The game consists of four chapters, each chapter consists of eight levels. Through-out each, you will fight a selection of 40-or-so bosses and mini-bosses, collect power-ups and die, a lot. As is normal for Rouge-likes, the levels rooms and enemies you encounter are all randomly generated. The game can be mercilessly difficult or pitifully easy depending what mood the game's auto-generation-algorithm is in. Although room order is randomised as well as enemy and power-up locations, each room you will encounter is hand-made and thus not impossible to complete by any means. It doesn't mean you won't get screwed by auto-generation stringing together several extremely difficult rooms in a row, slowly chipping away at the extremely limited health you possess. This random element to the game does offer a unique play-through each time you start or consequently die.
The game's progression is very similar to The Legend of Zelda in that you complete a dungeon, or "level" by defeating the boss and moving on. By defeating the level boss, you unlock a new permanent power-up such as Life Up, Strength Up, Speed Up and so forth but that doesn't mean you have to take it. For real masochists, you can progress through the whole game without any of the power ups at all. Taking most of the power ups will actually change Isaac's appearance in some way. Each level will usually have a store, money dropped by enemies can be spent here or at vending machines which have a random chance of giving you an item or sometimes, no item at all. Alternatively, you can remove some of the random element of money-drops out of the equation by finding a blood bank, which will remove health from you in exchange for cash at an extremely harsh exchange rate. You may also encounter the Demon Devil by meeting certain criteria, mostly by performing well against bosses. By making "bonds" with the devil for items and power-ups, some of your health is replaced by "soul hearts", non-replenishable health depicted by blue-coloured hearts rather than the standard red-coloured variety.
Bosses are what you expect from an RPG game of this style. Very repetitive and more about endurance than skill. Once you get enemy boss patterns down, you can easily defeat them. Sub-bosses are far greater challenge, you randomly encounter these enemies by simply walking into a nondescript room, where as actual stage bosses are clearly marked with their distinctive doorways. Sub-bosses resemble the Seven Deadly Sins, each one having a unique gimmick. Defeating them will drop special items like cards or other various collectables.
The game's soundtrack is surprisingly good. Composed by Danny Baranowsky, known for his work on indie gems: Super Meat Boy and Canabalt, the music is pretty cool. While the game does fall back on some more "epic" set-piece music tracks, especially when fighting bosses, the game really shines with a haunting atmosphere when the game takes a more minimalist approach. The slow, brooding track played when you encounter the devil are perhaps the more stand-out moments of the game alongside boss battles which play a very low-key score. The game's soundtrack could have quite easily been a mash of over-the-top, cliché faux-orchestration or heavy-metal, yet the game decides to take the subtler path. I have great respect for this, makes the game far more memorable at the end of it all.
Overall, The Binding of Isaac is a pretty fine top-down-shooter/Rouge-Like RPG. It's cripplingly difficult, but after Super Meat Boy, are you expecting anything less? There are a few implementation issues, especially with the game's shooting mechanics which seem to be more geared towards console controller-like input rather than mouse and keyboard, but it's not game-breaking in any way. It's not really a thinking man's game, there's no undertones of religious satire or commentary, it's merely just what the game is wrapped around in. Still, the game is tons of fun and its randomly-generated nature will ensure that no two play-throughs are ever the same. If you're a huge fan of Rouge-Likes and Zelda games, this one is certainly for you. Like your games a little easier? Perhaps steer clear of this game. But, for the game's asking price of under £5, it's a steal. Go check it out.
The game has no story to speak of, it's just flavour. And while it does it's job, a more fleshed-out storyline would have done wonders for the game.
While extremely difficult, the game is very satisfying.
Super Meat Boy made this game's appearance seem pretty tired, but it gets the job done nonetheless.
An amazing soundtrack which keeps everything together and side-steps most clichés of this genre.
3 HoursA typical play-through will take a few hours taking into account the amount of time you'll spend restarting from the beginning.