Gav W’s GOTY – The Binding of Isaac Rebirth

Binding of Isaac is my game of the year for many reasons, but the biggest and most important one is just how fun it is. Incredibly simple, but massively rewarding with constant unlocks to keep you guessing about what could possibly be next.

And then there’s the actual mountains of shit.

That’s the first thing that greeted me when I dived into Edmund McMillen’s deceptively simple looking top-down shooter. Amongst the flies and spiders, each level is decorated with piles of it, adding to the games ‘grim-Saturday-morning-cartoon-by-way-of-a-bible-story’ aesthetic. The monsters are all hideous depictions of medical conditions as if drawn by the artists of Adventure Time; animated with an oddly cute charm that runs all the way through the game. A cutesy style that looks like it smells REAL bad. Some levels are made from pulsating, throbbing, oozing flesh with piles of shit, blood and mucas lying everywhere. It’s not pleasant.

Too many times have I sat down on my Vita for ‘just one go’ and looked away from the screen to find that suddenly it’s 1am. Every new run through is never the same as your last one anyway. The massive amount of items you find whilst trawling around in the fucked up Zelda-like levels means that you never know what you’ll get on this run and how exactly those items will work together, for better or worse. Adding to the fun, each pickup changes Isaac visibly, becoming more mutated and grotesque with each one. Runs can be won or lost on single items, like the time I got to the Satan boss fight only to pick up an item that reduced my health to one solitary heart but with 9 lives. 40 minutes it took to get there, all over within seconds. It’s this level of not knowing what’s next that keeps me instantly hitting X to play again. Because the next run might be the one that gets you the almighty Brimstone power-up, or a fetus companion (…yeah…) that blocks all the enemies shots practically turning you invincible.

About those unlocks I mentioned: what at first seems like a small, 5 level game very quickly expands to include 8 levels, with new bosses, items, characters, endings & challenges. On top of that- randomly placed item rooms, sacrifice rooms, teleportation rooms, transfiguration rooms, arcade rooms and shop rooms: Isaac keeps piling on the content in a tantalisingly vague style – ‘something from the future has appeared in the basement‘ Ermm….ok? Sure… I guess? I’ve seen it said that there’s a ludicrous 4 billion unique combinations to the levels and monsters. If that’s not value for money then, sir, we clearly have different outcomes on life and you are clearly a twat.

Binding of Isaac came out of nowhere. I’d never played the Flash original and I’d only guessed it must be pretty good because it had a Cane & Rinse podcast devoted to it, so I was happy to hear it announced for PS Plus where it almost instantly consumed my evenings and lunchtimes once it was on my Vita. I can’t think of a single game this year that has dominated my time like this has. It’s not the most involving game (play it for 5 minutes and you’ve pretty much got the jist of it) but those simple mechanics hide a deep, challenging system. Add in all those reasons detailed above and again, just how brilliantly fun it is and Binding of Isaac Rebirth is by far my game of the year.

Though, fuck Dingle. Fuck that smiling, charging lump of actual shit so much.

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