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Editorial

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

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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.

Editorial

Three Single-Player Games to Watch Out for in July 2019

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Three Single Player Games (July 2019) - Sea of Solitude, Fire Emblem Three Houses, Wolfenstein Youngblood

July, the middle of winter down here in Australia. Even in the bizarre New South Wales climate, the biting cold makes for a great excuse to stay inside and play games. 

Weirdly for single players, quite a few prestige games this month include additional co-op modes. With acclaimed designers behind them, such games will hopefully avoid the pitfalls of accommodating multiple players, as too many games have done in the past.

Sea of Solitude

Release Date: July 5, 2019
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One

At first blush, Sea of Solitude looks like yet another story of a young adult struggling with questions of identity and mental health while exploring a beautiful but harsh fantasy world.

Actually, that’s what it is. ‘Quirky, life affirming indie adventure’ is a whole cottage industry these days, but the fact that such games are now more prevalent should never dismay.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice was a masterpiece of refined design and storytelling, and Sea of Solitude appears be something similar—this time dealing with a fantastical vision of depression that turns ordinary people into literal monsters.

Players take charge of Kay, who has sought out the eponymous Sea—or rather, a flooded city based on Berlin—in the hope that there is a cure for monstrosity. However, despite its name, she is not the only person in the Sea. Avoiding the other monsters of the Sea seems to be a major part of the gameplay. These tense encounters are likely to provide rhythm and variety to the adventure and keep it from being a just walking simulator. (Not that being a walking simulator is inherently a problem.)

Although published by EA Originals, one would do well to remember that EA the company does not actually profit off the Originals that they publish. With a focused story and themes that still are not often explored in bigger games, Sea of Solitude should be of great interest to single player fans in a month otherwise dominated by multiplayer titles.

 

Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Release Date: July 26, 2019
Platform: Nintendo Switch

Almost certainly the biggest single player release of the month, and tied with Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 as another massive Switch exclusive, Fire Emblem: Three Houses might be exactly what single players need right now.

Lately the Fire Emblem franchise has exploded in both its popular profile and sales success, buoyed by a hunger for both deep anime RPGs and polished tactics games. Three Houses seems to have doubled down on exciting trends and features in both genres: particularly a Persona/Harry Potter inspired magic school setting and an even deeper tactical battle system that ditches the rock-paper-scissors for more nuanced character progression options. As with many Japanese RPGs, the story is also a major focus and hinges upon a time-jump.

The early part casts the player as a teacher at the Officer’s Academy, situated in the center of the game world and attended by students from the three most powerful nations. Five years later, the second and likely larger part concerns the drama between the player’s teacher and their former students, whose nations are now locked in a massive three-way conflict.

As is to be expected for a series finally coming back to consoles after a long time on the 3DS, Three Houses is a massive technical leap over its predecessors. The game boasts better realised battlefields, more detailed armies, and a slick animated style that appears much more consistent compared with the three or four different art styles on the 3DS.

With such improvements, as well as the overall pedigree of the Fire Emblem brand, Three Houses should have no trouble satisfying single player fans looking for a meaty middle-of-the-year RPG.

Wolfenstein: Youngblood

Release Date: July 26, 2019
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One

The recent Wolfenstein revival series is such a remarkable achievement in traditional shooter design and great, if goofy, sci-fi worldbuilding that the co-op focus of this latest instalment is somewhat disappointing.

Yes, as with F.E.A.R. 3 and Dead Space 3, following a well-received second chapter the Wolfenstein series now pivots to a co-operative focused chapter. Though the game is not a mandatory multiplayer experience, combat encounters and puzzles have been redesigned to accommodate the two player mode, giving single players an AI-controlled partner and bullet sponge enemies.

However, all hope is not lost for Wolfenstein: why else would it be the third game on the list? The narrative has been pushed forward in time, as B.J.’s twin daughters are now in their adolescence, now giving players a glimpse at the 1980s of Wolfenstein‘s skewed universe. Additionally, the level design itself is more freeform thanks to development assistance from Arkane, the developers of the Dishonored series.

Will Wolfenstein: Youngblood successfully deliver more of the series’s goofy charm and crazy alternate reality? Almost certainly. On the other hand, will the game be as fun to play alone as in multiplayer? That remains to be seen. Last month’s E3 demo that raised such concerns was naturally only a snapshot of a game in development, so MachineGames and Arkane have had plenty of time to resolve these potential downsides to a co-op focused game.

Those are our three big single player games to look out for this month. Other interesting titles coming soon include Stranger Things 3 on July 4 and Attack on Titan 2 on July 5, both games hitting Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

On July 12 we will see the sequel to an almost-fantastic Minecraft-like RPG spinoff, Dragon Quest Builders 2 on Switch and PlayStation 4, as well as the Switch port of “anime Monster Hunter”, God Eater 3

The week after, July 19 brings us Switch-exclusive Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order, and at an undetermined time during the month Klei Entertainment’s anticipated survival-sim Oxygen Not Included will finally leave early access on PC.

Have we missed anything that you’re looking forward to? Let us know in the comments below and be sure bookmark OnlySP and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. You can also join the discussion in our community Discord server.

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