The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth Review
by William Hirsh | published Dec. 3rd, 2014
Never has a remake deserved the description of "remake" quite like the "The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth." Remakes in the past few years have almost always been aesthetic remakes where the visuals are improved with little to no game-play optimizations. Then comes "Rebirth," which in almost every conceivable way surpasses the original. It is the definitive version of "The Binding of Isaac."
When the game is first loaded, you immediately notice new 16-bit aesthetic and the atmospheric soundtrack by Ridiculon. While these took a little time to get used to, long-time players will appreciate these additions as they manage to keep the game feeling fresh, which is a great quality for a game that has almost endless re-playability. New cutscenes and endings also contribute to giving the remake its sheen and help make it a new experience altogether.
The most important elements of this remake are the gameplay rebalancing and optimizations. The game itself has retooled almost every item you can acquire, and most can stack, creating the potential for unique and fun permutations. There is nothing more satisfying than having a lucky run and being able to wreak total havoc on the enemies on each floor of the game. Overall, the inclusion of new items and the adjustments to old ones balance the game so that the learning curve is a bit more fair. If veterans of the original feel the game is too easy, a hard mode has been added to keep it difficult from the start. One of my favorite optimizations is controller support, with which the game actually plays better. The level of accuracy when moving with the control stick allows for sneaking, which is trickier to pull off with the original keyboard controls. This can make or break runs when you have to maneuver through a wave of tear bullets or get past a spike-laden room without taking damage.
When everything comes together, you realize this was the game the developer had wanted to make from the start, without any sort of trade-offs. A new coat of polish, gameplay optimizations, no slow down like in the original and fantastic music make for an impressive title, even at $15. This is complemented by the randomized nature of this game. I've plunked down 10+ hours and I've just barely scratched the surface of unlockables, secret areas to be discovered and item combinations to be forged. Including the original game, the "Wrath of Lamb" expansion and another expansion-worth of new content, you should expect your game time to extend even further, into hundreds of hours.
It's quite the rabbit hole. Although "Rebirth" can be challenging at times, it is a game you'll always want to come back to. The desire to be better at the game, to learn its inner secrets, the rush from escaping a level alive with little health left and more are what epitomize this game. The struggling for and somehow achieving success despite the odds thrown at you are what make this game as compelling as it is.
For fans of: Spelunky, Rogue Legacy, Risk of Rain