The Binding of Isaac plays like the original Legend of Zelda would if it had no surface world and contained grotesque monsters reminiscent of Super Meat Boy plus the lower circles of Hell. Actually, that’s a much more astute observation than I meant it to be. While it was indeed developed by the same team that did Super Meat Boy, it truly is a story of Biblical proportions. Allow me to explain.

Isaac is a normal child being raised by a religious mother. One day while watching her preachy religious show on TV, she hears the voice of God, commanding her to save her son from sin. So, she takes away all of his toys and clothes. Then, God speaks to her again, telling her that the job is yet done; she needs to cut Isaac off from the sinful world. And so she does. Then, for the last time, God commands her to kill her son as an ultimate sign of faith in Him. And so… she tries.

Isaac, who heard it all from a crack in his door, manages to escape into the basement, where he faces hordes of demonic creatures in an attempt to escape his horrid fate. That’s where you come in. You have to steer the crying, bed-wetting little ball of tears through a cluster of increasingly difficult levels and pit him against his own once-loving mother. Prepare to die, because you’ll be doing a LOT of it.

The Binding of Isaac

First, a brief primer. Keys open doors, key blocks, and chests. Bombs are used for destroying enemies, rocks, walls into secret shops, and whatever else that needs blowing up. Coins are for buying items, playing slot and fortune machines, paying beggars, and going to the arcade. A game within a game. Wild, eh? Anyway.

WASD to move, directional buttons to shoot, Q to use pills and card items, and space to use the… other items. The more varied items, if you will. Your four stats are Health, Speed, Power, and Rate of Fire, and you can upgrade these by collecting one of a GREAT many upgrades available to you throughout the game. You can collect them from treasure rooms, bosses, mini-bosses, golden chests, or other item related chance drops.

Alright, so. I should mention just how randomized this rogue-like little demon of a game is. Some playthroughs, you’ll have crap luck with keys. Yeah, that’s right. No access to upgrades, gambling, shops, nick, nack, nil. Sometimes you’ll have so many keys you’ll be going nuts. Maybe the same case with money. Or upgrades. You really never get the same play experience twice, particularly with the (cheap) Wrath of the Lamb DLC pack. It takes balls of steel to play through without a favorable set of goodies, believe me.

The Binding of Isaac

I think it’s important to go in knowing that winning isn’t exactly the whole point of The Binding of Isaac. I mean, it is, but it really takes a fair bit of time to get used to the playstyle. Enough to actually survive, that is. Since you can’t decide what items or strategy you’re stuck with, your ultimate hope for victory is adaptability and/or a really good reaction time.

On a conclusive note, every campaign victory extends the number of stages you have to beat in order to win overall. Basically, you win, it gets harder and takes longer to win. More bosses, true, but you also get more opportunities for upgrades. It takes ten plus wins to unlock all the content, so take your time, yeah? Yeah.


Jordan Devore of Destructoid really touches on the stylistic aspects of The Binding of Isaac, particularly the freaky yet simultaneously adorable imagery, and the appropriately dark soundtrack. It is indeed a fantastic blend of randomized gameplay and unpredictable difficulty. You don’t want to hear his opinion from me, though. You want to hear it from him. Here you go:

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