Rebirth is great value for money, and a unique and challenging experience.
Rebirth is a remake of The Binding of Isaac by a different creative team; although Edmund McMillen, the creator of the original, has had much influence over the process. ‘Isaac’ was a top down dungeon crawler which saw the titular child confront nightmarish creatures whilst descending into his basement, and fighting them with his tears. The twisted lore of the game stemmed from retelling the biblical story of the sacrifice of Isaac, but presented the murderous parent as unhinged and delusional, a woman who ‘hears’ the voice of God within her head. There are plenty of religious jokes within the game, yet McMillen never appeared to be genuinely offensive in his distortion (or in some cases simple recreation) of biblical events, objects and characters. He pokes fun of it in a jovial way, rather than a malicious one.
The first noticeable difference between Rebirth and the original game is the revamped aesthetic, opting for a more retro pixelated design over the original’s cartoonish style. The introduction and the first ten floors are lifted directly from Isaac along with the twin stick shooting, and it would be reasonable to initially consider Rebirth a mere graphical and technical update. However, Rebirth is no simple HD re-release, as it contains more than double the number of floors and includes many additional characters, secrets and, most importantly, items. The Isaac series is difficult to write about because initially there seems to be very little to it; you battle through a series of rooms until reaching and defeating a boss, then move on to the next floor until you reach an ending.
However, the amount of variation in such a simple idea is staggering, as after hundreds of hours with both games I still discover new room designs and enemy combinations. There are dozens of bosses to unlock and battle, each requiring a unique strategy to defeat efficiently. There is a steep, but manageable, difficulty curve to the Isaac games. It begins with only six floors unlocked, with Isaac’s mother serving as a final boss. Defeating her on the sixth floor (no small task for a new player) unlocks a further two floors and a new final boss, where floors damage is doubled and the enemy threat is considerably increased. Each time the eighth-floor boss is defeated more bosses and more challenging variations of the original six floors are unlocked, one particularly cruel unlock literally claims that ‘the game just got harder’. These unlocks allow the difficulty to increase naturally along with the player’s skill.
Much of the satisfaction of playing Rebirth is generated by mastering bosses which initially ended your run, or unlocking a particularly challenging secret. The gradual drip feed of unlockable content makes the game relentlessly addictive for a long time, urging you to try the new character you’ve unlocked (all of the characters have specific pros and cons and require different strategies to effectively use) or to try and reach a new floor or boss. This wealth of content should keep any player satisfied for far longer than the average game, especially if they are interested in all of the secrets and item unlocks. However eventually you might reach ‘Real Platinum God’ and have seen all Rebirth has to offer. Or…perhaps not.
Over a run of Rebirth your character becomes progressively stronger by acquiring items, from treasure rooms (one found on each floor), bosses, and sometimes from secret areas. The key to the longevity of the Isaac series is found within these items. Some act as simple stat upgrades, increasing health, speed, luck and fire power. Far more however have unique and interesting effects, some allowing you to fire lasers or brimstone, to become invincible or to… create a small puddle on the floor. A run can contain similarly useless items all the way through, making it very difficult to win (although it is rarely impossible).
Contrastingly a run can contain a powerful item on the first floor, allowing the player to coast through the early levels and grow ever more dangerous as new items are acquired. It is in this randomness of the items that the true addictive property of Isaac is found, as each run is completely unique and often requires a completely different pace and play style. There are also countless synergies between items: two for example combine to create a screen-filling whirlwind of scythes. Some combinations are game-breakingly powerful and some are hilariously useless – resulting in a quick and often accidental death. It is the uniqueness of each run which truly highlights the brilliance of Rebirth.
Whenever a game is remade, it is important to ask wherever a revisit is worthwhile; but it is the sheer depth of content in Rebirth makes this expansion more than worthy of a revisit, which takes the good of Isaac and adds to it. More items mean more synergies and more variety, just as more bosses, characters and challenges extend the life of the original format. Rebirth does very little differently beyond its attractive art style, yet validates being considered a true remake by what it adds, rather than what it changes, nearly doubling the size of the original game without removing what made it so interesting and unique. The ‘Afterbirth’ DLC provides another huge slew of content, and the upcoming expansion ‘Afterbirth +’ is sure to do the same. In short, Rebirth is certain to provide great value for money, and a unique and challenging experience.
The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is out now for Microsoft Windows, OS X and Linux.