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The Binding of Isaac (Series) Review

Game image The Binding of Isaac
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Posted: 2 weeks ago, last updated 12 days ago.

Author: Ben Kendall and @GeekDadGamer.

OverviewOverview

The Binding of Isaac is a series of adventure games where you progress through randomly generated rooms, collecting items and fighting off monsters. It's a twist on the simple Zelda dungeon, with hundreds of enemies, room variations and upgrades. The joy is in the variety you meet in repeated attempts to get further with each run. As you battle a myriad of enemies and bosses, an abstract (and darkly comedic) story emerges of misguided faith, obedience and (eventually) mental health, grief, abuse and religious fanaticism.

You play as Isaac, a young boy who finds himself in a story similar to the biblical story of the same name as the game, where Isaac is nearly sacrificed because of a command from God. You escape your potential sacrifice into a labyrinthine basement where your battle begins. It's intentionally hard and you will die often. You only have one life but when your run is over you simply try again. Each time you do the game changes the layout, enemies and boss locations to keep things interesting.

As you traverse the rooms you encounter a huge number of different enemies and use wildly varied and often absurd weapons to defeat them. One stick controls your direction while the other determines which way you are shooting. It's a simple scheme that requires considerable skill to master. Other items you collect can help you upgrade your stats, while keys and coins can be exchanged for valuable goods. You can also unlock 14 other characters to play as.

Although the Binding of Isaac looks simple, it's a considerable challenge. Combine this with its unique branching story, deep themes and different endings and you have an unusual game. It's an unconventional (and often bizarre) way to tell a story about mental health, abuse, grief and obedience, but is effective and sharing the sense of vulnerability young Isaac experiences.

DetailsGame Details

Rating: PEGI 16+

Release Date: 28/09/2011, updated in 2021

Platforms: Mac, Nintendo 2DS|3DS, Nintendo Switch, Nintendo Wii U, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, PlayStation Vita and Xbox One

Genres: Action, Narrative, Role-Playing and Shooting

Accessibilty: 24 features

Developer: @EdmundMcMillen

CommitmentCommitment

Duration: This game will take between 5 hours and 30 hours to complete. Due to the random generation and elements of the game, the time to beat can vary quite significantly. Additionally, if you have less experience in the genre you may need to practice and retry levels to increase your character's combat ability before you can progress.
 
Players: You can play with 4 players in the same room, but you can’t play it online. In The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, you can play with 3 friends locally, where 3 team members play phantoms and can interact with certain aspects of the game but cannot pick up items, adding a new challenge to the game.

CostsCosts

The Binding of Isaac usually costs £11.99 to £35.99.
 

The Binding Of Isaac: Afterbirth+

Switch £35.99

The Binding Of Isaac: Rebirth

Xbox One £11.99
PS4 £11.99
Wii U £13.49
 
Additional in-game purchases are offered for items that enhance the experience. The original game features an extra content pack called "The Wrath of the Lamb" which continues the story and features new bosses, items, rooms and other new features such as trinkets and challenges. There is also a free piece of content available: Eternal edition, which adds a few new bosses and items.

The second game, Rebirth, features 3 premium pieces of add-on content: Afterbirth and Afterbirth+ continue the story and as add new items. The final one, Repentance, concludes the story and adds even more content. To have the later extra content you'll need to have purchased the previous pieces, so for Repentance, you'll need Afterbirth and Afterbirth+, and for Afterbirth+ you need Afterbirth. Because of the way they continue the story, they are, in a way, an essential part of the game.

Age RatingsAge Ratings

Rated PEGI 16 for frequent, Moderate Violence and use of Illegal Drugs. Representative blood effects are visible, but the illustrative style is somewhat unrealistic and indistinguishable as 'real' people. Isaac employs a blob-like weapon and bombs to destroy his enemies and gains power ups and extra lives as he progresses through a series of rooms. The game also depicts the main character using a syringe containing 'Speed Ball' in order to increase his speed and rate of fire. 'Speed Ball' is a known illegal drug in the UK containing a mixture of cocaine and heroin/morphine.

Rated ESRB MATURE 17+ for Blood and Gore, Crude Humour and Violence.

AccessibilityAccessibility

In The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, there are two difficulty options: normal and hard, although both will offer a reasonably difficult challenge, with normal being around the same difficulty, or a little harder, than the original.

Although overall progress, such as unlocks and endings, are saved, you can't save your progress on a run, but as each run is relatively short, due to the single life of your character, you'll never lose much progress.

All the story is voiced, and during cutscenes, written text is only ever used for comedic effect, but during gameplay you'll need to read a few basic game controls. Some parts of the games, in particular the cutscenes feature purposefully jittery animation of black on white. Although the text is large, some of it is of a similar, slightly darker, colour to the background which may make it difficult for some to read. The game does not feature subtitles.

The map is a small overlay on the top right corner of the screen, which you can adjust the opacity of, and only shows which room you are in and the rooms next to where you are, making it clear where you can, can't yet go and need to go but not much besides. While game elements are generally large, many of the colours are similar and quite dark. The background is static, as the whole room is visible all the time, but it gradually gets bloodier, although not to a point where it's overwhelming.

The standard control scheme uses only the keyboard, but you can fully remap the controls to whatever suits you best. There is also full native controller support, again where you can remap buttons fully. To drop an item you will need to hold down on a button.
 
Our The Binding of Isaac Accessibilty Review details 24 accessibility features:

Difficulty

Difficulty Options: Select Difficulty
Adjust After Setting: Adjustable Between Levels
Cognitive Pressure: Save Anytime
Assistance: View Control Mapping
Assistance: Tutorials

Reading

Reading Level: Simple Minimal Reading
Text Visibility: Large Clear Text
Voiced: All Dialogue is Voiced

Navigation

Clarity: Large Clear Navigation
Head-Up Display: Game Map

Controls

Gamepad: Multiple Buttons & Two Sticks
Mouse And Keyboard: Keyboard Alone
Mouse And Keyboard: Mouse and Keys
Motion: Motion Controls Not Required
Remap Controls: Remap Buttons
Remap Controls: Remap Sticks
Remap Controls: Remap Mouse and Keyboard
Remap Controls: Remap One Action to Multiple Buttons
Button Combinations: No Simultaneous Buttons

Image

Visibility: Large Game Elements
Visual Distractions: No Busy Backgrounds
Motion sickness friendly: Motion sickness friendly
Colour Options: Colourblind friendly

Audio

Adjustable Audio: Balance Audio Levels

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Games Like The Binding of Isaac

Our experts have hand-picked the following similar games for you. These offer a similar way to play to The Binding of Isaac or are games with a similar theme or topic. These are good alternative games to The Binding of Isaac, or are a younger rated alternative for players not ready for PEGI 16+ or ESRB MATURE 17+ games.

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The information on this database is designed to support and complement the in-depth discussion and advice about video game "addiction", violence, spending and online safety in the Taming Gaming book. If you have any concerns or questions in these areas, email our editor who is quick to respond or can arrange for a one-to-one conversation.

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