The Binding of Issac has quite a long history that dates all the way back to 2011 when Edmund McMillen decided to create something inspired by The Legend of Zelda and his mixed experiences with religion growing up. The development took place during a week-long game jam with both McMillen and Florian Himsl. The title was considered a bit risky due its subject matter but Edmund decided it couldn’t hurt or affect too negatively because he’d already experience some big success with the co-development of Super Meat Boy with Tommy Refenes. Updates were planned with the ‘Wrath of the Lamb‘ being the first. Due to the original release being built in Adobe Flash though, further updates just weren’t possible. The game’s success wasn’t overnight but largely in part from ‘Let’s Play’ videos, it steadily grew in popularity and its momentum continued. Three years later Edmund McMillen was contacted by Nicalis, Inc. with the possibility of completing a remake that would not only expand the game’s features and improve its graphics but also allow it to be ported to other systems besides PC.
The game didn’t see a release on Nintendo platforms until 2015 when it was finally available on both Wii U and New Nintendo 3DS. With the slow and unfortunate demise of the Wii U, many fans hoped for some sort of release on Nintendo Switch. Fans not only wanted to continue to play it on Nintendo’s newest console but they also wanted to experience the title with the portable nature of the Nintendo Switch. Everyone’s wish was finally granted and in the best way anyone could possibly imagine with a physical release of the newest version of The Binding of Isaac that also contained a manual, stickers, and alternate cover art. There are some who are divided over which version is the best but many do agree that The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth + is the definitive version and the best way to enjoy the imagination and wonder this truly unique title.
The story of The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth + is a simple story in the vein of the original Legend of Zelda or Super Mario Bros. There’s not a lot of depth to it but there’s enough to give reason for the premise, gameplay, atmosphere, and character motivations. The game begins with Issac’s mother, convinced she is doing what God wants her to do, taking all of Issac’s clothes, possessions, and locking him away in his room. Isaac’s mother begins to make her way towards the room to sacrifice him so he escapes through a door on the floor to the basement. It’s here where the game begins–and all the fun. Issac will battle his way through randomized levels while fighting plenty of different monsters and some difficult and unique bosses as well. Issac attacks enemies with his tears being used as projectiles. You’re also able to add to Issac’s power, HP, abilities, and other attributes by collecting different consumable and reusable items in the dungeons. With this being a roguelike game though, once you lose all your health and die it’s game over and your progress is completely wiped. Stats, enemies you’ve fought, and items you’ve collected are stored for you to view later but as far as any progress you’ve made through the game or items you’ve collected, it may as well be a new game entirely. You’re not able to go back to your previous progress or anything but you’re always able to start a new game. You don’t even need to go back to the main menu; the game allows you to start a new game as quickly as you get a ‘Game Over.’ This speeds up everything and allows you to jump back into the action quickly. This is also a nice feature because you’re going to die a lot, at least in the beginning when you’re less experienced.
Every time you start a new game you’ll start off in a room that has one or more doors for you to go through and with that, the game begins. There will be enemies and/or obstacles in your path within each and every room that you’ll need to tackle and once you reach the end of that level, you’ll be treated to a boss fight. These are randomized as well so if for some reason you continually die in the second level, you won’t just keep having to battle the same first boss again. After you beat enough levels, you’ll get closer and closer to battling Issac’s Mom, which is always a pretty difficult fight. It’s nice being able to track all of your deaths, Mom kills, and other statistics in the main menu.
There are a lot of items in this game though and I can say that you’ll need to rely on online wikis and guides in order to get all of the information on them. Some information will be given in-game but it won’t be nearly enough to know all the different abilities and attributes of the many items you’ll find on your journey.
Afterbirth + contains all of the content of previous releases including the ‘Wrath of the Lamb‘ downloadable content in addition to featuring plenty of additional levels, items, characters, difficulty modes, and endings. There’s just so much great content on here, including the Daily Challenges that will inject some longevity that at this point isn’t even really needed. There was already a lot of replay value and content in the Rebirth expansion but Afterbirth and Afterbirth + just increases it beyond what we thought possible. There are some additional endings as well so even if you’ve already played the original Binding of Isaac or Rebirth, you’ll likely still find plenty to enjoy because of how much was added for this final expansion. The only major edge that you’ll experience by getting this on a different platform would be the mod support available on the PC version. You’ll have to decide how important that is to you because I personally prefer this version. Being able to experience all this game has to offer in 60 FPS both on the go and on the TV is enough to make this my preferred version. I can always pick it up on PC during a Steam sale and further support the developer in addition to getting access to the many mods available from the community.
Graphically this game is beautiful. It’ll depend on what you like in graphics. I personally really enjoy graphics to fully represent their intentions and this game is meant to have a sharp but retro feel and it completely succeeds in that area. The animations are both smooth and fluid with plenty of different unique yet disturbing design choices that help fill this game with an almost unbelievable amount of enemies and bosses. This world may seem dark and twisted but the visuals of this game work in conjunction with great sound design to create an almost terrifying atmosphere that will creep you out while also pulling you further into this world than may ever imagined possible.
Matthias Bossi and Jon Evans have created a haunting soundtrack that will forever help propel you forward despite it pulling you and the mood backwards. It works so well within this universe and is a soundtrack that I’ve caught myself humming even hours later. The sound effects all work well and also feel right at home. There’s a lot of satisfying noises in The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth + even though they may sound hellish and offputting. This is a game that needs to be heard so if you’re playing in tablet mode then I’d highly recommend some headphones if you’re in an environment that is loud or will make it difficult to hear the game.
Issac controls very well in whatever controller you choose to use. You can always remap the controls if you so desire but I personally found the default setup to work very well. You can also play with up to three other players if you want to try to survive with some friends. You can use half of a joy-con to control the game as well so if you’re playing with a full joy-con and a friend wants to play, you can just break up off a piece and have them join the fun.
This marks the first time that The Binding of Isaac has received a physical release and I’d highly recommend it to longtime fans. The cover art is perfect and there’s also an interesting reversible cover that looks a bit different and less realistic. The first run of the game also includes a manual inspired by the original Legend of Zelda manual and two sheets of stickers. Edmund McMillen and Nicalis, Inc. has already stated that if you’re interested in these bundled goodies then you need to try to buy the game as quickly as possible. These extras will not be included after the first production run.
There’s so much to love about The Binding of Isaac and the Afterbirth + edition is the best way to play it. There are over 600 different items to collect across the countless amount of different levels. I can’t think of a better way to enjoy this game than by picking it up on the Nintendo Switch. Afterbirth + is the definitive version and with it being on the Nintendo Switch, you can enjoy it both at home and on go, without ever dropping below 60 FPS. The only reason I’d recommend passing on this game is if you’re interested in playing with mods. Even then I’d pick this up and just grab that in a Steam sale so you can get the best of both worlds. If you’re looking for a great roguelike or are interested in games like the first Legend of Zelda, you can’t go wrong with this game. You’ll be able to put hundreds and hundreds of hours into this game without even feeling like you’ve scratched the surface of what it has to offer.
The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth +
- Almost limitless level options with randomly generated levels
- Hundreds of new levels on top of the existing content in previous versions
- An insane amount of items, enemies, and endings
- Addictive gameplay that's easy to pick but incredibly difficult to master and put down
- Bestiary to track what enemies you destroy, along with plenty of interesting statistics for you to obsess over