THE BINDING OF ISAAC / Team Meat w/ some guy / PC
 
 
So we've had Gory Super Mario Bros. from Team Meat already (Super Meat Boy), next up is Gory Zelda. No doubt Gory Metroid, Gory Kirby and Gory Ice Climbers are on the way at some point.

The game doesn't make a favorable first impression. Like Meat Boy, it's done in Flash, but it doesn't seem to have nearly the polish of Team Meat's flagship title. You play the game with the keyboard, but the initial menus have to be navigated with the mouse, and only the arrow keys on the keyboard work in the menus for some reason. There's nothing you can press on the keyboard to scroll through and advance menus .. but if you want to back up to a previous menu, there's no mouse option for it, you have to press the down arrow. It's completely bizarre and unweildy. I guess it wouldn't be that big a deal if it wasn't paired up with the inexplicable lack of native gamepad support (Super Meat Boy actually berates you at startup for not using a gamepad), and for this growing reputation this Edmund McMillan guy seems to have for not giving two shits about the end user after he has your monies in his pocket.

Now here's the beauty part of the whole thing. If you go to the Controls menu, this is what you find:
 
                   Nah, how about I go play something else while you learn how to program in something other than bullshit Flash
 
Using Joy2Key as a workaround is perfectly acceptable for a freeware game. This is a commercial release that you pay money for. Being told to pause/quit the game and go install someone else's third-party software to render the game playable after you've started it is amateur-hour garbage by itself, but here's the kicker: Joy2Key doesn't always work with this game. Other people are saying that it has worked for them, and I'll take them at their word, but it didn't work for me. I've used Joy2Key successfully for many other games, including another game on Steam (Batman: AA, which is orders of magnitude more complex than this game is), so it isn't my computer or the Steam client. I'm pretty sure it's the fact that this game is programmed in some kind of garbagey Flash that is the problem, and I wouldn't be shocked at this point to learn that the devs didn't actually check to see if Joy2Key worked for them before recommending it on the control screen.
 
So I was forced to play with the keyboard, which is not an optimal solution for a Robotron-style action game like this one where a play session can be somewhere between 30-60 minutes if you intend to complete it. The first few floors are quite doable with the keyboard, but later levels have you fighting off swarms of flying exploding enemies whilst stepping around a field of spike pits, which the keyboard isn't quite optimal for. Oh, and the Steam screenshot feature also doesn't work with this game either. Apparently also due to bullshit Flash.

The funny thing is, The Binding of Isaac is actually a pretty good game at its core. It's a very good fusion of the randomized Roguelike RPG with a Zelda-esque action engine. I guess it's a testament to the core design of the game that it still manages to be fairly entertaining in spite of massive dev incompetence and laziness, and also being slathered in a gratuitous layer of poo, pee and used tampons. Isaac has the same sort of blend of cartoony cheerfulness and gore that Meat Boy did, just cranked up to 11 in this one, and with some sort of morbid defecation fetish injected in for extra classiness. I can't help but wonder how much better this would be if it wasn't saddled with the juvenile bodily function fixation these guys seem to have.

The story's very loosely based on the story of Isaac and Abraham from the Bible (symbolism ahoy.) That's the one where God was like "Kill ur son 4 me" to Abraham and then when he was bound down on the altar and all ready for sacrifice, God was like "Lol j/k (trollface)". In this one, you play as Isaac, except he's a young kid in modern times, and his Christian TV-obsessed mom steps in for Abraham. One day Mom hears voices telling her to sacrifice Isaac to God, but before she can get all stabby, Isaac jumps down a trap door in the floor and winds up in bizarro randomized dungeon.
 


There's six floors which are randomized in Rogue style each time you play. The only constant is that the very first room has no enemies, and there's a boss room somewhere on each floor you have to find to proceed to the next one. Even the bosses are randomized, picked from a pool of potential bosses rather than facing the same one on each level.

The obvious base of reference here is the first Zelda game, though Isaac spews inaccurate tears instead of wielding a sword. The biggest strength of the game is the wealth of randomized power-ups Isaac can encounter along the way. There's something like 110 possible items to find and it shows, between playthroughs you rarely see the same power-ups.

Well, there's one other major strength here, and that's an excellent electronica-rock soundtrack by the guy who scored Super Meat Boy, which really adds immensely to the oppressive atmosphere. Without it the game would really just seem more like a silly running festival of internet meme references than the journey of an actual character that you should feel concerned about.

The game comes equipped with all the inherent strengths and weaknesses of the Rogue genre. The randomized element and challenge makes it compelling for repeated playthroughs, but as you get deeper in the game the cheapness factor cranks up to 11, and ultimately a successful playthrough boils down to at least equal parts blind luck as it does skill. I've heard complaints of a lot of bugs, freezes and crashes. That didn't happen to me, though I didn't get farther than the fourth level (2nd Cave) in any playthrough, so my plays were no more than fifteen minutes each or so. In a Roguelike with permadeath that relies so heavily on random lucky draws, that code better be goddamn airtight. There is nothing more maddening than *finally* having the stars align for you and then boop, bullshit glitch, start over olololo. Again this didn't happen to me personally so I'm not docking the game points for it, but I've seen enough complaints from others now to be very wary of it. And again, using something a little more stable and resource-light than Flash would be a great idea for future games.

In the end, I actually liked Binding of Isaac for the most part. Unfortunately, at this point it still has too much baggage to give it more than a mediocre rating and a very cautious recommendation at best. It's got both the best and worst elements of the Rogue genre, but the apparent dev callousness toward proper controller support and the guts/poo/pee fixation drag it down to a Meh. The good news is, all of these things are fixable. Well, I'm sure they're not going to send a janitor in to clean up some of the poo, but OTHER than that these things could be fixed via future patches/updates, since you have to be on Steam to play this anyway. Just a little difficulty tweaking/rebalance perhaps, accompanied by native 360 pad support, and I'd definitely re-open the case on this one to examine it for a Good rating.
 
 
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