The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth Review – Yep, Still Nightmare Fuel

By Rob Rich |
The Good

Can absorb hundreds of hours of your time if you let it

Plenty to unlock in addition to simply having fun

The virtual controls for aiming are pretty clever

The Bad

Movement feels a little slippery with either touch control mode

Lots of trial and error

I can’t imagine that there are very many people left who aren’t familiar with The Binding of Isaac, but I suppose anything is possible. So just in case: The Binding of Isaac is about a young boy living with an absurdly abusive (and most likely delusional) mother, who takes his chances hiding in a basement full of horrors when mom hears voices telling her to kill him. It’s a teensy bit messed up.

The game puts you in control of Isaac as he attempts to find his way out of the basement and escape from his mother. It plays sort of like a roguelike, Zelda-style adventure with twin-stick shooter elements. These may sound like disparate elements, but they come together flawlessly. So if you’re already familiar with the game and think being able to play it on your phone is cool, well here you go. If this is all new to you, please allow me to explain why it’s something you should play.


No matter which version of The Binding of Isaac you’re looking at, it’s a fun game. Each randomly-generated floor of the basement dungeon is full of secrets, items, enemies, and hazards. It has the room-to-room progression style of a classic Zelda dungeon. If you get Isaac killed it’s game over, but each failure will help you to become a better player. You start each game naked and can only use tears to defend yourself. Really, what’s not to love?

I will say, though, that if you really are totally unfamiliar with The Binding of Isaac, it’s worth knowing that the themes and visuals in this game are pretty messed up. Enemies are often gross sacks of meat and possibly feces, there’s blood and guts everywhere, and there are all sorts of visuals that call to mind things like child abuse, physical deformities, abortion, and more. It all works in conjunction with the game’s theme, but while it’s never something that bothered me personally, I could see it being uncomfortable for some.


The somewhat straightforward concept (basically “roguelike but also a shooter”) has plenty to offer player. There are a whole lot of playable characters to unlock, there’s a big list of unique items that automatically begins to fill as you find them while playing, and it’s probably going to take you several (SEVERAL) attempts before you’re finally able to complete Isaac’s adventure. Heck, even if you’ve beaten the game on other platforms back, forth, and sideways, it will still take you a while to unlock and find everything.

However, being roguelike-ish does come with a downside. There’s a LOT of trial-and-error when it comes to all of the various items, power-ups, and using certain devices. You should be able to learn and remember what different things do over time, but it can be frustrating to find something you think will be helpful only to have it make your situation worse. It’s all par for the course when it comes to roguelikes, but it’s still something to be aware of.


Controlling Isaac is something of a mixed bag, though. I actually really like how the shooting (i.e. crying) controls have been handled: aim with a right virtual stick but Isaac will be “locked in” to shooting in that direction until you change it – meaning you can aim while moving and still have a thumb free to tap on and use items. It takes a little getting used to, but it’s pretty clever. Movement isn’t quite as enjoyable, sadly. Isaac feels a bit slippery, to be honest. I’ve been sort of able to adjust to it over time, but even then it’s still pretty easy to accidentally get caught up on a rock or smack into an enemy because of this mild imprecision.

Really though, it’s The Binding of Isaac on your phone. That’s awesome. If you’ve had your fill with any of the other versions on almost every other video game platform imaginable, then you probably don’t need to check this one out — but otherwise, it’s definitely a good time.

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