The Binding of Isaac is a game I’ve honestly never played before. It seems like a game I’d enjoy, with it’s dark humor and violence, but I never checked it out for whatever reason. So when The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth+ was announced for the Switch, I really didn’t pay too much attention to it. However, when Nicalis announced the game would have a physical release that actually included a manual, I decided to pay some more attention to the game. After debating, I finally picked up The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth+. So, am I happy with my decision?
The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth+ has a very strange story that is modeled after a story in the Bible. You play as Isaac and in the game your mother is watching a religious TV program. While watching, the program instructs her to kill her son Isaac. Isaac then runs and hides in the basement, and so begins the game.
The basis of the game is very tongue in cheek and touches on lots of religious themed things, which is why it was surprising when this game came to Nintendo consoles. Pentagrams, Baphomet’s, and demons are littered through the game. But I don’t think the game is a commentary on religion or anything like that, I feel it just uses it as a base for the game. It might be off-putting to some, but those with a darker sense of humor will enjoy this aspect of the game.
The dark humor also extends into the enemies themselves, with lots of gas, vomit, and poop throughout the game. It’s disgusting, of course, but the right kind of disgusting that is obviously looking for a “shock factor” laugh than something that’s intended to make you feel sick.
The game plays out in a simple manner: you are placed in a randomized level (in a sequence of 5) and must defeat a boss at the end of every level. After making it to the 5th level boss, which is your mother, you beat the game. Since the game is randomized, every time you play it you encounter different enemies, bosses, items, and much more. I enjoyed the random nature of the game as it always made me want to keep playing, and there are tons of different endings too to keep you wanting to continue playing after a run through.
At the core, Isaac is a top down twin-stick shooter, in which you move Isaac with one analog stick and shoot “tears” with the other in 4 directions. These tears can be upgraded with randomized pick ups, and some replace the tears completely, which once again adds to the fun factor of exploring and doing multiple playthroughs. Isaac can also pick up power up sub-weapons, that will help with tougher enemies, and a variety of pills, each with different effects. The sheer amount of variety in the power ups, subweapons, and pills is pretty insane, and once again gives a fresh feeling on every playthrough of the game.
Even if you get tired of that, there are challenges you unlock while playing the game that you can play. Some of them have Isaac being souped up, others of them have enemies reacting differently; there are literally so many different challenges that I could talk about them forever. On top of that, there are daily challenges and even unlockable characters with different stats that you can play as.
Visually, Isaac looks good on both the TV and on the handheld. Everything is bright and crisp – enemies look good and varied (and bloody), and each area has a unique charm to it when you are traversing the levels. The audio department is good too, with lots of screams, fart sounds, and some decent tunes.
The only real issues I had with Isaac would be the game can be a tad difficult, especially if you don’t get good power ups through your playthrough. Many times I would make it to “Mom” but not have enough firepower to take her down, or not enough health. The random nature of the game makes it that way, so when the cards are in your favor you can dominate, but if you get a weak hand you can suffer. Also I was a bit off-put by the fact that you can only shoot in 4 directions, as I feel a standard 8 direction fire would have worked a bit better.
All in all, I enjoyed The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth+ a lot more than I should have. I’ve gotten a lot of playtime from the game and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon, so the $39.99 price point (although higher than the competition) doesn’t bother me to have a nice physical copy and manual. Plus, the Switch version has some exclusive DLC not available on other platforms (yet), so it’s really the best version of Isaac to get. If you are looking for a stroll in hell with dark humor and fun top-down twin stick shooting, The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth+ is a solid addition to the Switch.