The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth Review

The self-described “demake” of the cult classic roguelike adds hundreds of new creepy crawlies to Edmund McMillen’s twisted basement.

Release Date: November 4, 2014Platform: PS4 (reviewed), PS Vita, PCDeveloper: Nicalis, Edmund McMillenPublisher: NicalisGenre: Action-adventure, roguelike

Edmund McMillen of Team Meat has teamed up with developer Nicalis to deliver an expanded, updated version of his twisted cult classic, The Binding of Isaac. Now retitled The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, the maniacal roguelike features a new visual style, a blistering couch co-op mode, and more poop coils than you can possibly handle.

If you’ve never played the original before, The Binding of Isaac is a roguelike action game that’s not all that unlike the dungeon segments in The Legend of Zelda on NES. But of course, the game comes from the mind of McMillen, which means that your adventure through dank cellars and spider-filled caverns will be defined by buzzing flies, infectious diseases, and no shortage of feces in every stinking corner.

In the game you play as Isaac, a boy who must flee for his life after his mother gets a message from God, demanding a sacrifice. Therefore, your goal is to fight your way out and kill your mom. Your main defense in this sick scenario is your tears of course, which function as watery bullets of sadness.

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The true genius of The Binding of Isaac, and as a result, Rebirth, is found in the hundreds of items and elaborate power-up system that guides your path. The wide range of items, from buckets of lard to severed dog heads to cancer itself, can grant you with all sorts of new attributes that affect your maximum health, your physical speed, or even the direction and trajectory of your tears. The best part is that as you stack these peculiar items throughout your run, your character begins to be visibly affected by each one, and you can end up with some truly horrifying results after a few levels in.

I’ve put in well over a hundred hours playing The Binding of Isaac and the Wrath of the Lamb add-on content on Steam over the years, and I’m still uncovering new secrets even to this day. Rebirth adds to that already massive mix with tons of sadistic new items, larger rooms that change the gameplay dynamic significantly, and a new slew of monsters and bosses to defeat (my early favorite is a giant coil of poop named Dingle).

Another fantastic addition to the formula is a boss rush room, which throws dozens of those freaky big baddies in your path one after another with frightening speed. Outside of the main game, you can also take on twenty fresh challenges, which task you to kill mom under a variety of fun and interesting parameters.

One of the more interesting changes from the original Isaac to Rebirth is the visual “downgrade” that takes the smooth Flash designs and renders them like a 16-bit game circa the Super Nintendo era. While I’m not sure that I prefer this new look to the original (it does give the game a very low-fi feeling), there’s no denying the slick new framerate and an overall performance that runs as smooth as butter.

Besides the obvious tweaks to the gameplay and visuals, Rebirth also features some much welcomed tinkering behind the scenes as well. For starters, the game now offers three different save files, and you can even save in the middle of your current run and return to it later. Even better, the game also supports local drop-in co-op, which changes the way that people will play Isaac forever.

Given the unbelievably addictive nature of The Binding of Isaac, the fact that Rebirth is now on PS Vita is absolutely dangerous for people like me. A single run can last a half hour or more if you’re good enough, but expect your first few dozen attempts to be harsh lessons in basement etiquette. Not only is there an incredible incentive to keep completing runs, as you’ll unlock twisted new endings and extensions to the core game itself, but there’s also a bunch of new characters to discover and play with, adding further twists to the game with their own unique strengths and weaknesses.

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In short, The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is a must-play release. Absolutely bursting with content, Rebirth offers a replay value that exceeds well over a hundred hours, and the dark style and addictive gameplay will have you scouring every dank corner of those infested caves and basements for many nights to come.

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4.5 out of 5