Since it’s beginnings as a humble PC indie game in 2011, The Binding of Isaac has become a cult phenomenon. A dungeon-crawler roguelike about a boy named Isaac whose mother gets hooked on religion and believes she needs to kill him as a sacrifice. Isaac escapes into their basement where he must fight monsters using his tears while picking up power ups that have been littered across the randomly generated levels. It’s twisted and highly addicting. The game has had many expansions and add-on’s. The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth + is the complete experience and is now available on the Nintendo Switch.
Nintendo consoles the Wii U and the New Nintendo 3DS have seen the previous entry, The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth get digital releases, although it took a while. Nintendo has always shied away from releasing games with religious content, and the Binding of Isaac is chalk full of religious content and religious criticism. The release of Rebirth was clearly a success as Afterbirth+ was not only originally scheduled to be a Switch launch title, but the Switch release is the only way to get a physical copy of The Binding of Isaac.
The gameplay in Binding of Isaac is simple but addictive. From a top-down perspective you control Isaac through corridors in his basement that draw heavy inspiration from early titles in the Legend of Zelda series. The environments heavily borrow from the look of Zelda’s dungeons and certain obstacles like moving spikes will send any player with memories of A Link to the Past for a nostalgia trip. The combat is straightforward, you move Isaac with the left analog stick and shoot with the right analog stick.
What makes The Binding of Isaac so addicting is the infinite amount of possibilities. With everything in the game being randomized no run will be the same as the one before. On top of having each room and run be randomized, the game has plenty of items to discover that can either help or hinder your play. When you pick up an item for the first time you won’t know what it does until you use it. This can be especially tricky towards the end of a run when you come across a new pill that you haven’t ingested before. Do you ignore the temptation to see what effects the pill has, or do you risk losing all the power-ups you’ve attained just to see what awesome effect the pill may have? Curiosity literally kills the cat nearly every time, but you’re left with a small shred of hope that you can do better next time.
There are times when you will have runs where you won’t make it through the first level, and there will be times when you make it to the final level with ease, you never know what you’re going to get when you start a new run and that is what makes the game so addicting. That combined with the fact that it will take you a long time to see all the items and enemies gives the game a hearty amount of replay value. Even once you’ve seen it all there are plenty of preset challenges and daily online challenges that you can take part in.
Aside from being heavily inspired by the Legend of Zelda series, there are plenty of other fun references to classic games in the forms of items and power-ups. There was one power-up that provided Isaac with more powerful bombs, which also gave him a Bomberman inspired helmet. While playing the co-operative mode with a friend the randomly generated character that he was controlling was Toad from the Super Mario series.
My favorite Nintendo referencing item that I’ve come across was an item called “Hey Listen”. These words are burned into the brain’s of anyone who played The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. This item spawns a character who looks a lot like Navi, the faerie that accompanies Link throughout the game and offers hints. In Afterbirth+ anytime you enter a room where there is a secret room that can be discovered by bombing a hole in the wall, the Navi lookalike will go and fly towards the wall signalling that secret can be found there.
Despite being such a strong single player experience, Afterbirth+ also has many multiplayer options. Up to four players can play on the same screen, with one player controlling Isaac and the other players controlling smaller characters that can float across any item onscreen and attack enemies. These characters don’t have the ability to pick up any items and have incredibly limited health, but they can respawn when they die. Providing assistance to the player in control of Isaac who only has one life.
Each run in the game also comes with a passcode that you can write down. Entering this passcode will allow you to emulate this run in the future. You can either compete against your own time and score, or you can give it to your friends so they can try out the specific run as well. It’s a fun little feature that can add a competitive aspect to a title that isn’t necessarily meant to be a competitive game.
Not only is the Nintendo Switch the only console to receive a physical release, it also includes an instruction manual reminiscent of the manual for the original Legend of Zelda on the NES. This was a nice little addition from developer Nicalis as an apology for the game being delayed a few weeks and not releasing as a launch title for the Switch.
At the beginning I was a bit skeptical as to how much time I would spend with Afterbirth+. The time that I spent with Rebirth on the Wii U was an absolute blast, but after making my way to the end a few times, I lost interest faster than I thought I would. That hasn’t been the case with Afterbirth+. Whether it’s the additional items and enemies that is allowing it to remain fresh for a longer period of time, or it’s placement at the beginning of the Switch’s life cycle, The Binding of Isaac Afterbirth+ is a must own for any Nintendo Switch owner looking for a unique twisted title.
Final Score: 8.5/10