The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth – Review

Edmund McMillen, Nicalis Inc
Publisher:  Nicalis Inc
Music: Ridiculon (Matthias Bossi, Jon Evans)
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Wii U, New Nintendo 3DS Playstation 4, Playstation 5, Playstation Vita, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PC (Windows, Mac, Linux), iOS
Released: 5 Nov 2014 (Afterbirth DLC: 30 October 2015, Afterbirth+ 3 January 2017, Repentance DLC 31 March 2021)
Genre: Shooter, Rogue-like

You are Isaac, a small naked boy.  

You enter a room.  It’s dark and the walls are made of flesh, there is a pile of poop on the ground in front of you and you cry on it.  The poop is destroyed and a coin pops out of it.  You will take that coin and use it to buy a jar of flies.  Later you will find a secret room where you can make a deal with the devil in exchange for severed parts of your dead cat which you will use to help you defeat a giant fetus.  

By crying on it.  

After defeating this foe you are rewarded with a placenta.  I’m pretty sure you eat it.  

The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is a shooter with rogue-like elements rendered in a pixel art style reminiscent of its flash game roots.  The game’s aesthetic draws heavily from Christian themes and iconography.  And poop.  So much poop. The game is like a bible study meets a third grader’s sense of humour.  

As the titular character Isaac you explore a maze of randomly generated rooms, picking up items and defeating monsters as you descend deeper into the basement and what lies beneath to escape from your religious mother who has been hearing the voice of god telling her to murder you to prove her faith.  

The game plays akin to a “bullet hell” shooter, you control Isaac and make sure to dodge enemies and their attacks while shooting back at them.  Well, crying at them.  Each floor of the run increases in difficulty as you go.  Each run of Binding of Isaac starts you afresh, and as you progress you can find various items that can help (or hinder) you.  Items can be either passive (which affects your stats or provides a certain effect like flight) or activated and fall into one of several categories.  

These can interact with each other to form synergies, giving each run a distinctly different feel depending on what items you found.  There are few things more satisfying than finding just the right combinations of items on a run that work so well that it feels like cheating, although on the flip side there are few things more frustrating than picking up an item that ruins your entire build.  

Whether you defeated the final boss or you died horribly, a new run is a fresh start: a new layout, new items and new possibilities.  But it doesn’t stop there!

No two runs are the same with new items, characters, levels, and challenges to unlock giving The Binding of Isaac pretty much endless replayability.  The game also has 3 DLCs available for it, each adding new modes, characters, items, enemies, achievements, rooms, and challenges. There is so much content available for this game.  

The music is an instrumental soundtrack with soft, chilling ambient music for each stage of the game which morphs into a more intense style for the boss fights. It really gives each level its own sense of place with the caves level having a damp and dingy vibe with its echoing splashes giving way to the feeling of empty and forgotten decomposition as you enter a secret room, the music shifting to give each type of special room its own theme.  

Whether you’re picking up a coin or a heart, crying onto a poop, or activating an item, The Binding of Isaac has a distinct sound effect for each. It is a beautiful, creepy, and at times disgusting-sounding game.  

I love this game.  The satisfaction of getting familiar enough with the item pools to know what item to pick and which one to skip, that manic glee when I get lucky and manage to create a build that is overpowered to the point where I can walk into a room and the enemies just die around me as I do nothing and the weird little pet things that I’ve picked up just obliterate them.  How it’s never too frustrating to die on a bad run because, “oh well, the next one will be different.” 

I can (and have) stayed up all night, lost in the ‘just one more run’ loop.  I have 1277 hours in this game as of writing this.  I’m going to go play it some more after I’m done here.  And I am fighting the urge to get The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth on Nintendo Switch so I can cry on poops while I myself poop.  

(Review provided by guest reviewer: Caroline Girdler)