Remember 2011 for: The Binding of Isaac

As 2011 draws to a close TVGB takes this week to look at some of the best games of the year. No, we’re not going to be the hundredth site to tell you that Portal 2/Skyrim/Batman/Uncharted 3 was the best game to release in the last 365 days, but rather remember some of the titles that, while not necessarily forgotten, won’t be at the forefront of the GOTY nominations. It’s Mike’s turn today, and he’s here to talk about The Binding of Isaac.

For the uninitiated, Super Meat Boy is a fantastic game that can best be described as a retro title with modern accommodations. It’s challenging, but with enough forgiveness to be addicting. It’s worthy of your attention and if you’ve yet to make the plunge, I highly suggest you do so.

One of two creators of Super Meat Boy, Edmund McMillen, pushed a  brand new game in the Fall of 2011 on the Steam platform. It’s name is The Binding of Isaac and it’s just as addicting as Super Meat Boy, if not more so.

Much like Super Meat Boy entices hours of play, I can guarantee that you will play The Binding of Isaac more than once. The game is separated into levels or “dungeons” with rooms and enemies that spawn randomly. As you progress, items are obtained that improve attributes, grant powers, and increase your character’s health. Think of it as a dungeon crawler mixed with “roguelike” qualities.

There are stores to purchase items. Upgrade rooms that grant the player with additional skills are scattered around to help. “Devil rooms” are also interesting elements to discover for those seeking powerful abilities at a great cost. Every level ends with a boss, which varies with each playthrough. Later stages throw “surprise” encounters, as well.

Once you die, that’s it. You must start the game from the very beginning, losing all of your abilities, items, and what have you. This is where the term “old-fashioned” applies. It plays much like titles of the retro era did, but with the modern sensibilities of forgiveness. As you continue to go through each round, The Binding of Isaac will be able to recall everything you’ve done, and act accordingly. The more you play, the more it rewards you with unlockables and the like. It’s as much of a game of skill as it is luck.

Super Meat Boy involves you playing a personified block of raw meat in pursuit of the evil (or perhaps misunderstood?) Dr. Fetus, as he’s stolen Meat Boy’s girlfriend Bandage Girl. It’s bizarre, charming, and very effective, in all its simplicity. The Binding of Isaac offers an equally simplistic story that manages to be far more bizarre, yet still charming.

You play Isaac, aptly named after the titular person of interest from the biblical story the game is spun off from. Isaac lives in a quant house on a hill with his mother. One day, a voice from above (presumably God) commands that Isaac’s mother protect him from all of the sinful things in the world. She obeys and takes away all of Isaac’s possessions. The voice returns and beckons her to “save” her son. So like any reasonable person would do, she slowly walks towards Isaac’s room  brandishing a knife and brainwashed look.

Fearing for his life, Isaac flees into the basement and discovers an assortment of horrors waiting for him. From there, Isaac must fight his way through eight randomly constructed stages to the inevitable showdown with his mother.

Surely, a game with such a high replay value must be at least ten or perhaps even fifteen dollars? No. Five dollars. And that’s if it’s not marked down in one of the many sales Steam has throughout the year, in which case its usual price falls around $2.50. This game could have easily been sold for a 100% more. In a time where on average you’ll anywhere from thirty-nine to fifty-nine dollars on a new purchase, it’s asking price is more than reasonable. Buy it. You’ll feel more than satisfied with your purchase.

It’s game that’s strictly for the computer platform, with no plans for a release on any of the home and portable consoles. However, The Binding of Isaac runs on the Mac OSX platform and Windows operating system. It also syncs the player’s progress across both with the use of Steam Cloud. Hear that Mac users? You don’t have an excuse. Also, PC users, you can’t be smug about being the only ones that can play through it (without the use of an emulator).

There is certainly potential for more to be added on top of the foundation already in place. A Halloween update landed several weeks after the its initial debut. The game, as it stands, is competent. Anything else is simply cream on top of  a delicious pie (no, not cake). More couldn’t hurt it, but the level of satisfaction expected is more than met, regardless.

If you have any doubts, there’s a demo available to play online. But that shouldn’t be an issue. So what are you waiting for? Buy it.