The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth Review

1 And it came to pass after these things, that Edmund McMillen did tempt gamers, and said unto them, gamers: and he said, Behold, here I am.

2 And he said, Take now thy cash, thine only cash till next pay period, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Steam or Sony; and offer it there for 10 to 15 USD (dependent upon loyalty discount), offering upon one of the consoles which I will tell thee of.

3 And the gamers rose up early in the morning, and saddled their Honda Civics, and took two new Taco Bell Breakfast Crunchwraps, and their cash, and rose up, and went unto the place of which Edmund had told them.

4 Then on what felt like the billionth day the gamers lifted up their eyes, and saw the place afar off.

5 And thiey said unto their Crunchwraps, Abide ye here with the Honda Civics; and I and the cash will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.

6 And the gamers took their cash; and they went both of them together.

7 And the cash spake unto the gamers, their owners, and said, My owners: and they said, Here am I, my cash. And he said, Behold the cart, full: but where is the cash for offering?

8 And the gamers said, My cash, Edmund McMillen will provide himself cash for an offering: so they went both of them together, because mediums of exchange are incapable of critical thinking.

9 And they came to the place which Edmund had told them of; and the gamers chilled there, and placed the order, and bound their cash and laid him on the altar of purchase.

10 And the gamers stretched forth their hands, and inched their cursors towards confirmation.

11 And Tyrone Rodriguez called unto gamers out of Nicalis, and said, gamers, gamers: and he said, Here am I.

12 And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the cash, neither do thou any thing unto it: for now I know that thou fearest cancellation; seeing thou hast not withheld thy cash, thine only cash for this pay period.

13 And the gamers lifted up their eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a northern lion: and the gamers went and took the northern lion, and criticized him for taking Mom’s Knife, in stead of their cash.

14 And the gamers called that game Rebirth: as it is said to this day, In the mount of Indie it shall be seen.

The Binding of Isaac, released back in 2011, is a rogue-like indie darling that wears its Zelda influences on its sleeve. You play as Isaac, a young boy living with his mother. His mother, convinced she is being spoken to by God, must offer Isaac up to prove her love and devotion to Him. Isaac, in an understandable act of defiant self-interest, descends into the basement to escape. It’s there that the game begins. You fight all manner of monstrosities down below, ranging from hideous pin worms, cleft-lipped disembodied heads, physical manifestations of the Seven Deadly Sins, and the Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Isaac spends much of his free time in the fetal position.

You start fighting the denizens of your basement with your tears – yes, this game is a strange one – but as you progress you’ll find unlockables, in places such as stores, treasure rooms and arcades, that change your tear effects, sometimes drastically (and sometimes your appearance). To win, you have to juggle health, bombs, keys, and money. You’ll have to find secret rooms (and secreter rooms!). And of course, you’ll have to fight… well, I won’t spoil that. Suffice it to say you’ll have some options. As you play, succeed, and succumb, you’ll unlock items and characters for each subsequent playthrough. On top of that, items you find and unlock, enemies you encounter, and floor layouts all change with each descent – effectively making every run unique. The Binding of Isaac is one of the most highly replayable games around, with many players logging in hundreds, if not thousands, of hours.

It’s a troubling trend lately that games have been getting the HD re-release treatment so quickly after initial launch. The Last of Us, Tomb Raider, Sleeping Dogs, Metro – all have come out recently, all have had re-releases in fairly quick succession. It’s no secret that gamers are suckers for a good dose of nostalgia, and that we’re willing to pay top dollar for games we loved years ago that haven’t necessarily weathered the passing of time so well. Now publishers are testing gaming goodwill with the constant stream of HD ports, definitive editions, remasters, and remakes.

It’s been three years since Isaac’s first appearance, and now he’s back in The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth. And just like way back in 2011, when he first burst onto the scene, he’s stolen the show yet again. I’ve explained the core mechanics and features of the game in a previous paragraph, so I won’t get all redundant on you. Instead, I’ll tell you what’s new in Rebirth: New enemies, regular and boss types. New floor layouts. Bigger floors. New items, active and passive. New trinkets (items you carry with you that result in an effect – Pink Eye gives you poison shots, Cancer increases number of tears, etc.). New challenge runs. More item synergies. More characters to play as. “Seeds” that allow you to choose a particular run. Hard mode for you masochists. Couch drop in/drop out co-op, ingeniously designed where a second player can take health from the first player and becomes a unique familiar, providing backup until death (as long as you have health to spare, you can respawn). Controller support. New soundtrack from Matthias Bossi and Jon Evans. More secrets. The ability to save. Chocolate orgasms.

Pictured: NOT a chocolate orgasm.

Okay, not that last bit.

I could go on. Needless to say, Nicalis took The Binding of Isaac and its DLC, Wrath of the Lamb, and compiled it into a single re-release. Then they went and gave it a new splash of paint and hundreds of hours of content. The graphics are spectacular and detailed, the style is lovingly Zelda-inspired, the music is fresh and exhilarating, enemies pop upon death, viscerally gratifying… it’s truly a delight. If I have a minor niggle, it’s that Rebirth feels kind of floaty compared to Vanilla Isaac, a little too fast – but that just might take some getting used to. It certainly hasn’t deterred me. For players old and new, Rebirth is at once familiar and exotic, and I predict that regardless of prior experience with Isaac you’ll find yourself experiencing some gaming deja vu. It really, truly is a gamer’s game; a loving homage to why we picked up controllers in the first place.

But half the fun, my uninitiated friends, is discovering all this for yourselves; the bosses (and tactics required to take them down), the items, the secrets. It’s a challenging game, I won’t sugarcoat it. But pressing forward and beating that first boss, getting to a new level, glimpsing the final boss; all of these milestones are as rewarding as gaming experiences get, period. And once you start at it, you won’t stop. That’s what those save files are for.

Isaac throws the WORST birthday parties.

This is the indie game of the year. This is the only indie title you really need to buy in 2014. For fans of the series, for those unfamiliar, for sentient animals, and for any extraterrestrials and apparitions within earshot; you owe it to yourself to buy this, a title retro and modern all at once. This puts all of those HD re-releases, definitive editions, and remakes to shame. This is truly a rebirth; for indie games, for players, for devs and publishers… for gaming. The bar has been raised.

So what are you waiting for? Repent, every one of you, in the name of RNGesus for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of Rebirth.

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