The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth Review

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 Title: The Binding of Isaac Rebirth
Developer: Nicalis
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Game Type: Vita
Download: 438 MB
NA Availability: 
Digital Download

EU Availability: Digital Download
PSTV Support: 
Yes

I have a friend who doesn’t think very many indie games are all that great.  It’s not that he thinks they’re terrible, but there are very few indies that he believes are really great.  There are exceptions, however.  There is one indie that he really likes and thinks is a great game.  It’s kind of like me with war shooters.  I don’t like the genre at all.  But, when I played SOCOM Fireteam Bravo 2, I really got into it.  That’s how he is with these indies that have been releasing on the Vita.

The game he thinks is great is The Binding of Isaac.  This is a game that is quite popular among PC gamers, but also became popular in the console world just recently.  While the original game only released on Windows PC, Linux, and Mac OS, the game was remade and released on practically everything.  The remake released on the Vita and PS4 as well as the Xbox One, Wii U, PC, and is one of the few 3DS games that are exclusive to the New Nintendo 3DS.

I never played the original game, but I’ve played a lot of the remake and am finally ready to write up my review of the game.  So, here is my review of the PS Vita and PSTV version of The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth!

Story

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The plot of The Binding of Isaac is adapted from the biblical tale of Abraham being asked to sacrifice his son, Isaac, in the name of God, the deity of Christianity.  The story of the game does change the plot in a lot of ways, but the basic premise was adapted from the basic premise of the biblical tale.

In the game, Isaac lives with his mother in a secluded home, playing with toys and drawing while his mother watched religious broadcasts on TV.  One day, his mother hears a voice, whom she interprets as the voice of God, whom tells her that Isaac is corrupt with Sin and must be saved.  In response, she takes away Isaac’s clothes, toys, and drawings.  Later, the voice calls to her again, to which she locks Isaac in his bedroom.  Finally, the voice demands that she sacrifice her son to prove her devotion.

Just as his mother bursts into Isaac’s room, butcher knife in hand, Isaac drops through a trap door into the unknown depths beneath his home, hoping to escape from the certain death his mother was instilling on him.

The plot of this game can be controversial, because of the obvious religious aspects of the game.  You have the basic premise that God, or someone being interpreted as God, is asking that this woman kill her own son to prove that she loves him.  When you get down to it, its fiction and just a way to create the game’s premise, but it would be good for players to be aware of this beforehand.

Another thing to note is that this game looks like it was taken straight out of the horror genre.  The depths that Isaac travels looks like it was taken straight out of Hell.  There is blood everywhere, horrifying monsters, and worst of all, rooms full of giant poop monsters.

Gameplay

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Rebirth is a remake of The Binding of Isaac and is a randomly-generated dungeon crawling game with RPG elements thrown into the mix.  Some people think it’s an RPG while others think of it more of an action game.  My definition is that it’s a Zelda-like random dungeon crawler with RPG elements.

The game progresses through “Runs”, as the game likes to call them.  When you start up a new game, you choose your characters of the game’s several different playable characters.  At first, only Isaac is available, but more characters become available as you complete tasks during your runs and unlock them.  Once your character and difficulty is chosen, you start your run through the three chapters of the game until you either die and have to start over or complete the game and unlock new content.

Aside from normal runs, you also have Challenges, which basically have you going through the game’s dungeons with certain restrictions in order to make it a challenge for expert players.  These could be as simple as playing the game with a lower amount of light, which is easily remedied by adjusting the gamma settings.  Or it could be as complex as going through the entire game with a single weapon and slower movement and attack speed.

Actually playing the game is dungeon crawling.  You have a randomly-generated dungeon that you’re thrown into and your goal is to make it towards the boss room, defeat the boss, and move onto the next floor.  Each dungeon has two floors and you have three dungeons to go through.  The main idea is pretty simple.  Getting from Point A to Point B, however, is far from simple.

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Each dungeon is generated randomly.  That means the rooms, routes, items, everything about them is generated randomly and will be completely different every time you play.  You could only have to go through two rooms to get to the boss of Caves I in your first run, but need to go through twelve rooms in your second run.  That is one of the beautiful points of the game.  Every time you play feels new and there’s no form of repetition since your new run will be completely new.  Even the bosses are different in each run.

Navigating through rooms is like navigating rooms in the 2D Legend of Zelda games.  In each room, you get locked in with enemies.  To unlock the doors and proceed onward, you must defeat said enemies.  This is where the game gets unique as well.  Unlike in the Zelda games, Isaac shoots tears from his eyes to damage enemies.  You can do this in four directions, making this have a very twin-stick-shooter sort of feel.

Once you defeat all of the enemies in the room, the doors will open and you’ll be rewarded.  Sometimes, you’ll get some health to add to your Heart Gauge, coins that can be used in shops, or chests with a variety of things to use, such as the above items, bombs to plant to fight and unlock rooms with, among other things.

The in-depth parts of the game are Rooms and Items.  There are several different kinds of rooms than just the standard full-of-enemies rooms.  There are Shops where you can buy hearts and items as well as make donations to unlock content.  There are equipment rooms that must have a key to enter and give you equipment or consumable items that improve your combat.  There are Boss Rooms that contain bosses.

