Back to the Binding: Thoughts on The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth

Long time readers of my gaming articles will know that I am a huge fan of The Binding of Isaac. So after roughly a month of playing the newest installment, The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, I feel I’m ready to discuss it in a public forum.

The game is essentially unchanged in terms of story; you still play as Isaac attempting to escape the wrath of his insane mother who is hallucinating that God is demanding that she sacrifice him to prove her devotion. But enough gameplay and graphical elements have changed to justify making this a stand-alone game rather then a DLC.

Rebirth is shaping up to be one of my favorite games of the last decade. But I feel the important thing to ask here isn’t if Rebirth is better then the original, but how it changes from the original.

Well, there have been a lot of major changes as well as some superficial ones, Including…

New Items

Rebirth has teased a slew of new items that fans have been giddy to play around with.

My personal favorite of the new items so far is The Ludovico Technique – a reference to the film/novel A Clockwork Orange – which grants the user a single remote control shot. This is useful against larger, slower moving enemies with more health as you can float the shot over them for multiple hits.

Also new to the items are the runes, a set of magical stones that occupy the same item slot as pills and cards and provide some of the most powerful one-time-only effects in the game such as removing curses or destroying all breakable objects in the room.

And with all of these new items come new item synergies. Remember how I said I love The Ludovico Technique? Well, try pairing it up with my favorite item from the last game, Brimstone, to create a remote controlled ring of bloody, boiling death.

New Characters

All of the original cast of playable characters have returned in Rebirth, but they’ve brought four new friends with them that add new strategies to gameplay.

First is Lazarus who, despite having some of the most pitiful starting stats, is useful as a high- risk character. If he dies, he will live up to his namesake and respawn with a single heart of health. In addition, he gains the Anemic effect that leaves a trail of damaging blood on the ground.

Next is my personal favorite of the new batch, Azazel whose terrible range, luck and health stats are made up for by starting with the power of flight, a short-range Brimstone laser, and the highest starting damage output in the game.

Third up is the fascinating Eden. Eden can only be played if you have an Eden token which can only be obtained by defeating Mom’s Heart. What makes Eden so interesting is the fact that his stats and starting items are completely randomized; making for challengingly unpredictable runs.

Finally comes The Lost, arguably the most high risk/high reward character in the game. The Lost LITERALLY has no health and can’t gain more (though respawning items still work with him), meaning that he will die with one touch. However, he starts with the power of flight and can take deals in the Devil Room for free.

Oh, and while they technically don’t count as characters, it is worth noting that there is a multiplayer option where player two can control one of a multitude of “babies” to assist Isaac.

New Crew

Where as the original game was a comparatively small operation with only a handful of people working on it, Rebirth benefits from having the backing of the larger Nicalis Inc. behind it, even going so far as to get 1001 Spikes producer, writer, and designer Tyrone Rodriguez to assist creator Edmond McMillen in art and design.

As a result, the art is shockingly beautiful. Lighting effects from fire and lasers (especially in darkened rooms) add to the creepy atmosphere – assisted by Jon Evans’ and Matthias Bossi’s haunting musical score.

The cutscenes combine McMillen’s trademark darkly comedic art style with fluid animation that trumps the original in almost every way. Also, the new cutscenes get much creepier (the ‘Rubber Cement’ ending freaks me out every time).

Final Thoughts

While I normally dislike re-releasing a game like this, Rebirth does enough to change it up to justify it’s existence. It adds new strategies and tactics, reworks the original’s art and atmosphere to be truly terror inspiring and is an all-around solid performance.

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