In 2011, the original Binding of Isaac was released. The surprisingly challenging flash-made, top-down bullet hell about a small crying child escaping his homicidal mother — with a heap of religious theming and mocking thrown in for good measure — became incredibly popular, incredibly quickly. It also served as a 13-year-old Oliver’s first introduction to rogue-likes, bullet hells, and just indie games in general. Ten years later, after an entirely new game, several expansion packs, console releases and several delays, The Binding of Isaac: Repentance, touted as being the final big expansion in the Isaac series has been released.
And it serves as a perfect end to a game that came out over six years ago now.
Repentance delivers exactly what fans of the Isaac series would both want and expect: new bosses, items, characters, achievements – does it exist in the game? Repentance adds even more of it, and it’s all fantastic.
Interestingly, Repentance actually began life as a very popular mod for the original Rebirth. Originally titled The Binding of Isaac: Antibirth, it added entirely new floors, more complex enemies and bosses, new items, new music and even some puzzles to the original game. It was clearly made with a lot of love and talent — so much so that the developer of the Isaac games, Edmund McMillen, clearly agreed and ended up approaching the group of modders about integrating their work into the game officially.
The biggest, and most publicized addition to Repentance comes in the form of alternative paths through the game. This is accessible after you beat the boss of the first dungeon. These new floors have an entirely different feel to those already in the game. Not only are they much harder, with entirely new, entirely unforgiving enemies populating them, but they really stand out from the already-existing floors.
One alternative, named ‘The Downpour’, is a sort of sewer-type area. Rain pours down from above, as Isaac wades through the water that covers the floors, his reflection mirroring his every move. Some enemies are even only visible in said reflections of the water covering the ground. The music track that plays throughout ‘The Downpour’ even sounds like it’s being played underwater; it’s slower and moodier, more reflective even, than the more fast-paced and intense tracks that play over the original floors. This is just one of the several new floor types that have been added in Repentance, and it’s very clear that a huge amount of care has been taken to ensure that every new detail feels right.
The new bosses are similarly treated, and so they tend to be more fine-tuned and intense than their older counterparts. Several have specific gimmicks that add a little bit of tact into the fights with them. In fact, a couple of the new bosses can’t actually be directly damaged by your tears, and instead must be hurt through other means. These new bosses are such a welcome addition, as when you’ve played as much of The Binding of Isaac as I have (too much, perhaps) you’ve become all too aware of how every pre-existing boss operates and what they’re likely to do. Having bosses that require a little bit more thought from me, as well as just generally having some more complex attack patterns and behaviors makes me feel as if I’m starting the game for the first time all over again.
And speaking of those harder bosses, it feels amiss not to mention that, whilst The Binding of Isaac is already a pretty hard game, Repentance really ramps up the difficulty. Not only are the aforementioned new floors and bosses much harder, but so are the new characters. Jacob and Esau, for example, are technically two characters that you have to control at once. You can opt to move them separately, or just one at a time, or both of them together.
This is difficult enough, as it turns pretty much every room you encounter into a low-key puzzle as you have to quickly decide exactly how you’re going to have the two move around any obstacles or enemies. Add on the fact that items you pick up only apply to the character that actually picked them up (Jacob and Esau do not share items or their effects), and you suddenly have a lot of decisions to juggle.
Speaking of harder characters (and you should be warned, this next bit does contain minor spoilers, so skip to the next paragraph if you want to avoid that), each of the 17(!) characters has an alternate ‘tainted’ form, complete with its own unlocks and such. All of these characters have specific gimmicks (like only being able to hold a certain amount of items at any one time), some of which massively increase the difficulty. It also leaves the final character count of Isaac at 34 — which is actually bordering on ridiculous for a game that launched with 11.
Oh, and those difficult characters, bosses, enemies and rooms aren’t the only things revamped for Repentance. The ‘hard mode’ of the game has been tinkered with as well, to the point where it feels noticeably… well, harder. Fortunately, instead of going down the usual route of just giving all the enemies and bosses lots more health, Isaac instead changes other, less immediately noticeable things. Shops can randomly spawn at a much lower level than usual, leaving you with half of the options to choose from, tinted rocks (slightly blue rocks that give soul hearts and other goodies when blown up) spawn far less regularly.
Perhaps the biggest change of all is that many enemies and bosses have had their shot speed sped up somewhat. This seems like a relatively minor change until you start up The Binding of Isaac: Repentance and realize that all of that muscle memory you’ve built up over the last few years of how fast enemies can attack you? All completely worthless, making you essentially relearn every enemy’s attack patterns. This feature probably won’t pull in any new fans of the series, considering the base game was deceptively difficult already, but as a long-time fan (and player) of Isaac, the fact that ‘hard mode’ actually feels considerably more challenging has made the few winning runs I’ve had feel all the more rewarding.
So to conclude, The Binding of Isaac: Repentance probably isn’t going to persuade people who are on the fence about the game, as Repentance stays very true to the core formula of Isaac, but polishes and perfects it at every opportunity. You could maybe even argue that the increased difficulty may turn away potential new players, as the base game is already pretty hard. But despite this, as a fan of Isaac since the flash days, it’s very difficult for me to consider this final expansion as anything less than exactly what I wanted. More monsters, more characters, more levels, music, secrets, endings; just more Isaac. Repentance delivers it all, and more.
The Binding of Isaac: Repentance
Repentance serves as one final hurrah for the series. Full of new characters, items, rooms and secrets, it’s a must-have for any Isaac fan.
- New bosses, floors, and enemies are well designed and difficult
- The new music fits the game and its new floors perfectly
- An absolutely ludicrous amount of content
- I would die for Baby Plum
- Difficulty and the sheer amount of content may put off newcomers
Boss Battles / Overall Gameplay