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The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth (New 3DS eShop) Review

by Zachary Miller - September 3, 2015, 12:00 am EDT
Total comments: 3


Finally, a roguelike I actually enjoy.

Reviewer’s Note: The game has been patched significantly since this review was originally posted. It has improved considerably; it no longer hard-locks the system all the time. It still hard-locks, just not nearly as much. Sometimes, it has the decency to give you an error message before the system restarts itself. But it's actually playable now, and I think it's safe to download.

I can honestly say I’ve never played anything quite like The Binding of Isaac. If Super Meat Boy was a hardcore homage to Super Mario Bros., then Isaac is a hardcore homage to the original The Legend of Zelda…but only the dungeons.

And it’s more of a twin-stick shooter.

And it’s also a roguelike.

Oh, and it’s mildly satanic.

Those with featherweight sensibilities may want to steer far clear: The Binding of Isaac tells the story of a child named Isaac whose mother, thinking God is talking to her, brandishes a carving knife with malicious intent towards her son, who escapes into the fetid basement. There, he finds—for lack of better terms—shit, piss, monsters, and entrails galore. He finds power-ups of all stripes, including a Bible, but also a Satanic Bible, a lion’s mane, but also devil horns, and more. Almost nothing in this game is wholesome. On the other hand, nothing in the game is any worse than the classic South Park episode “Woodland Critter Christmas.”

The goal is to successfully help Isaac survive through several floors—each with a different boss—to a final confrontation with his Mom, and after that, a few more floors culminating in a battle with her Heart. There are literally hundreds of items in this game, most of which are helpful, but some of which are debilitating (never pick up the Dead Cat). There are four types of hearts, for God’s sake. Almost nothing is explained, which is why I found the Binding of Isaac: Rebirth Wiki so helpful that I have it open whenever I play the game—it has saved my bacon more than once.

The trick is that every time you make a run, the items randomize. Achieving certain things will unlock new items and new characters for future runs. The goal is always the same, but you will never have the same experience twice. The enemies and level layouts change, the item pool mixes up, and some random events (like Devil or Angel Rooms showing up after boss fights) further complicate matters. You’re constantly thinking on your feet. But this also means that while maybe 10% of your runs culminate in Isaaac becoming an overpowered swirling death monster that cannot be defeated, another 20% of your runs will be very challenging but doable and 70% will end in tragedy.

You deal with the lows because the highs are so overwhelmingly glorious. I got through one run, including beating Mom’s Heart, in which I literally took no damage thanks to my obscenely overpowered gear. I would’ve kept going, too, except the game ends there until you beat Mom’s Heart eleven times. But seriously, I could’ve KO’d Mega Satan* if I’d been allowed to continue.

Dungeons are laid out in top-down fashion, room-by-room on a randomized floor plan. Isaac himself controls like a twin-stick shooter, moving with the Circle Pad and firing tears (not bullets) with the ABXY buttons or the C-nubbin. One-time-use items like playing cards or pills are used with the R button, bombs are dropped with the L button, and cool-down items are used with ZL. You can also tap use items on the touch screen to use them, although I find this is more awkward in practice.

Aside from items to help him on the way, Isaac will also find innumerable keys, coins, and bombs to help him navigate. Keys unlock doors, obviously, but also some treasure chests and Zelda-esque key blocks. Coins have many potential uses, but the most critical is the ability to buy new stuff from shops—which are usually unlocked with keys. Bombs are used to damage enemies, blow up rocks, and—again, in typical Zelda fashion—find secret rooms by bombing walls. Annoyances creep up when the game’s randomly-generated nature fashions a map filled with locks but generates few if any keys.

Thankfully, there’s no shame in quitting a lame run and restarting. In fact, I recommend it, as your win/loss tally (one of the game’s more insidious tallies) isn’t affected by restarts prior to death. And no run lasts particularly long, so you never lose much “progress.” Also, the game auto-saves between floors, so turning off your 3DS only forces you to replay the floor you stopped on.

I’m not gonna lie to you: this game can be incredibly frustrating. Getting fairly far into any one run only to get the shaft halfway through, or after beating Mom especially, sucks. And like I said, that will happen far more often than it doesn’t. The C-nub also isn’t great for every kind of shot upgrade; Isaac would play better with an actual second stick, so the Wii U version might be better on that point. However, having a short, pick-up-and-play game on the 3DS makes a lot of sense. And as I said before, the grotesquery, coupled with the bizarrely cartoony aesthetic and…religious overtones...will probably turn a few people off, which is fine. Not every game has to appeal to every person. But you should know what you’re getting into. I had fun with it and will continue playing it, but it’s not for everyone.

It's also worth noting that this is the second piece of software that's exclusive to the New 3DS, so if you're itching to get some use out of the thing, Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is your only other option after Xenoblade. And honestly, there are times where the game chugs a little--you can watch the hardware rolling dice and calculating totals. It's not a problem, though, and I think it's more funny than anything.

*Mega Satan is an actual boss.


  • Addictive, short-burst gameplay
  • Controls fine, even with the C-nubbin
  • The feeling of absolute power than comes with an amazing run
  • More often than not
  • Randomization leads to heartbreak
  • So you WILL end up getting the shaft



KDR_11kAugust 12, 2015

The Vita version requires using the touchscreen for single use items AND for displaying the map...

MythtendoSeptember 03, 2015

If it still hard-locks, that is a big negative even if it's not as often. Moot point anyways since I don't own a New 3DS XL (I am considering getting the New 3DS when it comes out here, but it's mitigated by the fact that I have zero interest in Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer, and that drives the price of the system up).

WahSeptember 04, 2015

Finally a new new 3ds game!

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Genre RPG

Worldwide Releases

na: Binding of Isaac: Rebirth
Release Jul 23, 2015
eu: Binding of Isaac: Rebirth
Release Oct 29, 2015
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