Tuesday, October 4, 2011

-REVIEW: The Binding of Isaac-
frankenstein's ghost

The Binding of Isaac
Developer: Edmund McMillen and Florian Himsl
Release: $4.99 (PC, Steam)

Getting everything wrong for the sake of being right

There is so much buzz in here that I can’t hear myself think. There’s a lot more going on in here, but it’s the buzzing that gets to me the most. It sounds like flies, or settling gases, or maybe…maybe something else. Maybe it’s the sound of hundreds of thousands of gamers clamoring for a game by one-half of a developer they think they know and talk about how it might finally be the one game worth the money it’s asking. I don’t know. All I know is that it’s just…a lot of buzzing going on.
So please, let’s get rid of the buzz first. I can’t stand it. It’s driving me nuts, buzzing here and there, making me acknowledge its existence for the sake of acclimation. I can’t handle this…buzzing. Get out. Just, get out.

Alright, good. Now, what’s left?
The Binding of Isaac is nothing more than a randomly generated, power-up riddled, skill-based, stochastic dungeon crawl. Personally I can’t help but avoid the feeling of banality when I play through this game, because it’s so…unrepentant. It’s simply a 5,000 piece jigsaw puzzle made up of 500 10 piece jigsaw puzzles held together by but a smidgen of elementary school crafting glue.

Alright, seriously, I can’t stand the buzzing. What’s still in here?
Oh right, okay. So, the flies. Uneducated players will immediately assume flies are a result of all of the poop that inexplicably (soon, explicably) litters every area you walk into. But the thing is, the flies don’t exist because of the poop, but rather in spite of it. The way flies eat, survivability is granted through liquids rather than solids, and the projected solidity of these poop piles (as designated by their reactivity with ginormic tearballs) tells me that their eater-eated relationship is tenuous at best. The more likely explanation is that the floor is covered in invisible urine, which explains both the persistence of flies as well as the uncharacteristic slip-sliding motion little Isaac suffers from.

So, really, the buzzing is unavoidable. You’ve probably realized it by now. You’ll probably end up buckling under the pressure and playing this game just to get rid of it. Stupid buzz.
Will I play this game again? Probably not. It’s not my kind of roguelike. And that’s all it is. Just another roguelike. But it isn’t even worth that distinction either, because it lacks any kind of thoughtful charm or reasonably mediated understanding of its material. It’s a glorified flash game with above average art and industry standard asset implementation. Every game you’ll play is the same, no matter what anyone tells you. And because of that, you’ll probably never beat it in any real sense. So, if you like that, have at it.

For me, what gets my goat isn’t the game itself, which is competent and more or less “fun”, but rather the lack of critical questions that the success of such a game should raise. Is not a game as simplistic and straightforward as this not being judged fairly? Is not more praise being heaped upon it than is deserving of a game of this quality? Have not far too many people engaged it in such a way that their objectivity is no longer…objective? I think so.
I think The Binding of Isaac is a fine piece of game, but it’s nothing special. For the experience it gives you and the message it has, there are far too many games out there which have done it once (or thrice) better.

At the least, The Binding of Isaac has an admirable amount of commitment to its premise and its content.

But still, it has way too much buzz.