The Binding of Isaac: Repentance Review: Forgive Me Mother, For I Have Sinned
The Binding of Isaac is a series that’s been around for a while. It’s attracted a rabid fanbase of players over the years, and managed to improve and add significant content with each iteration. I actually own the game on several systems, including Steam, Vita and Nintendo Switch. With the release of the final DLC, Repentance, I can say this is finally the definitive version of the game. Not only does it introduce a whopping amount of content for a reasonable price, but it managed to suck me back into the basement again. Keep reading to see why The Binding of Isaac: Repentance is a must-play game for all fans of the Nicalis series.
225 Hours and Counting
I actually got into The Binding of Isaac somewhat late. A few years back I sort of stumbled onto playing it at a PAX West meeting with Nicalis, and was instantly captivated by this weird, gruesome and charming game. One of the reasons I think the game resonated with me so much was that, in many ways, The Binding of Isaac is almost a rhythm game. Bear with me. Technically speaking the game is a twin-stick shooter, I know. But between the audio cues and movement patterns of the foes, there’s a distinct musical harmony that can be navigated once you’re paying sufficient attention. And as a fan of rhythm games, that’s something I really appreciate. I love weaving between bullets, running from screaming horrors and dodging deadly traps. And you can be certain that all that and more gets totally upgraded in Repentance.
A Renovated Basement
Now since the series has been around for a while, I’m not gonna rehash every little detail of the game. Instead I’ll give the Cliff’s Notes version, as it were. The Binding of Isaac is about a terrified young man seeking refuge from his homicidal mother in the basement, and finding all manner of darker nightmares therein. It’s also a game that openly makes fun of pop culture, sexuality and religion. Edmund McMillen took everything that he thought was interesting and jam packed it into one game, and somehow it works. It’s gross, cute, and immensely addictive. One of the best things about Repentance is that it adds several new level types to the game, as well as a mountain of playable characters, items, secrets and bosses.
A Whole New World(s)
Speaking of level types, there’s a handful that were added. Early on you’ll find optional doors after beating bosses. Generally they require some sort of payment, usually keys or bombs, though one cruel door requires your blood. Two are aquatic-themed levels, the Downpour and Dross. The Downpour is a flooded floor full of spiders dancing in puddles, bucket-hurling spirits and flashes of lighting. The Dross, by contrast, is the gross version. It’s like wandering through an open sewer, full of explosive gas, fecal matter and rapidly running streams of liquid. Another fiery pair are the Mines and Ashpit. The Mines are fun, introducing a lot of foes with rocky exteriors, minecarts zipping by and statues that spit helpful bombs. The Ashpit is the alternate version of Mines, and features lots of undead friends and burning fire. Then there’s the really mean levels, the Mausoleum and Gehenna. Both of these areas are where nightmares reside. You’ll find teleporters, curse spewing demons and more in Mausoleum. Whereas Gehenna is full of angry cultists, goat-headed servants and all sorts of abominations.
Now, there’s two more stages that are available in Repentance. I’ve only reached one of them, and it’s called Corpse. It’s full of hideous decay, with maggots crawling everywhere, foes that lose limbs and keep on attacking and some truly unforgettable sights. I won’t mention the name of the other stage, but suffice to say it’s one well worth reaching. Point being, all these new areas add a ton of spice to the game, and really keep experienced Binding of Isaac players on their toes. But that’s only a small portion of what’s new in this final DLC. Let me touch a bit on other new and surprising features.
Horrifying and Different
One early surprise for me in Repentance was that it changed up some of the sound effects. Whenever you pick up coins, you now get a decidedly chiptune-sounding bling sound, and it gets really triumphant when you acquire a pricier coin. The game also features new artwork for old foes, not to mention all the newly designed enemies and bosses. And some bosses even have new attacks. The dynamic duo of Steven now explodes when you defeat him, for example.
Making New Friends
There’s also new playable characters in The Binding of Isaac: Repentance. One that I’ve managed to get is named Bethany. She’s very unique in that she can’t add Soul or Black Hearts to her health. Instead, they get collected and stored, and can be used to power her Book of Virtues. It will summon little fireballs to spin around her, shooting projectiles at foes. The other is a weird one, Jacob and Esau. They have to be controlled individually, thought they share a health meter. Besides those two, there’s also Tainted versions of each playable character. To unlock them, you have to do some really tricky adventuring, and find a special knife to open a particular door. Successfully beating the areas you unlock will allow you to get a Tainted version of whatever character you’re using, which is essentially a much riskier version. I haven’t gotten any of these quite yet, though I did get quite close before deciding to write this review.
I’m not gonna go into detail on all the new items added to Repentance, because that would take several articles. But I will touch on some new features. One of my favorites are freezing effects. You can only get this effect a couple of ways, but once it’s available, it can be a godsend. Not only can icy shots freeze foes, but then you can hurl frozen corpses at other foes or walls, which then shatter in an explosion of icicle death. Also, if you like playing with friends, Repentance has a reworked local co-op mode that allows up to 4 players to help each other out. And if you’re a glutton for punishment, the DLC also adds several new Challenges.
Pretty as a Pustule
Visually, The Binding of Isaac: Repentance is pretty familiar to what you’ve seen in previous iterations, and that’s not a bad thing. Just don’t expect it to look like an entirely different game. I appreciate the reworked artwork for some foes, as well as new visual effects. In the Downpour and Dross stages, some foes are completely invisible topside. To see them, you’ll have to watch for their watery reflection on the floor itself! Also, several of the new bosses feature really disturbing and harrowing design. There’s a new spider boss named Reap Creep, which is essentially three giant spiders stitched together. Another good one that’s far less disturbing is Baby Plum, an obese yet darling fly that floats around shooting projectiles. But perhaps the design that is most unforgettable is Mother’s Shadow. This unkillable foe hounds you in one section, roaring and laughing as it does its best to murder you. Musically the game is still wonderful. Some of the musical tracks for the new stages are really catchy, especially the Downpour and Mausoleum. Essentially, the game just adds more great stuff for fans to enjoy. So if you already liked the series, that won’t change here.
Beating a Dead Horse
Now, I’m about as rabid a Binding of Isaac fan as you’ll find. And even then, there were a couple missteps in Repentance that held it back from a perfect score. One is that the route required to open the door to Corpse is a bit too demanding. I won’t ruin it, but suffice to say it requires precise controls, patience and plenty of stamina. Not to mention having enough health to open one annoying door. The other complaint I have is that you can’t warp to points on the map you’ve previously visited, even in Repentance. That’s a pretty common feature in most rogue games I’ve played, even recently. So it’s disappointing such an iconic rogue series didn’t implement it in the final DLC. Otherwise, I had no complaints about Repentance.
Escape the Basement!
It’s hard to believe that The Binding of Isaac has been around for a decade. And in that time, not only hasn’t the spark of creativity diminished, but the game just kept getting bigger and better. And I really believe that with Repentance, we’ve reached the best possible version of the game. Not only is it challenging, but it’s well balanced. This is a love letter for fans, especially considering how cheap the DLC is for those that already own Afterbirth+. If you’re a fan of tight, twin-stick rogue-likes, you can’t miss playing The Binding of Isaac: Repentance. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go back to unlocking everything possible in this amazing game.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox Series X|S; Publisher: Nicalis; Developer: Edmund McMillen; Players: Up to 4; Released: November 4, 2021 (consoles); MSRP: $19.99 (digital DLC), $59.99 (standalone)
Editor’s note: The publisher provided a review copy to Hey Poor Player.