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RANT: The Binding of Isaac

I recently took advantage of the Indie Music Bundle offer wherein I procured a large number of indie game soundtracks for a low low seasonal price. Although I hadn't heard of many of the games involved, they're produced by folks whose work I've appreciated in the past (mostly thanks to the game music site Overclocked Remix and so I was happy to spend a couple of bucks supporting their work, and reap some good game music in the meanwhile.

One of the soundtracks that I hit upon was for a game that I'd heard about over the past couple of months, but hadn't had much exposure to, called the Binding of Isaac. The second track offered me the audio from the following trailer, which also serves as the game's opening.

Yeah. This game is weird.

I've since checked out the demo for the game (conveniently offered on Newgrounds) and bought the full thing on Steam for $5. Each minute I spend with the game deepens both my affection for it and my repulsion towards it - which I think was the point.

Binding of Isaac is a top-down adventure game with its roots clearly entrenched in the Zelda style. The controls, the dungeon rooms, and the user interface are all deliberately reminiscent of Zelda games like Link to the Past. It uses some Rogue-like elements as well: dungeon rooms and even boss placement are randomized every time you load up the game.

Where Zelda games trend to dress themselves up in high adventure and epic fantasy, Binding of Isaac is more about sorrow and terror and revulsion. You play as Isaac, a small child robbed of everything - even your clothes - and forced to flee from your own mother as she tries to kill you. You descend into the dark catacombs underneath your home, and there encounter a truly horrifying ensemble of enemies. Blood and excrement line the halls as zombies, insects, and various other monstrosities lurch their way towards you, intent on bringing your already-miserable existence to an end.

Gameplay is a little more Smash TV than classic Zelda, with WASD serving as movement and the arrow keys serving as eight-directional attacks. Your primary attacks appear to be your own tears, flung incessantly to ward away evil. Bombs, keys, and other items are prevalant. Dungeon levels appear to be short - I made it through three floors and just as many bosses within about a half an hour's play. Even within that time, though, I'd already encountered a dozen different enemies, all with unique movement and attack patterns that challenged me to think on my feet.

Binding of Isaac's gameplay is fun, easy, and addictive, but even the disarmingly cute art style can't quite get me past the sheer dejection and misery that the game uses as its main aesthetic. It's meant to be entertainingly dark, I realize, but this is borderline grimdark. Still, there's far worse games out there for a mere $5 on Steam. Check out the demo and see if it catches your interest. Then you too can experience the horror!

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