OnlySP Favorite Games 50 - Binding of Isaac
Editorial

OnlySP’s Favorite Games #50—The Binding of Isaac

At OnlySP we share a lot: a love of single-player and an appreciation for the intricate art of games, naturally. However, we also each have unique tastes and preferences within the single player space—so thanks to the staff of OnlySP, I can happily invite you on a journey through our 50 favorite games. Some of these are forgotten gems, and some you will guess straight away. Others cover more than one game in a series, or compare two similar games.

At one a week, this will take a year to complete, and they will not all be in order either! So without further ado, let us begin by joining Michael for a groundbreaking, potty humour-filled roguelike. I will be back at the end with some similar games we have seen release in the years since.

Thanks, Mitchell

#50. THE BINDING OF ISAAC, by Michael Cripe

The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is one of those indie games that stands apart from the others. On the surface, the Edmund McMillen roguelike is a strange Zelda love letter. McMillen previously developed the legendarily punishing Super Meat Boy, so Rebirth’s difficulty is nearly inherent. However, those choosing to go deeper into Rebirth’s basement are sure to find evolving gameplay, engaging style, and enough content to make even the most adventurous gamers say, “Does this ever end?”

The Binding of Isaac’s story starts out simple enough as it follows Isaac and his escape from his mother’s religiously fueled attempt to murder him. Though there are clear references to the Bible at every turn, religious context only provides the game’s backdrop. For example, the game features more than a dozen characters, each based off religious figures such as Cain, Judas, Eve, Lazarus, and so on; that said, some of the regular enemies include sentient poop, large farting creatures, and attack flies, so The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth clearly does not take itself too seriously. Isaac’s primary attack even sees him pelting enemies with his tears. This lack of seriousness opens Rebirth’s doors to an unrivaled system that emphasizes character and gameplay. Part of the character the game shows off includes video game references that must number in the hundreds.

“Corridoor”

With random item drops and dungeon setups, no run is the same. Isaac’s individual journeys are packed with surprises in every room, making for adventures that are never stale. In the game’s late stages, Rebirth is a certified bullet hell. Chance can either turn the game’s more intricate bosses into trivial bumps in the road or some of the most difficult encounters gaming has to offer. Though a roll of the dice has great effect on Isaac’s life expectancy, practice and skill will always be more than enough for players to reach the end of the game.

Even though weapons and items can be combined to create interesting synergies and the game has about 20 endings, recent expansions have filled any spaces left in an otherwise beefy base game. Two years after release, Rebirth received its Afterbirth and Afterbirth+ DLC in early 2017. The sizable DLCs introduced more than 80 new items each to the previous count of 341, as well as new bosses, room types, modes, and so much more. Rebirth had enough item combinations and outcomes to last for hundreds of gameplay, so while the DLC is not a necessity, the depth of content provides quite the value.

The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, like most games, is not perfect. While a top-down bullet hell is perfect for Nintendo Switch, Rebirth does have a tendency to suffer from frame loss when things get too crazy on the mobile console. Rebirth also expects more than a fair amount from players in terms of memory as well. Almost every item does not include a traditional description, leaving players to access outside resources just to figure what one miniscule moment could mean for an entire run. Additionally, though gameplay is obviously king in the roguelike, Rebirth would not have been hurt from a bit more of a story instead of a barebones narrative.

Clearly, the narrative remains deadly serious.

Thankfully, for the few issues some players may find, McMillen’s sophomore title still stands as a triumph in the video game hall of fame. Roguelikes that share the same quality and depth of The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth often lack the same character which ultimately puts the game as a cut above the rest. With or without DLC, gamers will be hard pressed to find a game as fun as Rebirth that offers an experience where a small child defeats poop monsters with his tears.

AFTER THE BINDING OF ISAAC: Roguelites Everywhere

The popularity of Isaac and Spelunky, particularly their revolutionising of the real-time roguelike genre, has resulted in even more ‘roguelite’ or ‘roguelike-like’ indie games over the years. Games have continued to evolve roguelike elements into a modern, procedural action genre, ranging from Rogue Legacy to Enter the Gungeon.

Some, like Gungeon, take the dungeon crawler aspects of Isaac to heart and have backed up into the classic dungeon RPG formula, with the added wrinkle of nail-biting action. If the bullet-hell in the later Isaac levels appeals to players, Enter the Gungeon will certainly provide a challenge.

Other roguelite games, most recently Dead Cells, have combined procedural levels with the popular retro-action-platformer genre and made something that resembles Castlevania. If Isaac‘s numerous weapons and powers appeal to players, Dead Cells or the older Rogue Legacy will make for an excellent follow up.

Thanks for joining us for the first of our 50 favorite games. Leave a comment with your favorite roguelike or roguelite, or your own impressions of The Binding of Isaac, and we will join you next week for one of Damien’s favorites: a modern classic that began a series that is still going today.

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