GameZone's 31 Games of Halloween 2013: The Binding of Isaac
Last time on GameZone's 31 Games of Halloween, we ventured deep into the post-apocalyptic zombie world of The Walking Dead. Today we're switching gears with a more lighthearted experience: The Binding of Isaac from Edmund McMillen and Florian Himsl. Rest assured that this game is certainly dark, but it's a more comedic approach to eerie themes. So if you're into black humor — a staple of McMillen's games — you'll be glad to know that Isaac is full of crass imagery, gross creatures, and unconventional comedy.
Now, let's enter the dark depths of a creepy basement filled with monsters, shall we?
Why it stands out
At the time of its announcement, Isaac was the next major project from McMillen following Super Meat Boy, the hit effort he made alongside Tommy Refenes. The dev initially delivered little bits of information on the game, revealing that it was influenced by his favorite games, and cited The Legend of Zelda as a main inspiration. Of course, he then threw everyone a curveball when he revealed that Isaac would feature roguelike mechanics, as well as shooter gameplay and dungeon crawling.
When you begin playing, you'll quickly realize that this isn't a very easy game. You guide the titular Isaac across multiple rooms, killing enemies and snagging upgrades. It doesn't take long for things to get quite challenging, and before you know it, you're stuck in a basement room with infected people and deadly flies, forced to fight them off with your very tears. Seriously, that's your ammo in Isaac — you have to kill your enemies with your tears. It's weird, but it's totally satisfying if you dig that sort of thing.
Since this is a roguelike, you only have one chance to make it to the end, where your evil mother awaits. There's no lives system, so if your health meter depletes completely, it's back to the start for you. That adds a lot of pressure to Isaac, but it also makes it that much more rewarding should you make it to the end.
Is it scary?
As has been the case with many of our 31 Games of Halloween entries, this game isn't particularly scary. Still, it does have its own dark themes that help it stand out. For starters, Isaac is influenced by the biblical story of Abraham, who was going to sacrifice his son Isaac to prove his fear of God. McMillen openly expressed his fascination with that piece, and thus created a game about a little boy who's hiding from his mom due to her desire to sacrifice her son. It's kind of funny, even if the underlying details are awfully creepy.
The argument could also be made that Isaac is a tad on the disgusting side. The creatures you encounter as you go deeper and deeper into the basement are riddled with plague and disease, and seeing them approach you ever so creepily as they make ugly noises is surprisingly unsettling. Characters are covered in warts and festering cuts, piles of crap adorn the different rooms, and pus-soaked bosses lie in wait. No, Isaac isn't really scary, but it is quite disturbing, even it's still pretty funny and cartoony.
Why play it on Halloween?
If you're the satirical type and enjoy offbeat humor, it's very possible that Isaac will be a worthwhile experience for you. Aside from its bizarre themes, it's also a really great game that can keep you entertained for quite a while. It's not exactly scary, but like that short-lived yet still pleasant animated series The Oblongs, it's so odd that it may just make you a tiny bit uneasy. Rather than being outright funny or blatantly creepy, Isaac straddles the line between both effortlessly, making it a unique game to play on Halloween.
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