There are also Devil and Angel rooms.  These are special rooms that only show up when conditions are met.  These rooms allow you to gain special enhancements.  In the Devil Room’s case, there are powerful items that must be traded for, normally in the form of part of your health.  Angel Rooms also can serve a purpose later in the game as portals to secret dungeons not accessible on your first run.

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Items, though.  There are hundreds of items that may pop up during your run.  There are various types of items.  Some will enhance your attacks, such as making your tears bigger, smaller, faster, more powerful, have more range, have charge shots, etc.  Then you have items that can affect your stats, like increasing your attack power, increasing your max health, changing your running speed, or letting your shots pierce and hit more than one enemy per shot.

Then you have the items you can equip and use.  You have bombs you can drop, but you can gain various items that you equip to yourself and can use, recharge, and can be used again.  These are the biggest variation.  Some can regenerate your health per use while others can summon bombs or slow down enemies for a while.  Some can grant you temporary invincibility and others can summon flies and spiders to attack your enemies for a bit of time.  There is a massive amount of variation with these items.

That also comes to unlocking content.  You will unlock new content as you defeat certain bosses, get certain endings, find specific items, and a lot of other different things.  This is also where the content almost seems limitless in the game.  I could be over one hundred runs through the game and still be unlocking new content to spawn in the dungeons.  From items to alternate dungeons to bosses to endings to bonus dungeons to challenges, it truly seems endless in the game.

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On that note, let’s talk about length and difficulty.  Isaac is not an easy game to play.  Every enemy type has a specific attack pattern to it and when the game starts throwing multiple types in a room with you, things get very hectic very quickly.  This isn’t a game that is so hard that you’ll be throwing your Vita out the nearest window, but it’s a big challenge to learn the system and get through to even the first ending, let alone the other dozen or so.

If you know what you’re doing and do particularly well in a certain run, you could get through a single run of the game in about 20 minutes.  If you want to actually see the endings, you’ll need to go through at least a few runs to get to the main story’s final boss, which makes it a minimum of 60 minutes.  Given the time to learn the system, though, I would pit that as more along the lines of hours of your time.  You’ll have a lot of early runs where you won’t even make it to the second set of dungeons.  You’ll be spending several hours just to get your first win.  If you want to actually see all of the “Final” bosses, you’ll be going through several successful runs.

To end this section, I’m going to mention two flaws in this version of the game.  First of all, The PS Vita version of this game doesn’t have co-op multiplayer.  The PC version has this and, strangely enough, the PlayStation 4 version also has co-op.  The Vita version can unlock all of the co-op characters, but there is no co-op to actually play.  It has every bit of content the other versions have, but had co-op removed for reasons unknown.

The second thing I’ll say is trophies.  There is an issue with this and the PS4 version with unlocking trophies.  When you unlock a trophy, it doesn’t unlock in Trophies.  Every time I achieve a challenge that rewards a PSN trophy, it doesn’t actually unlock until after I completely close the game and re-open it.  Sometimes, it will take several attempts of this to get the trophy to unlock.

Controls

Controls are pretty nice for the PS Vita, overall.  The only touch feature the game has is allowing you to place the mini-map wherever you’d like on the screen.  This doesn’t have an alternative on the PlayStation TV, but you don’t really need to move the map, so it’s not a big deal.

Moving Isaac around and shooting have two different schemes.  You can use the D-Pad for movement and the Face Buttons (X, Square, Triangle, Circle) for shooting.  Or, you can use the two analog sticks for movement and shooting.  Finally, the L trigger is used for placing bombs, and R is used for items.  It’s a pretty simple scheme and it works quite well.

The only thing to note is that on the PlayStation TV, using the Right Analog for firing off charge shots is a little sensitive.  I’ve had many times with the charge shot enhancement that I would hold the stick down and when I release it, it shoots up.  This doesn’t happen on the Vita.  It’s just something to do with the sticks on the DS3 and DS4 controllers.

Presentation

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Visually, it looks the same as it always has.  The 2D visuals of the game look really nice on both the little screen and the PSTV.  Along with that, all of the gruesome effects of all of the blood, monstrosities, and everything else really come out well when you’re playing on the go.  It also pays to play on the handheld instead of the PSTV as the darker rooms look a lot more creepy and dark on the Vita.

There are some hiccups in the presentation, though.  The main hiccup is transitioning from room to room.  On PC, there is no loading sequence for this.  It just seamlessly goes into the next room.  On both the Vita and PS4, though, there is a noticeable pause where the game has to stop and load the next room before continuing on.  For the most part, it isn’t a big hindrance.  Most of the time, it only takes about a second to do.  Some rooms, though, take considerably longer.  I had a few rooms take as much as 5-7 seconds, which is a long time considering the normal loading is only 1-2 seconds.

Apart from the room transitioning, it plays well.  The music and atmosphere come over great, and there aren’t any frame drops to be seen.

Summary

The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth seems an even better fit on a handheld console than a home console.  While the Vita version does suffer from trophy glitches, a lack of Multiplayer, and momentary pauses between rooms, it’s still a lot of fun.  In the end, it’s Isaac on the go and there’s near endless possibilities with all of the content of the remake as well as the Afterbirth DLC coming later this year. 

7/10

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