It goes without saying that by now even your grandmother has heard of The Binding of Isaac, the new-gen roguelite that has been driving YouTube crazy for years since its launch on September 28, 2011. The concept of the game is simple: Isaac’s mother is a nutjob who wants to replicate a real-life biblical episode (the sacrifice of Isaac), and the poor child is forced to run away to the basement,, deeper and deeper to escape her.
The setting of the game is based on a collective panic episode that occurred in the States in the 1980s. A perfect mixture of anxiety, paranoia and pseudoscience had “proven” the presence of numerous satanic sects bent on torturing children. Despite the 12,000 cases of satanic abuse said to have occurred, no one had a shred of evidence. Beyond the (null) legal validity of the allegations, the tense climate wildly influenced the collective imagination. The results were country-wide picturesque mental images of abuse and human sacrifice.
Edmund Mc Millen, who was a child at the time, one fine day decided to immortalize the anguish of that period in a video game that was in many respects silly, although well made, but definitely without too many expectations. Together with his colleague Florian Himsl and using the trusty Adobe Flash, Edmund created the first version of the game. As the years passed, fans of the game continued to grow, and the two devs indulged in the growth of the title, until 2017, the release date of the latest Afterlife+ expansion.
Enough with the history lesson, let’s get to the meat of the article.
There are varying degrees of quality in the graphics of a video game. This can be shoddy, amateurish, professional… The Binding of Isaac possesses the most sought-after degree of quality ever: iconic. Back when the game was raging on YouTube, one of its winning features was its unmistakable artstyle. Anyone who has ever seen a video of The Binding of Isaac would recognize the game’s visuals in a heartbeat.
The style, somewhere between childish and gore, is one of the game’s strong points; in fact, it perfectly marries the title’s dual soul of clunky flash game and body horror. Droppings, pennies, hearts and furnishings are littered everywhere in the deadly depths of Mom‘s basement. Everything looks ominous and hostile to the eyes of young Isaac.
I may be the only man in the world to hold this opinion but I HATE the feel of TBoI with a fierce passion. I can never figure out where the hitboxes are, the movement is clumsy, and the dual controls make me giddy.
For those who don’t know, there are two sets of controls in TBoI. WASD moves the character and the arrows change the direction of attacks.
Now, this system has its merits, especially in 2.5-dimensional environments (such as, precisely TBoI). Still, it is rare in today’s games and is particularly uncomfortable at the beginning.
Remember also that the title is partly bullet hell and you can see why I am not a big fan.
The Binding of Isaac has the great merit of bringing back the roguelike model in the 2010s. It goes without saying, it was not the only roguelite of the decade, but it’s thanks to TBoI and a handful of other titles that the genre saw new life.
TBoI’s levels are procedurally generated, and the placement and contents of loot trunks are also random. This in itself would be impressive, but the game has another surprise to offer us.
The difficulty is adjusted by an internal system that relies on the player’s performance so as to maintain a constant state of flow during the game experience. For the uninitiated, causing a state of flow is the goal of every game designer. TBoI’s system regulates room and enemy spawn based on player skill, so as to always present an adequate challenge.
Mysterious and ominous, Danny Baranowsky‘s soundtrack compliments the atmosphere of the game and evokes the feeling of imminent danger that every child has experienced when confronted with the unknown.
The Binding of Isaac is now a legendary title in the indie scene, and for good reasons. Trying to review it would be like trying to review Shrek, so I prefer to recommend purchase and firsthand experience for those interested. If you read the article just out of curiosity, you are welcome, and you can read more articles like this around the site.
Have a good evening gamers.