The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth im Test - Der Roguelike-Messias
The Binding of Isaac now enjoys cult status. The action game has sold over three million copies and has its own Let's Player scene. Despite this success, the inventor Edmund McMillen is not entirely satisfied with his game: because it is based on Flash, it runs unstably, and actually he would have preferred to design it in a pixel look. Now he did just that.
Together with indie developer and publisher Nicalis, McMillen has completely redesigned the game: new graphic style, more items, new music and much more. The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth embodies, so to speak, the real vision of the creator and is thus one of the best representatives of the Roguelike genre that currently exists. So we are dealing with one of these games that you always start over, that always runs differently and where we have to start from scratch after our pixel death.
The story of a little boy mistreated by his possessed mother is based on a Bible story. Abraham was to sacrifice his son Isaac to prove his faith. The Binding of Isaac takes this story into the modern era and deals with uncomfortable topics such as child abuse and loss of reality.
As a small, almost helpless Isaac, we wake up in a cellar dungeon fleeing from our mother. We only have tears to protect ourselves from the horrors that lurk there. And that is literally meant: The little, pink tots we control shoot tears. So we go out and fight from room to room. Of course we have to get stronger because our salty projectiles are very weak at the beginning. We discover an Indian headband behind a golden door and put it on.
Henceforth, our tears shoot through enemies. We feel a little bit more powerful.
But only until the first boss gets in our way: The Widow, a disgusting spider with human toes on its legs. After we forced her and her little helper spiders to their knees after a strenuous fight, a new item appears: a wooden cross.
Yuck, we're suddenly bleeding from our eyes! But we are even stronger for that. Slowly we come to the peculiar taste of the game, which stages power-ups not as radiant armor, but as disgusting deformations or disgusting vermin that constantly accompanies us. It is disturbing. That is fascinating. And we want to see more of it!
So motivated we climb down a trap door and face new monsters on the next level. We only focused on one goal: to defeat our mother. She is a powerful boss who does not radiate a spark of motherly love, but grabs and stamps at us with her huge, batter-shaped limbs as she screeches our name. Defeating them will be anything but easy. But maybe an even better item is waiting for us on the next level? Maybe we'll make it this time?
The basement rules
You can see The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth's roots. The Roguelike is clearly based on Legend of Zelda. The dungeons composed of rectangular rooms, the keys, the bombs and even the heart containers could have come directly from the NES classic. However, true to the Roguelike genre, the dungeons of The Binding of Isaac are always randomly generated.
The descent into the depth is rarely unfair, because there are fixed rules: Each level has a shop where we can buy keys or other useful consumables, there is always an item space that gives us a new ability or improved attributes , In addition to normal opponent rooms, special rooms also appear that only appear under certain conditions.
At the end of each corridor there is a huge boss opponent waiting for us. The monsters are extremely imaginative. There are also generic creepy creatures like skeletons and spiders, but most creatures are created in an exciting way and ambush us with sophisticated attack patterns. The boss "The Haunt", for example, is a giant ghost who first sends his three lackeys on our necks. Then he tears the skin off his face and attacks us with his skeleton face.
At the beginning three dungeon levels are waiting for us, which consist of two levels: cellar, caves and the depths. That sounds more boring than it happens, because every level is crammed with small details and horrific monsters. Over time, we'll unlock new items, alternative dungeons, and other characters. That also motivates in the long run.
Each round delivers new items that then want to be rediscovered. After defeating our mom for the first time, we even make it into the mother uterus. Oh yes, it actually means Isaac's mother's uterus! And there we face Mom’s heart, which is as disgusting as it sounds.
Morbid but cute
The first time you play The Binding of Isaac may be a little disgusted. Small droppings are scattered everywhere, in addition there are the abnormal monsters who greet us with indefinable grunting and screeching noises. Still, it all looks so cute. McMillen manages to transform Isaac's morbid world into a pink horror vision: disturbing at the same time, but also oddly cute.
The story is told in just a few cutscenes. We have a lot of room for interpretation. Even the objects reflect the tragic story of the young hero. For example, if he picks up a wooden spoon, you will see red marks on his face. A torn photo of his family makes him cry worse. The developers cleverly include the complex topics in the game.
An innovation of the Rebirth version are the many possible synergies, i.e. certain combinations of objects that completely change our attack patterns. Even in the original there were objects like »Brimstone«, with which Isaac could choke out a blood laser beam, or »Mom's Knife«, which replaced our tears with a deadly melee attack. These items change the hero's attacks in an unexpected way and add complexity to the game.
Rebirth improves the existing item system: Many objects react with each other, creating sometimes interesting, sometimes absurdly strong synergies. A favorite of the community is, for example, "Brimstone" plus "Ludovico-Technique", also known as the "Red Ring of Death". Instead of firing a straight beam, we control a huge, red laser ring that kills any enemy within seconds.
But since there are over 300 items, certain items are very difficult to find. And, like in the original game, these items are the heart of The Binding of Isaac. You define our run. The hunt for the best combinations has an addictive effect that lures us into the depths over and over again. The enormous variety of such items simply does not allow boredom to arise and actually creates the feeling of a varied gaming experience.
And in principle Rebirth is very solid from the technical side and looks anything but stale: The lighting effects are beautifully designed, the opponents and the surroundings are lovingly animated, and the gameplay looks modern. On top of that, the pixel style can even be turned off if you can't get used to it. Then the game is more reminiscent of the original with improved animations. We took into account in the rating that the coarse-grained look is very special and not everyone likes, otherwise it would have been even higher.
500 hours of play?
The development team advertises Rebirth with a playing time of around 500 hours. But there has to be a lot in it to justify such a number. But there is a lot to discover: ten characters, over 300 items to find, 174 unlockable secrets and a completely new level lead even veteran Isaac veterans to new realms. In addition, there are 20 challenges that send us to the basement with ready-made combinations of items and prevent us from further item rooms.
It took over 50 hours to see almost all of the innovations, and we're still not finished. We are still missing a variety of items and achievements, and they drive us again and again into the eerie basement. Maybe only the hardcore fans who really want to see everything can get 500 hours full. But we have already exceeded 100 and far from enough.