The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth Plus (Nintendo Switch) Review

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Game Title: The Binding of Isaac ~ Afterbirth Plus
Developer: Nicalis
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Download: 610 MB
Availability: Retail (NA, EU), Digital (NA, EU)
Battery Life: 4-6 hours
Supported Modes: TV, Tabletop, Handheld

I’ve come to have a love-hate relationship with The Binding of Isaac. In some runs, I love it and in others, I hate it. That’s gone even more-so recently with the new DLC that’s been added to the game, past the Rebirth remake. It’s just one of those games you love, you hate, and do everything in between as you play it more and more. Such is the way things go with random-generated rogue dungeon crawlers.

This isn’t the first trek I’ve made with the game, either. A lot of you may remember me playing and reviewing the PS Vita version of The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, though you haven’t seen a thing about the later DLC that came out, Afterbirth and Afterbirth Plus. That’s because they haven’t come to the PS Vita version as of yet, and they might never end up coming, after today’s review.

With the Nintendo Switch came two new opportunities for The Binding of Isaac. First of all, the game saw its first widespread retail release. There’s not a game store in my area not crawling with Switch boxes for Isaac. The second is the opportunity to bring the Afterbirth and Afterbirth Plus content to the handheld world, due to the Switch’s ability as a handheld unit.

So, let’s get right to it. Here is my review of The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth Plus for the Nintendo Switch!

Story

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The Binding of Isaac is short on story and big on speculation. While there is a definite tale being woven here, the 20 endings to the game does leave a bit of speculation and theorization as to what exactly is going on as the game commences.

But from the story shown, Isaac and his Mother live alone in a small house. Isaac stays in his room, playing with toys while his Mom watches Christian shows on TV. Then a voice from above that Mom interprets as God instructs her to remove evil from his life, and finally to kill him as a sacrifice to him. But just as she bursts into his room, he drops down a hole in his room to the depths of the basement below to face the monsters that lurk beyond while escaping from his Mom.

Note that the story does have strong religious themes and could lean some people to believe the game has Anti-Christian tones to it. Without spoiling anything, I will say that it falls well in the line with the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac and the initial ending does clear up any skepticism about God trying to get Isaac’s Mom to commit murder. But that’s all I can say without spoiling the Epilogue, so just know that it clears things up in the end.

Gameplay

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Afterbirth Plus contains the original Binding of Isaac: Rebirth as well as the Afterbirth and Afterbirth Plus DLC Expansions. The game, itself, is a random-generated dungeon crawler implementing Zelda-like gameplay with twin-stick shooter mechanics and an extensive upgrade system. Basically, combine 2D Zelda Dungeons with twin-stick shooters, add a random element, plus a couple hundred different possible upgrades, and you’ve got this game. Plus a lot of grotesque and dark elements.

First off, the PS Vita and New 3DS both have Rebirth, so what content does a handheld gamer get by grabbing Afterbirth and Afterbirth Plus in this release? In short, here are all of the added in features that Afterbirth and Afterbirth Plus total up to:

• Greed Mode
• Daily Runs for Online Leaderboards
• 3 new unlockable characters
• 4 New Dungeon variations, 2 brand-new dungeons, and 2 new final bosses/endings
• 240 new items, pickups, and trinkets
• Various balances, new challenges, new enemies and bosses, boss variations, among other small additions
• Local Co-Op (Not new to Afterbirth, but was not present in the Vita/3DS versions)

The biggest things to make note of for handheld gamers is that with Afterbirth Plus, you get local co-op multiplayer, 2 new dungeons, final bosses, endings, 3 playable characters, as well as Greed Mode and Daily Challenges. But before getting into those new modes, let’s talk about the basic premise and progression of the game for those not familiar with Isaac.

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When you start a “run” through the game, you choose a playable character and difficulty and you’re set in a 2D dungeon to crawl through. Navigating each floor or level is a matter of moving from room to room. Like old Zelda games, you are trapped in a room with enemies until you have defeated every once of them. You do this by firing tear projectiles at them in a twin-stick shooter fashion. Once they’re gone, the doors open up and you move on. You keep doing this until you find the Boss Room, defeat the boss, and move onto the next level. And you keep going until you reach and defeat the Final Boss and get an ending.

The thing about this game is the random element as well as the fact that it is like a never-ending game. Beat the final boss and you unlock the next final boss as well as two optional paths filled with optional bosses. Beat the final boss ten times and you unlock the Afterbirth final boss. Beat them and the Afterbirth Plus final boss unlocks. Across 20 endings, it’s like the game doesn’t have a True End.

