To begin to describe The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth to someone who doesn’t know it is a challenge in and of itself: You play as a naked child, trying to escape his religious fanatic mother’s murderous clutches, attacking disgusting, deceased (and oddly cute) enemies through the basement with the power of your tears, ending up defeating the Devil himself. Due to these themes, to explain to people that The Binding of Isaac is one of the best independently-developed games, or even just one of the best games of the current generation of games is even harder, but make no mistake, once you start playing this game, it grabs a hold of you in a way that very few games can and doesn’t let go.
The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth is an expansion to last years highly-successful The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth (itself a remake of the original Binding of Isaac made back in 2011) that adds a plethora of new content that will keep it’s devout fans entertained for many an hour. New items, new bosses, new enemies, new characters and extraordinary new modes will keep you coming back for ‘just one more run’. Rogue-like games like Binding of Isaac have that addictive playstyle ingrained in their DNA, but few have the draw power quite like this one. Part of that intoxicating charm is quite simply that playing Isaac is very almost NEVER the same game twice. The random nature of this game is in every fibre of it’s being, from the item spawns, to the level layout, to the bosses you fight, to just how ridiculous you end up looking by the end of each run, and all with a ton of the fantastically cute-yet-disturbing character that its’ creator, Edmund McMillen (Super Meat Boy) is so well known for. Isaac wears his inspirations on his sleeve, such as it’s heavily Legend of Zelda-esque dungeon layout and a ton of items celebrating popular internet memes, video games and other nods to general geekdom (I’ve already spotted Black Lotus from Magic: the Gathering!). A great deal of fun with Afterbirth is seeing how all the different items interact with each other in ways you wouldn’t expect, eventually ‘breaking’ the game by making you unstoppably powerful. Due to the repeatable nature of Binding of Isaac, that supreme power never lasts for long, and you’re back to scraping the first floors for the next big discovery!
One of the most interesting new additions to Afterbirth is its’ Daily Run mechanic, where players have a set seed (a generated level layout/character/item spread etc) to try and beat to the best of their abilities, using as little health as possible, as few items as possible, and in the fastest time. At the end of this run, the players’ time and score is presented to a global leaderboard, adding a competitive edge to a primarily single player game. Other games have done this in the past, such as Spelunky, but it’s a wonderful fit for a game as popular as Afterbirth (you only have to look on Twitch to see just how large a following this game has!)
The aspect I have spent most time with on this game is probably the new Greed mode, a setting designed to be more arcade-styled with a simple level layout and the focus being on money and grabbing as many items as possible from ongoing waves of enemies. This feels like a more condensed, simpler form of the regular game which takes a little less time to complete than the regular form of the game (though to truly finish this game, you’re in it for the long haul!) and is a great fix for those who just want to feel powerful as quickly as possible, and the end boss of Greed mode is so fun, you want to start it back up again almost immediately after beating him!
As much as I adore this game, it’s not all sunshine, roses and poop (there’s a lot of poop in this game!). Unfortunately, as many games are these days, there are many many bugs present that could probably have been ironed out had the game had a little longer to gestate (…get it?). From simple crashes to items not working correctly, to reports of entire save wipes, there’s a lot that can go wrong with Isaac, which should be fitting, given the themes of the game, but it ends up just being irritating. One patch has already been released to fix these bugs though, so it shouldn’t be long before the rest are ironed out! Additionally, there is a local co-op option, allowing extra players to cut into Isaac’s health to create a baby familiar that can help out with the tear-shooting fun, but ultimately, this feature is completely forgettable and I don’t imagine many of Isaac’s vast fanbase remembers the feature is even there.
Many players will probably have found everything that Afterbirth has to offer already, through the controversial method of datamining the game, but honestly, in the 15 hours I’ve spent with the game, I’ve barely scratched the surface, and I played Rebirth a lot! It would seem that more content is being given to Isaac as well over time, as the most recent patch added even more items to the game and rebalanced certain characters, meaning that Afterbirth is well-supported and will continue to be in the coming months.
In conclusion, The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth adds a substantial amount of content for an extremely reasonable price to an already incredibly deep, rewarding game that very few games can match. The bugs and forgettable multiplayer don’t detract from what could be hundreds of hours of cartoony violent fun with more being discovered by the huge community every day. With secrets a-plenty, the new modes and just an unbeatable sense of character and charm, you’ll be bombing, unlocking and crying your way through the darkest depths for a long long time! And if you need any more convincing, look at Little Horn, and try your hardest to say no to that adorable devilish little face!