The Binding of Isaac

Inverse Game Recs

You need to play the decade's most unforgettably strange game ASAP

What do a baby, demons, and an evil mother have in common?

Edmund McMillen

Imagine this: A baby who shoots disgusting demons with his tears, as he runs through a series of dungeons, while his mother chases him, and is trying to kill him because God told her to. The most unforgettably strange roguelike shooter of the past decade is getting its final expansion in November (at least on consoles). Roguelikes have climbed in popularity in recent years, with notable entries like Returnal and Hades captivating large audiences. But one game, in particular, nailed the roguelike formula nearly a decade before, and it’s one you absolutely need to check out.

Absurdly over-the-top

The Binding of Isaac is a wonderfully horrifying experience that shouldn’t exist, but somehow does. Even today, the gutsy religious overtones, the disgusting poop demons (seriously), and the entire premise of running through dungeons as a baby named Isaac are controversial.

This game first launched in 2011, when it was considered even more controversial. Since then, The Binding of Isaac has come to nearly all modern platforms and has been supported with three major expansions, Rebirth, Afterbirth+, and Repentance (the latter of which launches for consoles on November 4).

Most games wouldn’t be able to pull off such weird and offensive content, but The Binding of Isaac gets away with it thanks to its comedic approach, which comes through clearly in its art. If this game were comprised of realistic demons, killer mothers, and babies, it simply wouldn’t fly. But because everything looks practically like a fridge drawing you’d sketch on a napkin, it somehow becomes slightly less offensive and significantly funnier.

Equal parts grotesque and fun

This mashup of bullet hell and roguelike is just as grotesque as it is fun to play. Edmund McMillan

Another reason The Binding of Isaac can get away with such questionable content is that it has the gameplay to back it up. Underneath all the disgusting monsters and brutal animations is a superb game that feels satisfying, even when it punishes you in the most shocking ways.

As you make your way through each floor, you encounter dungeons that are procedurally generated, chock-full of different items, enemies, and rooms. No two runs are the same, meaning that even if you die prematurely, it’s still exciting to start up a new playthrough — if nothing else, but to experience something new.

Sometimes you’ll encounter an item that makes you feel like a god, such as a pair of X-ray glasses that automatically open secret areas. Other times, you’ll come across an item that isn’t as apparently useful, as some come with just as many downsides as benefits. For instance, the Kidney Stone item increases the size of your tears (which are basically bullets), but at the expense of range and speed. In total, there are over 700 items, each with varying degrees of effectiveness. Collect them at your own risk.

Most importantly, the game straight up feels tight and responsive to play. What good are fantastic mechanics and a wonderfully wacky art style if the game itself isn’t fun? The moment-to-moment gameplay, which consists of shooting, exploring, and dodging enemy attacks is simple, yet effective, making it easy to get lost in the ridiculous world.

Best of all is that you don’t have to play alone, as The Binding of Isaac supports four-player co-op on most platforms.

On November 4, the final expansion, Repentance comes to consoles, featuring over 130 additional items, new story content, 100 new enemies, more characters, 5,000 new room designs, and a lot more.

The Binding of Isaac is available for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch, and PC.

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