Game Review: The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth

Felipe Cabrera

Platforms: PC

Edmund McMillen’s 2011 indie darling “The Binding of Isaac” was an addictive arcade twin-stick shooting splendor, and this year’s “The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth” refines McMillen’s rogue-like formula to a perfect high.

To recap for those not into indie gaming, “The Binding Isaac” is an arcade styled rogue-like twin-stick shooter known for its difficulty, crude biblical humor and high replay value.

“The Binding of Isaac” is attributed for kick starting the rogue-like genre in the indie market. Rogue-like is an offshoot from role playing games that are known for randomized dungeon layouts, randomized item drops and permanent death. When you die in “The Binding of Isaac,” you lose all your items and must start from the beginning.

The first thing players of the original will notice in Rebirth is the graphical tweaks. The heads-up display that shows the map, keys, bombs and health feels cleaner and is easier to read. They don’t take up as much space on the screen as they did before. The character and enemy designs have darker outlines and they look like they are made of pixels, an improvement over the previously hand drawn designs.

As if there weren’t enough items in the original, Rebirth has over 150 fun new toys to play with as you blast away spiders and poop monsters through spiraling levels with Isaac tears. Yes, you read that correctly. Poop monsters with adorable faces.

With over 150 new randomly generated items in randomly generated levels that increase in number every time you beat the game, every new run is a different experience. Even after clocking in 30 hours, I still find an awesome new item that change Isaac’s spit patterns or turn all the enemies on screen into a pile of poo. Seriously, if you can appreciate lowbrow humor, this game is for you.

Even with all the new items, Rebirth is hard as ever. As I mentioned earlier, dying results in you losing all of your items and starting from the beginning of the game in an unpredictable dungeon layout. You start the game with Isaac who only has three hearts. Each standard enemy attack removes half a heart, while explosions can take a full heart.

Avoiding getting hit has become a more constant test of dexterity. There is a chance that you will encounter different enemy types with various attack patterns and weakness. You need to now learn to strategize on the fly.

What will probably kill you the most is having to smash the restart button where the bosses are at the end of each level. The new bosses are even tougher to take down, like the Five Horsemen of Apocalypse who giddy up around on a horse’s head on a stick.

After you complete your first run and triumph over Isaac’s filicidal mother, the game isn’t over. Like in the original game, there are many characters you can unlock by completing challenges in game. For instance, you have to go through two levels without being damaged in order to unlock Samson. I spent a whole day trying to get this one.

Each character starts with a set of items and stat differentials that give you a curve over just using Isaac. There are six characters you can play around with, which may complement your play style.

Other than characters, there are a whopping 20 challenge modes to unlock and complete. A challenge mode may start with a character with a certain set of items, or change the dungeon’s conditions.

For instance, in ‘Pitch Black’, you can’t see your health, rooms are darker and shops are not available. Or ‘High Brow’ — my favorite — you start with the items Number One, E. Coli, Butt Bombs, Flush and a Petrified Poop trinket.

“The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth” is everything a remake should be: enhanced graphics, refined core gameplay mechanics and in the case of this game, more poop jokes. The original game was my favorite game when I bought it on Steam in 2012, and Rebirth is my favorite game in 2014.