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The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth

Can you survive the basement and your mother?

Based on an old flash game, The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is a retooling, using 16-bit graphics and an enhanced non-flash build for the game. Already popular among PC gamers, the series was released last year to PlayStation platforms (PS Vita and PS4), and to Steam.

The premise of the game is relatively simple: A young boy named Isaac lives happily with his devout Christian mother. One day however, voices begin to tell his mother that she must remove her son’s sin, to save his soul. She does this by taking his clothes and toys and depriving him of anything else ‘sinful’. However the voices do not stop there and it escalates until Isaac’s mother comes at him with a knife. Barricading himself in his room but with his mother close to breaking in, Isaac uncovers a trapdoor in his room and with no other options, dives in.

Thus begins the game. The gameplay in Isaac is a top down shooter where you must progress through several stages, each ending with a boss and a trapdoor that takes you further down. You fire tears initially which can be upgraded through numerous items. You receive a limited number of bombs and can hold an “accessory”, an item with a beneficial effect which is recharged by clearing rooms. The more powerful the accessory, the more rooms will be required to recharge it. Floors have hidden rooms and by using keys, you can access a store where you can spend any coins you find on items or hearts. There are also Tarot cards and pills to collect, all of which confer beneficial and detrimental effects upon the player, meaning it’s vital you memorise the colours or images on the cards to make the most effective use of your items. By fulfilling specific conditions, you’ll unlock new characters, each with unique powers and flaws.

Rebirth contains all the original game and its DLC content, along with an enormous amount of extra items, characters and bosses, all of which were designed and overseen by the original game’s creator. The story of Isaac leaves a lot unanswered, with multiple endings and hints at things that never come to fruition. The game itself covers a lot of dark and somewhat twisted imagery; aspects of birth, child abuse, religion and of course, the controversial amount of cartoon poop in the game, all linger around the frantic shooting action.

The bosses are often bullet hell style challenges, meaning you have to follow their attack patterns and capitalise on any openings. And they are disgusting. Many bosses poop, fart, urinate and vomit as forms of attack, with many bosses literally falling to pieces the closer they are to death. They are all wonderfully gross, as if the doodles in a school textbook or desk were given life. Blood and tears are heavily used as imagery and ammunition, with many enemies retaliating with their own blood bullets. A lot of the basic enemies are quite unnerving and maintain the dark undertones of the game. Yet the cartoony art style manages to save it from being in poor taste. While undeniably grotesque and in many places horrific, its art style manages to lend the characters and enemies a kind of charm, in spite of the fact they are mutant foetus-monsters with spiders crawling out of their head.

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A small sample of the grotesque creatures awaiting.

As well as the main story, the game also has a number of challenge runs, runs where you are given a specific move set generated from items found in-game. These range from easy (the Tank run, where you can block bullets and smash through rocks barehanded) to incredibly challenging (the Suicide King especially where your bullets, if they don’t hit an enemy, arc back at you and explode). The game itself is incredibly addictive, you’ll always want one more run, whether its to see what items you get, which bosses you encounter or which bizarre ending you get, Isaac will always keep you popping back for another try.

Religion plays heavily in the game, with both angelic and satanic powers up for grabs. After beating a boss, angel or devil rooms may sometimes appear. The angel rooms rend to reward you with white hearts while the devil rooms offer incredibly powerful items, at the cost of losing health blocks. How faithful or evil you are directly affects the games endings and where you end up in terms of stages. If you have sufficient Faith or Evil, you will unlock new areas once you defeat the final boss, which are even harder and house even stronger bosses. The fact that you can become so loaded with sin begs the question: Was Isaac’s mother right in trying to kill him? Was she the good guy all along and Isaac is a prophesised hellion? We may never know but it’s worth one more run to try and get your answers!

Oh and the music is excellent too. Which is always a bonus.

Image Credits: steamstatic.com, Dualshockers.com

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