Written by Thomas G.J Sharpe
Remake, remaster, redux... Rebirth is a fitting title for the uterine, scatological and joyfully blasphemous Binding of Isaac. At essence, as well, this is not strictly a new game. Further, I feel like it fulfils the promises made in the original. This is not to say that I disliked or felt that the original Isaac was lacking. My hours clocked on that game far exceeded the two hundred mark; that almost cringe-worthy amount of time you peek at through guilty squint. Rebirth is bigger, brasher, buffed and on the whole a better game.
Edmund McMillen, undoubtedly most loved developer in Indie Game The Movie, has said he made the original Binding of Isaac as a sort of blank canvas, vacation game to create without expectation. With the design being somewhere between the dungeons in the classic Legend of Zelda titles and a 2D bullet hell with strong rogue-like elements. All in all, I would argue that it outstrips most modern, “retro” crawlers on pretty much every front. The limitations of the original being made in flash by McMillen and Florian Himsl, was really the only concrete bugbear of mine. I even liked the flash look to it.
So, four years after Isaac wept his way onto a Humble Bundle, we are treated to a re-imagining from the ground up. The rabid fan-base, sometimes aggressively possessive of the original, watched and waited, and what emerged will be like heaven for some and not for others.
For those not familiar with the original, the Binding of Isaac is the story of a naked child fleeing from his murderous mother, instructed by god to show her faith by killing her son. A retelling of the Old Testament story of Abraham and Isaac. Isaac escapes into the basement, where you take over collecting items, killing creatures (some identifiable, some hideous versions of Isaac himself, others grotesque mutations) using tears as your primary weapon. You progress through randomised dungeons, building a pool of items through collection and achievements, escalating difficulty and secrets abound. Add in lashings of cynical Biblical references, astrological puns, occult curious and lore from all corners of esoterica and you've got the general idea.
This game makes me laugh, first and foremost. I admit, I am one of the McMillen fan-boys. Ever since I saw Indie Game, with him sat there talking passionately about creativity, vulnerability and individuality (and in a Melvins t-shirt to boot), I became a big admirer of his games and perspective upon the industry. With Rebirth, it feels to me (from all that I've read from McMillen) that this is the ripe game, as if now we get to play something that is closer to what was in his head.
The ripening of Isaac comes in the form of a huge expansion of the item set, graphical overhaul, projectile physics, new full soundtrack, greater room variety and tonnes more that will, of course, take me another few hundred hours to discover. The effectiveness of these changes will be down to the individual. I can almost hear the gnashing of teeth over the artwork changes, for example. New players, however, are without the burden of previous endearment to Isaac, and so it is hard to offer an accurate prediction.
Simply, then, I shall end by stating that Rebirth is a worthy maturation that I personally will be investing lots of time into. It is intelligent in so many ways, from the writing to the design to the gameplay implementation, that sets it in a sparsely populated league for me, making most weaknesses mere minor quibbles. But, most importantly, it has the best animated poop I have ever seen.