When Isaac’s mother starts hearing the voice of God demanding a sacrifice be made to prove her faith, Isaac escapes into the basement facing droves of deranged enemies, lost brothers and sisters, his fears, and eventually his mother. The Binding of Isaac is a randomly-generated action-RPG shooter with heavy Rogue-like elements.
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|Also try:||Aquaria, Wanderlust: Rebirth|
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Each complete game spans eight randomly constructed dungeon floors composed of rooms that must be cleared to exit, finishing with a boss room leading to the next floor. Progress cannot be saved, and death results in restarting the game on floor one of an entirely different dungeon, but complete games are intended to last maybe half an hour, so failure and experimenting with new playing strategies is expected. The protagonist, Isaac, can move freely in any direction and can shoot independently in the cardinal directions, including bending shots with his starting momentum. Isaac’s initial attributes are reasonable for early in game but would be very difficult for all but the most experienced players to complete the game with. Health, walking speed, and firing rate/damage/distance form the core buildable attributes, but many other movement, shot, and secondary abilities may also be conferred through persistent power-ups. While a player can in theory fight straight through to the bosses and skip most of a floor, the item-based character progression encourages scouring levels for random and possibly hidden power-ups as well as the key/bomb/coin resources needed to acquire them. There are roughly forty distinct one-use items, thirty rechargeable items, and eighty permanent status-affecting ones that visibly change Isaac’s appearance. With each complete play-through providing roughly fifteen to twenty power-ups, individual games can vary dramatically from one to the next, providing substantial replay value. One game may end with Isaac only having four heart containers but having huge damage output, while another may conclude with eight or nine hearts but modest mobility and offensive ability. Unlocking items, additional bosses and starting player configurations gradually improves this variability to very addictive effect.
Everything in The Binding of Isaac’s design revolves around the notion of the taking of calculated risk. Enemies have identifiable movement and attack patterns, but the player is responsible for deciding when to close and strike or when to back off from a forthcoming charge or projectile spray. Furthermore, strategic planning is encouraged through the resource system and the randomness of each play-through. Since status-boosting item and reusable tools are provided only at rare junctions with inherent risks/costs to access, management of the resources needed to acquire them is critical. A player will often fret over whether speculatively bombing walls or unlocking a shop will prove fruitful or whether these resources should be saved for futures floors. After all, since none of this is strictly needed to progress, there is no guarantee that a player will be able to unlock treasure rooms/chests, bomb open appropriate walls or rocks, or afford whatever may be on sale in a shop, which will come as a shock to those raised on Zelda like me! Distinct design features (e.g., random store discounts or semi-predictable hidden room locations) will as a rule tend to encourage careful risk taking.
This game definitely caught me by surprise, but it proved to be both incredibly fun and addictive, and when looked at more closely, it definitely showed the handwork of a designer with an impressive understanding of compelling emergent gameplay. If you like shooters at all, you should play this game.
Demo at Newgrounds: http://www.newgrounds.com/portal/view/581168
Description of items: http://bindingofisaac.wikia.com/wiki/Items