Indie Review: The Binding of Isaac Rebirth

0 By Jennifer Gaylord  |   Indie,PC,PS4,Reviews  |   December 31, 2014  |     411

The Binding of Issac: Rebirth, commonly called Rebirth, is a dungeon crawling game made for PC and Playstation consoles that released November 2014. Rebirth is an updated remake of The Binding of Isaac from 2011. Despite sharing the same gameplay and many elements from its predecessor, Rebirth is sold as a separate game and has a large amount of added content, bug fixing, and balancing. These updates have made Rebirth well worth playing for both new players and old fans alike.

 

A screenshot of Rebirth, with the player (right) and several enemies (left). The player cannot move through the doors until the enemies are killed.

 

In Rebirth, the player controls the titular Isaac, a child who has fled to the basement of his home to escape his murderous, religious-fanatic mother. The game is filled with dark humor and religious references, allowing the player to do things like kill living poop, use blood clots and dead animals as weapons, and fight Satan in Hell. The player travels through rooms and floors of the basement, using his tears to kill the monsters in each area. The player can give Isaac new abilities by collecting power-ups in some rooms and by defeating bosses, which can either increase Isaac’s base stats or radically change how Isaac moves or attacks.

The main draw of the game, in addition to its darker themes, is the “permadeath” system and play time. Once Isaac loses all his hearts the game ends and that character is gone forever and cannot be recovered. A full playthrough, without dying, takes around an hour, though most plays end around the half hour mark for less experienced players. Despite this, players can easily jump right back into the game and have an entirely new experience due to the complete randomization of rooms, enemies, bosses, and upgrades from play to play. The replayability potential of the game vastly increases the fun of the game, leaving the player wondering what the experience will be like next game.

Updates and bug fixes have changed the game into a refreshing new experience. New bosses have radically different fighting styles for players to master, and the number of upgrades Isaac can find allows for crazier plays, such as making Isaac fire orbiting bombs or turn enemies into allies. The game has also been made in a new engine rather than Flash, so the game doesn’t lag due to many enemies and bullets on the screen, which was a common problem in the previous game. Now that the engine isn’t an obstacle, rooms can have floods of enemies and bullets, and upgrades can change the game more radically. There is also a seed system, which allows the player to re-try a map generated by the game repeatedly.

 

Bullets and enemies no longer slow the game down, allowing more content to be shown on the screen at one time.

 

The updated item pool for Isaac’s upgrades has caused an odd side effect of increasing the game’s overall difficulty. Previously, there were several “orbital” items that Isaac could find, which would protect him from enemy bullet attacks. With the increase of items that Isaac can randomly find, the chance of finding an orbital has decreased, making later stages of the game much harder to survive.

Rebirth also introduces a feature that the original Binding of Isaac completely lacks: co-op local multiplayer. A player can join the game by taking a heart container from Isaac and becoming a “baby,” a small one-health flying character that can move independently of Isaac in a room. Babies can’t pick up items or use bombs and keys, but they have the same items as Isaac. The baby the second player uses is randomly chosen, and some babies have their own abilities independent of Isaac. When a baby dies, the player one gets the empty heart container back, and the player can choose to take another heart from Isaac to resume playing.

Unlike its predecessor, Rebirth is done in a “pixel art” style rather than Flash animation. The art style was chosen by the fan community after the announcement of Rebirth, where users could vote in a poll on what the game would look like. Pixel art is extremely popular in the indie world, since artists can create assets faster. This also comes at the cost of lower space for details.

Unfortunately, the pixel art in Rebirth suffers from the lower detail ability. Some items appear similar despite having radically different effects on the player, which can cause frustration when one item, which would have been good with your other abilities, ends up ruining a playthrough due to unintended effects. The visual changes to Isaac with the collection of items, a popular quality of the previous game, is also limited by the pixel limit, limiting how crazy Isaac can look during the game.

 

   

The original Binding of Isaac (above) was done in a Flash style, while Rebirth (below) is pixel art.

 

Despite the stigma of being a full-priced remake, Rebirth is well worth playing, even for owners of the previous game. Bug fixes and balancing alone really helped the game, and the enormous addition of new content has created a fresh and exciting experience. The change in art can sometimes be frustrating and has removed some of the charm from the original game, but the pixel art is done as well as pixel art can and doesn’t detract from the game’s dark comedy tone. The current price for Rebirth is $15, a great price for a game with such high replayability potential.

 

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