THE NIGHTMARE OF MY DREAMS
Describing The Binding of Isaac is more than slightly difficult, yet I will attempt to do so. Its creator, Edmund McMillen, somewhat infamous for the bodily offensive games he’s created over the years—along with the slightly friendlier Super Meat Boy—embarked on the project with the goal of creating a game embodying his relationship to religion. It features dead babies, nightmarish demons, pagan sorcery, apocalyptic spirits, a near endless amount of body horror, and plenty of feces. It’s also a strange combination of old school Legend of Zelda dungeon crawl and unrelenting roguelike, in the form of a dual-stick shooter with a deadly muscle memory learning curve. It’s an amazing game.
But I’m not even reviewing that today. Isaac was repackaged and remade outside the limitations of Adobe Flash, and has been reborn into the pixellated masterpiece of The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth. Rebirth, at first glance, seems more like a remake than a sequel. It has many of the same ideas, items, and enemies, though it’s maybe a little harder. The original Isaac, however, was rich in unlockables and secrets, to the point that its entire storyline was some sort of densely packaged secret fed to the player in bits and pieces. Rebirth, with a little effort, turns out to be much, much more than the original, while still sort of being the same game and same idea, pumped up full of new genius.
After unlocking two characters who weren’t even listed on the character select screen, finding a million items whose purpose and power were completely a mystery to me, and wandering into lethal or near lethal secrets paired alongside increasingly brutal new mechanics, I’ve gained a new respect for the game’s depth. The original Isaac, I liked to tell people, had five final bosses. I’m not done counting the secret new final bosses in Rebirth, but there are at least eight. Some of these things take huge amounts of experimentation (or at the very least, hours on the wiki) in order to figure out. The wiki is still reeling from the huge amount of new content and dastardly vague new items and embedded secrets. This is a game best approached with a lot of information on the side. This was true of the original, but even more so in Rebirth, as it seems McMillen delights in shoving players off into the brutal unknown, much like the titular protagonist, the tiny and frightened Isaac.
My overall verdict of Rebirth is that you should get it, and play it immediately. You’ll be horribly frustrated and constantly confused, but the learning curve itself is a sort of game, and once you can approach the battlefield evenly, and with expertise under your belt, you can sometimes be amazed at the minutiae of mechanics and the design of every room and item. And sometimes you can get shit on, sometimes literally, again and again by this unforgiving and wildly disgusting little piece of genius. Rebirth is everything I wanted and more.