And in the rest of that, you will constantly be unlocking other features. Random items, rooms, enemies, and even bosses are generated in each level and fulfilling conditions unlocks more content. This content ranges from new dungeons, new weapon types, new variations of enemies, new power-ups, new characters, new challenge runs, new game modes, and the list goes on. It’s really a game where it feels like you never stop unlocking new content and, because of the hundreds of items that could appear in the dungeon and the variation of each character, every run feels completely different from any other.

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And if the Challenges and normal runs aren’t enough, the new Greed Mode adds a new level of intensity to the game. Greed Mode is a kind of “Survival” mode, where you fight 10 waves of enemies and bosses on each floor, where each wave has a timer. If you don’t defeat them in time, the second wave appears and now you’ve got 2 waves to fight at the same time, and if you don’t do that quickly, the rooms can fill up and become absolutely chaotic in no time at all. Not to mention that the boss of Greed Mode is one of the most challenging bosses in the rogue genre.

Despite the overwhelming amount of content the game offers, a single run through the normal game could take you around 20-30 minutes to do, while after unlocking the Afterbirth dungeons, it can climb up towards 40-60 minutes. If we’re talking completion time, here’s what you have to do:

• Defeat the initial final boss to unlock the 2nd Final Boss
• Defeat the 2nd Final Boss 10 times to unlock the Afterbirth Dungeon
• Clear the Afterbirth Dungeon’s boss to unlock the Afterbirth Plus Dungeon
• Clear the Afterbirth Plus Dungeon to obtain the final ending to the story’s conclusion.

That is a grand total of 13 successful runs (which is difficult to do, considering this game is far from easy). With an average of 30 minutes per run, depending on your character, that would be a bare minimum of 6-8 hours of play time. That is for experts that can handle and succeed even if the game gives you a bad run with items and upgrades that do more harm than good. For a newbie, the time it would take to learn the game, build up skill, and unlock all of that would be more like 20-25 hours.

Controls

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There are two ways to control the game, depending on if you’re using the built in co-op multiplayer. For Couch Co-Op, each player uses a single Joy Con to control their character, so we’ll explain the two different setups.

For Single Player, you use the Left Analog Stick or the Directional Buttons to move and the Right Analog Stick or Face Buttons to fire your main weapons. The + button is used to pause the game and the – button lets you toggle the map view. Now for the triggers. The L trigger lets you drop a bomb and the ZL trigger lets you use a trinket weapon you have charged up. The R trigger lets you consume a pill for a bonus and the ZR trigger lets you drop an equipped item you wish to get rid of.

If you’re in local co-op mode, each joycon has movement with the Analog Stick and firing with the four other buttons (Directional Buttons on the Left Joy Con, Face Buttons on the Right Joy Con). Though, just so you know, to activate Co-Op Mode, you have to actually go into the Switch’s Joy Con settings and set it up as 2 controllers before going into Isaac.

Presentation

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Visually, The Binding of Isaac is made to be a retro-like game with retro graphics. This is a good thing and bad thing at the same time. The game looks just like it does on any other system, but the retro graphics will look very blurry during animations in a lot of boss fights. Plus, the Flash Filter option in the PC version used to make the game look much smoother and more crisp is nowhere to be found in the Switch release.

The other issue is slowdown when using certain powers. We know that Nicalis is having issues with getting Afterbirth running on the Vita because of how resource-heavy it is. On the Switch, there are select scenarios that causes the game to have some pretty intense slowdown. If you get Charge Shot when using Azazel, it gets pretty bad (especially in the Utero dungeon), but it’s only with very specific powers. Worth noting, but it does not happen very often.

Battery Life

In terms of battery, The Binding of Isaac is another game that’s going to get you plenty of battery life. Here are the results of my tests from 100% battery to 15% battery:

• Full Brightness + Wi-Fi – 3 hours, 46 minutes
• Full Brightness + No Wi-Fi – 3 hours, 50 minutes
• Low Brightness + Wi-Fi – 4 hours, 54 minutes
• Low Brightness + No Wi-Fi – 5 hours, 11 minutes

In terms of this, all the way to 0% could get you from around 4 hours to nearly 6 hours of battery life. Slightly less than I am Setsuna, but still quite a bit of battery life compared to the likes of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

 

Summary

In conclusion, Afterbirth Plus is packed full of every bit of gameplay content that the PC version is packing. Although frame drops with certain upgrades and a lack of the Flash Filter will cause some grievances, the plethora of new gameplay and story content is well worth any fan’s money, especially if they’re handheld gamers who never got to do local co-op on the Vita or 3DS.

8/10

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