Have you played… The Binding Of Isaac: Rebirth?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day, perhaps for all time.

‘Played’ in the title suggests something concluded, but clearly if you did ever play The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth (plus its various expansions), you’re almost certainly still playing it. Forever and ever.

I’ve had a few conversations lately with people who just don’t grasp why anyone would stick with Isaac, this 2D roguelite/twin-stick shooter starring a crying child, for more than a few tries. The lumbering movement, the achingly slow shots, the interchangeable rooms – where’s the thrill, where’s the verve? Why would I or anyone else give so much time to this excessively simple world of poor, gore and mutant Catholic imagery?

Oh, you don’t even know. You just don’t. Not until you are a dozen hours deep, and you have wielded powers you’d never even dreamed of. Not until you think of those first couple of slow, early, pew-pew floors as just the blink of an eye, nothing more than a warm-up exercise for what is yet to come. Not until you have memorised the names and abilities of dozens, hundreds of different power-ups.

Not until you have been to Hell. And Heaven. And know to shudder if someone mentions Bloat.

Not until you have lived Isaac for days, weeks, months. Not until it consumes your every waking thought.

You don’t know.


  1. Premium User Badge

    Drib says:

    Yeah, I’ll probably never know. I rarely ever get out of that first tileset, let alone any deeper. Plus the uh, 90’s newgrounds look of the game grates on my angry-old-man sensibilities.

    • Eagle0600 says:

      I downloaded the Binding of Undertale mod and played with adorable goat-people instead.

    • gou says:

      it was the first game to make me moan about sprite hit-detection since the days of C64

  2. HiroTheProtagonist says:

    I haven’t touched BoI in years now, but I’ve put at least 700-800 hours in across the original version, Wrath of the Lamb and Rebirth. It’s certainly an acquired taste, and after a few struggling runs and wiki checks you get hooked in, but after a certain point you’ve seen just about every item/level/room permutation and you get a certain “going through the motions” feeling. It also didn’t help that Afterbirth felt lackluster in terms of new content (most of it just +1 natural heart stuff).

    I will say that I was surprised at how quickly I got used to the aesthetics, at least after reading reviews from various places calling out the grotesque nature of the visuals. It sounds disgusting on paper, but in motion it all kinda blurs into a mass of projectiles and hitboxes.

  3. GameCat says:

    I love the idea behind this game, but sadly it’s fun only when you’re lucky with upgrades, otherwise the game is just frustrating slog. I wish it was somewhat better balanced.

    • HiroTheProtagonist says:

      I would argue that BoI at least gives you enough tools to make it through most runs. Occasionally you’ll get absolutely screwed on items (boomerang tears + Ipecac = instant restart) or funky room layouts that trap you due to poor pickups, but you can arguably win most runs simply by knowing patterns and your shot distances/speeds.

      A good comparison would be FTL, where you practically need some sort of bomb weapon/teleportation setup to reliably beat the final boss, and it’s entirely possible to not get the right items dropped or have enough money to buy them before the final sector.

      • GameCat says:

        Sure, you can finish it, but in most cases it’s just boring and frustrating shooting at bullet (tears) sponges and I do not find it fun at all.

  4. RuySan says:

    I played a lot of the original, so when this came out i was already burned out.

    Today, if i’m in the mood for something like this, i feel Enter The Gungeon is superior in every way.

    • Crusoe says:

      Enter the Gungeon is indeed an excellent game, and I’d very much like to hear Alecs thoughts on it at some point.

      Hopefully sometime after the (delayed) new, huge update that’s on its way.

  5. GeoX says:

    Am I the only one who doesn’t like BoL because the aesthetic is just so unpleasant? Yeah yeah, I get it, it’s intentionally over-the-top/ironic-transgressive, but to me, an ironically-unpleasant game is still unpleasant; plus, now there’s an additional aura of insufferable smugness pervading the whole thing. Oh boy!

    • Premium User Badge

      maenckman says:

      I can totally understand why one would think like that. I didn‘t like the aesthetics at all as I started playing BoI and after 1000+ hours I am still not a huge fan. And in my opinion it would be an even bigger success if the visuals were different.
      Nevertheless I would advice you to keep playing if you have the slightest interest in the gameplay. I have played hundreds of videogames in the last 30 years and Isaac definitely is one of my all time favourites (together with Dark Souls and Spelunky).
      If I had to pick one game to play for the rest of my life it would be Isaac.
      There is so much to discover and unlock, so many item combinations, every run feels different, it just doesn‘t get old.
      And I promise that after a while you won‘t realize the unpleasant aesthetics any more but start to love the “inner values“.

      • GeoX says:

        Hmm. Thanks for that. Maybe I’ll give it a second glance.

      • MrEvilGuy says:

        For inner values obsessive hundreds or thousands of hours knowing a game inside out I’d probably stick to dwarf fortress.

        I just don’t think I have it in me to give myself over to an aesthetic like Binding of Isaac.

  6. April March says:

    No I haven’t. Which is curious, because I bought the original game four times, to give to people. This has made me decide to wait until the game is pretty cheap, since I’d already given McMillen enough money. And… it has never been cheap enough that I’d buy it.

    That said, when it does get cheap enough, I’m almost certainly buying four copies all over again.

  7. Nosebeggar says:

    Yes, you could say that. I have finished rebirth, afterbirth 1001% and now I’m close to finishing Antibirth (One of gamings all time greatest mods). 580 hours in, the suffering never stops.

    The game is great, but an acquired taste. One you get that initial realization of what makes this game so great, you’re either hooked for enternity or put off. Simple as that. There is no in-between.

  8. fearandloathing says:

    Don’t know if anyone else feels the same, but BoI is a “ruined” game for me. As for balance, Rebirth was just about perfect, it was challenging and silly and fun. It was a game that honored your time. After Afterbirth and so on, I just feel that the game got stupidly grindy, with XLLLLLL rooms, bullet-sponges, enemies with inescapable attacks and all. You either get quickly imba and practically won the game on the third level, or become hopelessly weak. They should’ve added just a few transformations, daily challenges and greed, and leave the game at that.