‘The Binding of Isaac’ crushes modern game design



By Zach Walton

Imagine that your mother was hearing the voice of God and it told her to kill you to prove her faith. What would you do? Call child services? Run away from home? Hide in the basement with all the former victims of your mother?

The latter is what Isaac chooses in “The Binding of Isaac,” the latest game from Edmund McMillen, one of the guys behind last year’s surprise hit “Super Meat Boy.”

As the title would imply, the story is loosely based on the story from the Old Testament wherein Abraham is challenged to kill his son Isaac as a tribute to God.

Unlike the Old Testament version, Isaac in the game can fight back against all those that are trying to kill him in the basement.

This sets up a rogue-like adventure game that is inspired by “The Legend of Zelda” and “Diablo.” The combat and movement are very “Zelda”-like while the random loot drops are reminiscent of “Diablo.”

The random loot drops is what makes the game so interesting. While the player will lose all their progress and items upon dying, the new items gained every play-through are vastly different from the last.

The distribution of enemies is also vastly different. The chance of success to complete the game is partly up to skill but also up to the loot drops. There have been some play-throughs where I have not seen a single good item drop. This will leave the player in a handicapped position.

The items that the player will find truly make the game. While the items are general stat boosters or improved weapons, they take on the form of Internet memes and dark humor.

The default weapon for Isaac are his tears, and it just gets more ridiculous from there. A few examples of later items include a “shoop-da-whoop laser,” troll face bombs and an injection of poison that makes Isaac sick, but also kills every enemy that comes into contact with him.

While all of this sets up the game to be difficult, there is more going on here. Sure, the game is hard but it’s designed to be that way. Like 2009’s “Demon’s Souls,” there’s a sense of accomplishment that comes from completing stages.

It’s the kind of game design that a lot of studios shy away from these days. Gamers want instant gratification; Isaac is going to make you work for it.

The sound design is to be commended as well. The music sets the mood perfectly, and the developers are so proud of it that the soundtrack is bundled with the game for an extra dollar.

The enemy sound design is eerie, disgusting and sometimes funny. It’s truly a testament to the guys at Team Meat and Newgrounds, who have delivered consistent, excellent sound design.

If you need any more reason to buy “The Binding of Isaac,” consider the game’s price at only $5 for both PC and Mac. That’s $5 for endless hours of replay value that will challenge your wits as a gamer. You will also be supporting awesome indie developers in what they do.

I don’t want to oversell “The Binding of Isaac.” It’s not for everybody, but those who grew up playing “The Legend of Zelda,” or those who want a challenge should try it out. You won’t regret it. It’s one of the more original games released this year and it deserves all the praise it can get.