Review | The Binding of Isaac (Nintendo Switch)

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As odd of a way to open a review as it may be, I need to admit something. I have hated nearly every version of The Binding of Isaac that I’ve played (up to now) with a burning passion. I’ve never really understood it, I’ve always hated the art style, and I didn’t find the gameplay even remotely interesting. PC, PS4, Xbox One; it didn’t matter. I hated it. Then I played the Afterbirth DLC, and suddenly, it seemed as if Isaac was an altogether better, more complete experience.

It is the Binding of Isaac Afterbirth+ edition that has now made it onto Nintendo’s Switch console, and because it features the base game, the Rebirth and Afterbirth expansions and a raft of other minor additions and tweaks, it is a very nicely rounded package. The Switch itself feels like the perfect host for it as well, offering perhaps the best possible mobile version with proper controls, as well as a full size home console option that looks every bit as good as the more powerful Sony or Microsoft consoles offer up.

For those who have never had the pleasure, playing Isaac can be a fairly harrowing experience at first. The story teaches us about the titular Isaac, a baby due to be sacrificed to the Gods by his own appalling mother. To escape this fate, Isaac squeezes through a hatch and into the basement, where he must fight his way through room after procedurally generated room. Enemies consist of flies, living poo monsters, baby-like characters (that might be Isaac’s siblings) and much, much worse.

The macabre setting gives Isaac a very unique feel, and in particular, a standout art style. The game is played as a top-down, twin stick shooter, and there is a strong roguelike mechanic that forces players to restart the game on failure, but does make provision for certain unlocks to carry between one campaign and the next. For example, it’s possible to unlock new characters based on certain in game achievements.

One of the reasons why I like the Afterbirth expansion (and indeed this complete Switch version of Binding of Isaac) is because it features very nearly unlimited combinations of possible levels. Because there are now so many items, weapons, enemies and other features, it is nigh on impossible to see everything in Isaac, no matter how long you play for. I mean, there is just so much stuff here that in a few hundred runs, I’ve probably only seen some of the less common items once, and god knows how many I’ve never seen!

Another benefit that several years of refinement has is that much of the unfairness that plagued early versions is now eradicated. It used to be possible to spawn rooms that were practically impossible to complete, with huge bosses crammed into a ridiculously tight space, for example. I haven’t come across this at all in the Switch version, and whilst some runs are harder than others, the actual difficulty levels (of which there are three) generally offer the kind of challenge that they suggest they will.

A daily challenge is now included and whilst there is no multiplayer, Binding of Isaac has fast become one of my favourite games for short to medium length train journeys. It looks extremely good on the Switch, with a screen size and sharpness that perfectly compliments the gameplay. Whilst I found older versions of Isaac a bit dull and lifeless on a large TV, it looks infinitely more suitable (whilst not actually any better or worse really) on the Switch, and should you have earphones, the sound effects are appropriately grim and atmospheric.

The RRP of the Switch version (which is offered as both a boxed or digital product) is high for a game that was once a fairly throwaway indie title, but the price reflects the amount of growth that the Afterbirth+ version has been through to bring it to the Switch. It’s still fairly unpleasant, and it’s not a perfect game, but I do honestly think that the Switch version might be the best one yet. I certainly see myself playing it for a long time to come, and there are certainly worse places to invest your hard earned cash.

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