Binding of Isaac: Rebirth Review

Posted November 10, 2014 by Bryan Boshart in Video Games

The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth

Produced and Developed by: Nicalis

Release Date: November 4th 2014

Available for: PC, PS4 (Reviewed on), PS Vita


My time with Binding of Isaac: Rebirth was a love hate relationship. Over the couple dozen games I played for this review I often found myself cursing my luck at room after room designed seemingly to specifically counter my character build. Other games I would have a godlike build and take nearly no damage through the game. Binding of Isaac always finds a way to let you know you are just one bad room away from having to rebuild your character from scratch, and that’s part of what makes it so addicting.

In case you’ve never played the first Binding of Isaac, this title also presents itself as an old-school, top down “Bullet Hell”  shooter. Whichever of the ten characters you choose from has to descend through multiple floors filled to the brim with enemies, which Issac must attack with his tears. The controls are simple item use is relegated to the shoulder buttons and the face buttons are used to indicate the direction of your tears. It took a bit of time getting used to using the PS4 controller after I spent fifty hours playing the first Binding of Issac on my PC, but once I got used to it, i found the controls to be intuitive. The simple controls belie the incredible depth of the game.

What makes Binding of Isaac: Rebirth rise above the endless sea of rougelike games are the hundreds of items to find that alter your character. Issac can usually grab two items per floor (one in an item room and the other after defeating a floor’s boss). The items can be broken down into three basic types. First off are the simple stat altering items that can raise your attack or speed. Usable items have a cooldown that lasts for a few rooms and are usually quite powerful. The final type of item will completely alter your play style by granting you flight, massive tears, quadruple shots, or countless other abilities. Rebirth improves upon the original by granting access to an additional hundred and fifty items bringing the grand total to well over 300, making every played game feel vastly different.

Quad shot is one of my favorite upgrades.

Quad shot is one of my favorite upgrades.

As an example, in my most recent game my Isaac had a near perfect tank build. I had quite a bit of health and a usable item that restored hearts, as well as an item that recharged my heart generator whenever I was damaged. On top of this I was also able to damage enemies by touching them thanks to two different item drops that stacked. In the game immediately before that, I was a glass cannon had max damage and quad shots and mowed through enemies from afar, but was never able to get more than two health the whole

Despite the examples above, Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is brutally hard. Enemies swarm quickly and one missed step will invariably lead to some damage. Hearts, Bombs, and Keys drop infrequently on normal mode, and can be virtually non-existent in hard mode. Some floors are darkly lit to make it harder to see the enemies. Almost all of the bosses outside of the first stratum take some very careful dodging and will often have helpers spawn alongside them to give you something else to have to contend with. While for the most part the game is difficult, but fair, some enemies are just downright unfair. Jumping Spiders can quickly travel nearly full screen and when they do they are all but unavoidable. In the later levels, some foes will disappear into the ground only to surface directly underneath you for an automatic hit. These small bits of cheapness do cheapen the experience, but don’t happen quite often enough to be a major problem.

Skeletons are just one of the new foes you'll tangle with in Binding of Issac: Rebirth

Skeletons are just one of the new foes you’ll tangle with in Binding of Isaac: Rebirth

Graphically, Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessor. Switching from basic flash animation to a full sixteen bit era style was a wise move despite taking some getting used to. Enemies are all immediately recognizable with the exception of having to distinguish between types of wall spiders. Bosses in the new art style feel a little larger, and tougher.  By far the biggest improvement is the impeccable frame rate. Not once during my twenty plus games did I ever experience any slowdown, which is complete turnaround from my experience with the first Binding of Issac. I did occasionally have the game freeze, which while annoying never set me back past the beginning of the floor since the game now saves constantly.

Sadly, the sound quality isn’t up to the high level set by the new graphic style. I was originally worried when I heard the game would feature a new score, because the original score was fantastic. The new soundtrack does a great job at blending into the background of the world, and never feels out of place. The new sound effects are at best functional, but in situations where they are bad, they are just grating. Easily the biggest offender is the “brimstone” attack sound, which is constantly repeating whenever you play as Azazel (it’s his attack method), so every three seconds you’re assaulted with a loud vomiting sound effect.

Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is the paragon of replay value. Many of the characters and items are locked and have very specific perquisites to unlock. Some simply require you to beat the game a certain amount of times, while for other unlocks you have to blow up x amount of rocks with bombs. The unlocks will keep you playing, and after twenty runs at roughly a half hour each I still barely have half of the items unlocked. On top of everything, Binding of Isaac even throws challenges at you. Challenges give your character a very specific item build to try to run through the game with. A personal favorite is having to play through the game using flies that orbit around you to attack since you are unable to fire a single tear.

Binding of Isaac: Rebirth isn’t perfect, but it doesn’t have to be, because it’s just plain fun. One minute you’ll find yourself raging over a quick death to end a good game, but yet you’ll be inexorably drawn back to play just one more time, every time. That’s what makes Rebirth great, and it’s precisely why it will be at the front of my PS4 home screen for some time to come.

About the Author

Bryan Boshart

Hey, I'm Bryan. I write video game reviews here at We The Nerdy. In my spare time I mostly play fighting games, but play almost anything.

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