Gamer on a Budget #3
The Binding of Issac
by William LJ Galaini
The Binding of Isaac
Developer: Indie - Edmund McMillen and Florian Himsl
Platform: PC, Mac, Linux
Whoa. I was not ready for this one. First, we’ll talk about the game’s mechanics and playability before I touch on the elephant in the room (not a ‘bad’ touch, I swear the elephant and I are on good terms). The Binding of Isaac is essentially a Zelda dungeon crawl filled with room after room of monsters, mini-bosses, treasures, and light puzzles. Your character has a ranged attack and responsive controls that are keyboard-only, mimicking the feel of a classic console control scheme.
In short, you traverse randomized dungeons, bomb rocks and walls to locate secrets, and upgrade yourself via random weapon and item drops. The graphics are simple, yet slick and the fluid animation speaks of serious quality and talent behind each monster and event. The sound itself is sparse and simple, yet the soundtrack is dynamic toward the action. Also worthy of note are the impressive cut scenes and character moments between chapters.
Alright, elephant touching time. The Binding of Isaac is a ‘rogue-like’ dungeon crawl about… child abuse. I’m not talking about when your parents wouldn’t buy you Malibu Barbie. I’m talking about the child abuse Nancy Grace adores; a child was found forced to live in their closet all their lives, wallowing in their own feces while gradually becoming blind from infection and malnutrition. THAT kind of abuse is what The Binding of Isaac is about. Your character (there are a number of children to play as) is subjected to religiously fueled abuse at the hands of their brutal mother figure, and each element of the game reveals this.
Here are some examples: Your child’s tears are his or her ranged weapon, and they can also be used to put out fires. A majority of monsters you battle are other abused children, flies from piles of feces that are presumably your own, and maggots. The dungeon bosses are sometimes unborn twins, one tethered/strangled by their connecting umbilical cord. Power-ups are perhaps the most tell-tale sign of this theme: as your character suffers MORE they become more powerful. Case in point: a wire hanger upgrade THROUGH YOUR CHILD’S HEAD (indicating your resilience to back-alley abortion) increases damage output. The same goes with getting upgrades like infections, viruses, and aborted siblings that follow you, hovering over your shoulder.
Let me point out what happens if you play as a little girl. She gets upgrades like ‘Mommy’s Shoes’ and ‘Mommy’s Lipstick’ and slowly she seems to be converted into a horrid emulation of her abusive, monstrous mother. It is almost hinting that the more an abused child attempts to embrace their suffering or the IMAGE of their suffering, the chances of their survival increases.
The Binding of Isaac, the biblical story, is clearly the most endorsed instance of child brutality in the Western world so it comes as no surprise that this game is a substantial middle-finger toward fanatical, Old Testament Christianity. Though The Binding of Isaac disturbs, it does so without undermining the multifaceted exploration of the theme. My immediate fear while playing this game was that it was trying to make light of the issue of child abuse and religiously-fueled cruelty, but after some time crawling through Isaac’s imagined dungeon of horrors clearly it does not.
Why you would buy it:
You are fucked up
You enjoy a well made dungeon crawl
Tons of randomized content and secrets
You have an old computer
Why you would pass on it:
You don’t get the metaphor
You think Abraham was totally doing the right thing by preparing his son for murder
You are squeamish
Recommended for: Adult gamers with a stomach who appreciate some grizzle in their old school gaming