The Binding of Isaac (2011) is a series of adventure games where you progress through randomly generated rooms, collecting items and fighting off monsters. It's a twist on the simple Zelda dungeon, with hundreds of enemies, room variations and upgrades. The joy is in the variety you meet in repeated attempts to get further with each run. As you battle a myriad of enemies and bosses, an abstract (and darkly comedic) story emerges of misguided faith, obedience and (eventually) mental health, grief, abuse and religious fanaticism.
You play as Isaac, a young boy who finds himself in a story similar to the biblical story of the same name as the game, where Isaac is nearly sacrificed because of a command from God. You escape your potential sacrifice into a labyrinthine basement where your battle begins. It's intentionally hard and you will die often. You only have one life but when your run is over you simply try again. Each time you do the game changes the layout, enemies and boss locations to keep things interesting.
As you traverse the rooms you encounter a huge number of different enemies and use wildly varied and often absurd weapons to defeat them. One stick controls your direction while the other determines which way you are shooting. It's a simple scheme that requires considerable skill to master. Other items you collect can help you upgrade your stats, while keys and coins can be exchanged for valuable goods. You can also unlock 14 other characters to play as.
Although the Binding of Isaac looks simple, it's a considerable challenge. Combine this with its unique branching story, deep themes and different endings and you have an unusual game. It's an unconventional (and often bizarre) way to tell a story about mental health, abuse, grief and obedience, but is effective and sharing the sense of vulnerability young Isaac experiences.
Our examiner, Ben Kendall
, first checked The Binding of Isaac 2 years ago. It was re-examined by Jo Robertson
and updated 3 weeks ago.