The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is one of those games that completely overhauls the original concept while keeping everything the same. Sharing its name with one of the darkest stories the bible has to offer (and that’s saying something), this indie title does its best to be just as disturbing as its biblical counterpart. With some thought provoking themes, depressing undertones, and addicting gameplay, Ed McMillen’s latest work of art is more than just a port.
For those unfamiliar with the original title, players are dropped into modern times as Isaac. He’s a young boy who lives with his mother in a peaceful, secluded house on a hill where he’d play with toys or draw pictures. His mother is a bible thumper who spends her days watching religious broadcasts. One day, she hears the voice of God who says her son is a sinner. Instead of taking him to bible school or something she throws him in a creepy dark room and tries to sacrifice him. And instead of sitting around waiting to die, Isaac finds a trap door and tries to escape through a series of basement dungeons. The story is very reminiscent to the bible story that shares the same name where god tells Abraham to kill his only son to test his faith. While at the end of the story God tells Abraham to stop, that isn’t really the case in this game. It’s one of those games that makes you think about faith, how much you have and where do people take it too far.
Everything about this game grabs your attention. The art style is hand drawn and very Tim Burton-y. There’s a bit of shadow around the corners of the screen, the rooms are filled with blood and feces, and Isaac’s attacks are his tears. In between levels, he cries himself to sleep and dreams of how he was bullied or ignored by his family. It makes Isaac very sympathetic, and you end up caring for a character that doesn’t really talk much at all. To make things even more dark, the basements are filled with deformed people who are more than likely his brothers and sisters. So his mother has done this before.
While it isn’t a 60-hour epic, the game is only short in theory. For starters there is a very classic game difficulty level. At times I felt like they were trying to get more quarters from my pocket. On top of that, each “basement” has multiple rooms to explore, and different characters with different strengths or weaknesses. The gameplay is pretty interesting as well, essentially the face buttons work as the main attacks but for different directions. It’s hard to get the hang of at first, but eventually it’s not too bad. One of the reasons (aside from practice) is the longer you play, the more upgrades you get, and the easier everything is.
Now, this is an update to the original game. There was a ton of new content. It runs on a new engine, so a lot of the technical issues of the old game are gone. There are around 140 new items and a few new levels. On top of that, the game natively plays with a pixel filter. The original game was more crisp and actually looked nicer, but there is an option to play whichever version you prefer.
It’s just a really well made game. Its commentary on religion and how it’s dealt with is handled masterfully. Everything involved works together to create an aura of shame, guilt and even depression. But it’s still fun, and that’s what matters most. Even if you played the original. The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is worth your time and money.