The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth Is an Exercise in on-the-Fly Creative Problem Solving

Magic: The Gathering Helped Shape The Binding of IsaacI played a bit of The Binding of Isaac in its original PC form, though my laptop tends to overheat or lag when I play even the most basic of games on it. (My roommates will tell you how much of a nightmare it is playing Civilization V with me.) This kept me from truly enjoying the game. However, with The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth now on PlayStation Vita, I’ve been able to carry it around with me everywhere I go (it doesn’t lag or overheat either), so I’ve been investing some serious time into it.

I’m getting hopelessly addicted, and that’s largely because this game is an exercise in on-the-fly creative problem solving.

New games are completely randomized; this includes everything from level layouts to enemy locations to power-ups. The Binding of Isaac is far from the first game to use random tile/enemy/item generation, but it uses it in a way that’s incredibly interesting to me.

The power-ups in the game are different enough that they force you to drastically change your play style. In some cases, you have to adjust to baffling anomalies, and the key to success in the game is to quickly figure out how to work these to your advantage.

Binding of Isaac: RebirthWhen life hands you lemons, use them to make incredibly acidic, enemy-damaging lemon juice.

Additionally, with every new game a proverbial blank slate, your character progression is completely at the mercy of Chance or Luck or Fate or what have you.

I had one playthrough where I got a Holy Shield, which allows your character to get hit once without taking damage and regenerates every time you enter a new room. I followed that up with the Dead Cat, an item that resets your health to one heart but grants you 9 lives. That meant that, if I didn’t collect any Soul Hearts, I could get hit 3 times per life. This wouldn’t have been a problem, but I ended up accidentally getting an item that reduced my damage output, which meant boss fights lasted longer. This allowed me to traipse through most normal rooms with a fair amount of carelessness, since I had the Holy Shield to protect me, but it forced me to deal with bosses with extreme caution. Imagine tackling a particularly difficult boss fight, only the boss has additional health and you have the equivalent of a heart and a half.

In another playthrough, I managed to get the Ludovico Technique item (basically a remote-controlled tear), which meant I had to control my tear with one stick while controlling my character with the other. In some places, this was like an easy button, while in others, it forced me to do extremely fast multitasking.

A huge part of this game’s charm is the fact that the items can alter gameplay so radically, and there are enough of them that you’ll almost never experience two runs that are even vaguely similar. On the one hand, it would have been nice to have some sort of character progression that extended beyond a single playthrough (besides the Donation Machine, I mean). On the other, the fact that you start from scratch every playthrough forces you to be perpetually adaptable, and that’s a very specific sort of challenge that’s really growing on me.

In fact, this has led to an addiction I’m not sure I’ll be able to shake any time soon. I freaking love this game.