
      •  DirectX®: DirectX® 9.0c 
    • Mac
      • OS: OS X version Leopard 10.5.8, Snow Leopard 10.6.3, or later. 
      •  Processor: Intel Mac 2.5 GHz 
      •  Memory: 1GB 
      •  Hard Disk Space: 50MB 
  • Links:
    • Main game on Steam here
    • Demo on Newgrounds here
    • Wrath of the Lamb (DLC) on Steam here
    • Soundtrack on Steam here
    • Soundtrack on Bandcamp here

What's this game like?

The game itself draws from adventure games like the first The Legend of Zelda titles, playing from a top-down perspective in dungeons made from interconnected square rooms which can contain monsters, treasures, secrets and a combination of these. It also uses some mechanics from roguelike games, such as:
  • Procedurally generated levels -- the levels are randomly created every playthrough
  • Perma-death -- dying means you have to restart the whole thing from scratch
  • Unidentified items -- Some items (pills) have unknown effects. The only way of knowing these effects is eating them, and they re-roll every playthrough
From the Adventure genre, it has:
  • Upgrades to your health and stats
  • Powerups for your main attacks (tears), bombs and special items
The expansion, Wrath of the Lamb includes more content:
  • Extra dungeons
  • Added difficulty
  • Trinkets - items that give passive bonuses; only one can be held at a time
  • Extra items and unlockables
  • Extra bosses
  • A new ending

So... is it any good?

In my opinion, it's damn good. For its low price (5 USD, often on discount), you can get tens if not hundreds of hours of good fun. The randomized nature of the game, the different meta-strategies for its 8 characters, the hundreds of unlockables, bosses, endings and challenges will almost always give you something new to achieve.

Mind you, this game is hard. Some enemies don't flinch to your attacks, some will swarm you and some spawn more enemies. Some bosses will test your reflexes with quick attacks and some will simply bullet-spam you. Your bombs can damage you and not all items are actually beneficial (which ones, you'll have to figure out for yourself)

In other words, this game is pure, unadulterated fun. A single playthrough can be very short (while you get used to things wanting to kill you) and it goes straight to business, a great timesink.

Any downsides, Andy?

Not to me, but many people can find the humor of this game rather distasteful if not downright offensive. The game's humor is dark and borrows from religious ideas and other morally questionable material. If you're ok with that, this will be no problem to you (mind you, this humor is far from the worst I've seen but some people are very sensitive)

Another issue for some (including myself) is the fact that this game doesn't natively support controllers. Although this can be easily solved with 3rd party programs like JoyToKey, it requires an extra step that might be a nuisance.

Some players have reported having problems with the savefile and achievements when working on Steam alternating online and offline mode. This is something you might want to look for if your internet connection is spotty.

One last word about DLC

The game's only DLC/expansion, titled Wrath of the Lamb is probably one of the best expansions ever made for a game, it practically doubles the game in terms of fun (by which I mean enemies, bosses and items). It's a great investment if you like the game.

HOWEVER I strongly advice newbies against buying the DLC right away. Not because it's bad, but because it refines a lot of things from the base game: there are more enemies, new mechanics and an overall higher difficulty that can't be rolled back.

My personal recommendation is to buy the base game, enjoy it for a while and when you can reliably reach the final boss, then it's a good time to get WotL. However, it all boils down to preference. Happy slaughtering