Archive for June, 2013

The Binding of Isaac, or Why I Broke All Those Keyboards In A Rage Last Month

June 6, 2013

Playing The Binding of Isaac is like being a law-abiding teetotalling college kid trying to get smashed at a party. It’s bad for you, you hate youreself, it feels like someone is beating you over the head with a sack of bricks, but when you get to the end it is glorious.

In fact, this damned impossible game rougelike even eases you in slowly like a Bud Lite before the shots of who knows what come along. The controls are intuitive and easy. After a matter of minutes you’re moving around like a pro, having killed a few weak mobs that were no match for your amazing gaming skill and you’re looking forward to what the game can throw at you. And then out of nowhere a new mob appears and it doesn’t fire slow-moving red projectiles, it launches a different coloured arcing projectile that goes BOOM instead of SPLAT and you’ve lost 1 out of your 3 hearts. Before too long you realise that hearts are pretty hard to find and then you’re dead and have to start over.

Round two. Okay, this time, you’re going to be more careful managing your hearts and going to not die. You clear a few rooms and are feeling confident again until you enter a room with 5 death-spitting mobs. But no worries, you dodge a few projectiles and decide to get out of the room and find some more hearts before coming back. And then you find out THE DOORS LOCK BEHIND YOU TILL THE ROOM IS CLEAR and have just enough time to think OHSHITFU- before you die.

Round three. Third time lucky, right? This time you’re determined to beat the game. You fire up a new browser window and go to the wiki to find out how this game works. You find out why you’re taking damage just for entering that special room and that you can actually increase your maximum number of hearts. You find out what different items do, and you discover there’s a “secret” room in every level you can access for bonus goodies. “Right, I know what I’m doing now” you think. This time, you know better than to sacrifice hearts for money at the blood donation machine or to use that item which reduces your max HP by two hearts, and you’re doing great till you come to the first boss which completely steamrolls you.

Rounds four through 20. Ok, now you’re really determined to beat this game. You’ve died and restarted, losing  items or stat bonuses, too many times to count, but you’ve gotten past the bosses. You’ve been at it for four hours or so now, you’ve built up and lost pretty strong characters, and now it’s time for the final boss. You’re not confident, all that’s left is wariness and expectation as you step into the final chamber, and you’ll be damned if you’re going to let this game beat you. But beat you it does. And does it beat you hard. The final boss is nothing like the bosses you’ve met before, and you throw yourself into the battle, using everything you’ve learnt from the game, the reflexes you’ve trained, and it’s no use. You get trampled like a bug with the boss left with more than half its HP.

Round 33. You’ve gotten to the final boss a few more times since the first encounter, and you know all its tricks and special attacks. You’ve lost several really strong characters to the final boss, but this time you’re well and truly prepared. You’ve got more health than a gym full of 20-somethings and more weapons than the US army, and you’ll be damned if you don’t win. And win you do, but it costs you. You lose nearly all your health, but as desperation overtakes you, you snatch victory from defeat and emerge triumphant, with your active items exhausted and your health nearly gone. But you’ve won.

And now, you think “well, that was challenging but it wasn’t THAT hard, I beat it in a few hours. All those people who said this game is “unbelievably hard” and “needs weeks to beat” must have been really bad”. And you keep thinking that, until you find out there are 13 endings, the “final boss” was just the first of many, and you’re going to spend a lot more time on this game. Then that thought just becomes “FFFFFFUUUUUUUUUU”, because you know this is a great game and you sure as hell are gonna get to the end.