The Binding of Isaac

I keep my promises, Tiago.

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Yes, I know it’s from last year, I know we’re in November, but I’ve been planning this one for a long time, so can it and read.

Holy Shit This Guy Has Issues is a top-down 2D roguelike dungeon crawler by Edmund McMillen and Florian Himself Hansel Hindenburg Himsl. It feels like The Legend of Zelda, except Link is naked and cries on his enemies, Ganon is his murderous mother, and Octoroks are at that time of the month.

Is that… Are they… Oh God…

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If you ever dreamed of having an aborted fœtus as a sidekick while fighting eyeless blood-coughing disembodied baby heads and wailing tumors through an oddly dangerous basement, I recommend both this game and the nearest shrink.

You start as Isaac, a happy little boy living his life contentedly with his mother, until she hears a voice from above telling her to strip him of his “corrupted possessions,” lock him away and kill him as a proof of God-fearing faith. Don’t have enough haters yet, Edmund? Good man.

Let’s not act surprised, however. We all know Mr. McMillen from charming titles such as Spewer, Carious Weltling, Time Fcuk (and that is not a typo), Cunt, and the very famous Super Meat Boy. We know of his deranged and depraved mind, and if you don’t, my warmest of welcomes. After playing this, I am torn between suggesting Edmund a CAT scan or leaving him be just to see what he comes up with next.

You Must Be Puttin’ Me On looks like just another cartoony Newgrounds gorefest at first, but as I kept playing I saw a greater plan forming around me. The neverending procedurally generated dungeon layouts and the sheer amount of collectibles, power-ups and secret levels turned permadeath into an average bother. Maybe this time I’ll find better power-ups, maybe this time I’ll unlock a new character, maybe this time I’ll get to this new ending I just unlocked, those were the thoughts that went through my mind as I kept playing through the strangely addictive massacre.

Ten bucks if you guess where he wears the coat hanger.

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The Internet memes and the references to Nintendo games are abundant, and the whole game feels both familiar and alien. At one point I realized that one of the bosses swallows bombs, making my task of slaying the giant maggot a lot easier, provided I hadn’t spent them all blowing up rocks to get to treasure chests that frustratingly turned out to only contain one cent. But you never know! That’s the essence of I Have Mommy Issues. There are more locked doors than there are keys, more bombable rocks than bombs, more stuff to buy or invest on than money (provided you don’t find specific items that can fix that for you), so everything is a matter of risk. And it’s fun, because although challenging, the levels are so few at first that I found myself more interested in knowing what horrifyingly strange device I would find next.

The boss fights feel like those stressing arcade games in which you have to keep shooting and dodging with the tenacity of a single termite at a lumber mill. It kept me on edge, and that’s a tough balance to find. Many games either power you up so much you can keep all the goodies for the boss and vaporize him in one hit, or expect you to be able to dodge raindrops made of death during the monsoon using only a paperclip and a dead hamster (I’m looking at Youhou).

Digestively correct monster lair.

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Danny Baranowsky‘s soundtrack fits the game like a glove, enhancing the darker tones that the cartoony visuals try to soften, assuming you can soften the image of a room filled with blood and feces, that is. The music adds that spark of ominous grittiness without being too serious, ensuring we don’t forget this is a child going bonkers.

The fact that Does Your Mother Know doesn’t seem to take itself seriously is probably the key as to why it works so well. The gratuitous gore exists primarily to keep your morbid sense of curiosity going while providing a good laugh at the incredible shit the developers managed to come up with, regardless of whether it does mean something more to Mr. McMillen’s fascinating neocortex. Therefore, anyone taking offense to the obvious biblical references and/or to the gore itself is better off somewhere else. Similarly, anyone taking offense and proceeding to voice it like a douchebag is better off on Mars without a spacesuit.

Apparently, Nintendo rejected to port Sarkeesian’s Field Day to the DS, not because of the gore, but due to “questionable religious content.” As opposed to religious content that won’t be flamed in any part of the world? The Flying Spaghetti Monster, perhaps? I do understand Nintendo’s stance as a respected company who wants to maintain its family-friendly image, but then you have the Resident Evil and House of the Dead series, Madworld, No More Heroes, and Dead Rising, all on the Wii and we’re supposed to be worried about a bible reference? Fine, I also understand the religious point. It’s the same reason why some Zelda games got their names changed for their western release to avoid damaging the delicate minds of religious fanatics and get customers from the Bible Belt. In case you don’t know, Link used to be a Christian, I shit you not.

If anything, I’d sue for making Bomberman look like an undead Teletubbie.

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Regardless, Nintendo, although you might not hear me over the sound of building a new landmass out of money, I think you lost a hell of a deal with this one. I’m not the kind of person who hangs on to games like these for a long time, but it definitely deserved a review, as late as it may come. I feel redeemed from my delay, however, as an expansion called Wrath of the Lamb came out this year, apparently containing more of everything. I’ll be sure to give it a whirl.

7/10

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2 thoughts on “The Binding of Isaac

  1. Pingback: SSTTP: Super Smash Land « RAM Overload

  2. Pingback: News: Humble Indie Bundle 7 « RAM Overload

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