In case you have not been exposed to one of the most addicting games of all time, the expansion to the “remake” Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth released over the weekend. I had forgotten that I preordered the expansion, so it was nice to log on to Steam and have it preloaded. Either way, the game is worth full price as it has some of the most addictive and deep gameplay on PC or console. Here is the release trailer, which keeps the creepy style of its predecessors:
If you are still confused about all this praise for such a strange game, a little background is in order. The Binding of Isaac is a “roguelike” dungeon-crawling “shooter” based on a boy named Isaac who has fallen into the basement to escape his infanticidal Mom and shoots upgradable tears at the horror of denizens that pursue him. Yea, its a little different. However, the dark theme sets the stage for a stand out game. Binding of Isaac was originally a Flash game, and has since been upgraded in Rebirth, and Afterbirth is newest expansion to the Rebirth base game.
If you are already familiar with Binding of Isaac, you know the game is tough as nails. In the same vein as Super Meat Boy, Edmund McMillen has crafted a tough game, but a game that rewards skill progression. That is crux of appeal for Isaac: its frustrating to deal with permadeath, but oh so rewarding when you finally grasp the ability to make it deep in to the game. If you are still having trouble, no worries, I’ve included some basic pointers to help get new players started and seasoned players a jolt out of a rut. While I don’t claim to be on the level of CobaltStreak, I’ve found a few strategies that have helped unlock characters and beat challenges.
Tips to Help Isaac Get Out of the Basement
#1 Use the Right Control Scheme. You have three options: (1) keyboard and mouse, (2) keyboard or, (3) controller. First things first, avoid using the mouse at all. Some people may like it, but it really becomes difficult to use when getting to the later stages and avoiding the bullet hell bosses. Pure keyboard is vastly superior to using the mouse, but still below a controller. After switching to a controller, I’ve had a great increase in survivability, as it really makes movement fluid, and activating items couldn’t be easier. I use an Xbox controller, but would actually prefer to use the new Dualshock.
#2 Proper Use of Soul Hearts Leads to Devil Deals. Devil deals are key; they are often the items that will carry you through a run. Items like Brimstone, The Pact, Pentagram, and Mom’s Knife can all be obtained in the coveted Devil Room. While there is a specific formula for estimating and triggering devil deals, the key is to avoid taking red heart damage. Pure dodging is a risky endeavor – the key is to build up soul hearts early and often (and black hearts of course). Shielding your red hearts helps increase the probability of a devil deal which in turn gives the best chance at the best items.
#3 Don’t Be Afraid of Cursed Rooms. With health a precious resource in Isaac, it may feel counterproductive to spend a heart to check for what may ultimately be spiders. While it some situations you may need to forgo the Cursed Rooms, in most situations, its worth the look. Cursed Rooms have share some Devil items, along with cat pieces and other generally critical items. Spending a heart to get the third Guppy piece can turn a tough run into a breeze.
#4 Clear Early Floors. If you are low on bombs and keys early on, go ahead and clear the floors. Building a cache of keys and bombs allows you to find tinted rocks, unlock item rooms, and check chests. The best way to do this is to clear the earlier stages that have weaker enemies. Clearing also includes checking every pile of poop and putting out every fire. Remember to check for tinted rocks (slightly discolored with an “X” in the corner), and use bombs to push items from behind spikes. Accumulation of items with this method will help keep runs alive.
#5 Learn the Items and Beat the Right Challenges. Getting the right build is the goal of any run. To get there, you need to learn the tiers of items. While it may be a spoiler, use the wiki here to find out what items do what during a playthrough. Half the fun is learning the items as you go, but if you are getting stuck, don’t be afraid to check what items do. In tandem with learning the effects, its important to beat the right challenges to unlock some of the strongest items. Again, if you don’t mind a bit of spoilers the wiki has a list of challenge unlocks here. It’s in the Cards, Waka Waka, and Family Man are some of the critical challenges to prioritize.
While I am a huge fan of the Binding of Isaac series, I really do think the Afterbirth expansion has been a solid addition. I’ve tried to play as much as possible while having avoided most of the periodic updates on the Isaac blog. I wanted to get into the game with no knowledge of the typical litany of secrets embedded in the game. So far, I have been really impressed.
The game as a whole adds to the challenge level. Bosses are tougher, especially when in confined rooms. This also increases the challenge of the softer bosses like Monstro, which allow for even less error. The new room sizes make some regular enemies more daunting as well, such as the variety of flies.
The new items are always a positive addition, and I am still learning what everything is. In tandem with the cool new items is perhaps my favorite upgrade: more item interactions. With a massive item pool, the sheer amount of combinations is hard to fathom, but its always fun to see what happens when you add Brimstone to Proptosis and then pick up Technology. Discovering all the wackiness is a big part of the fun.
The addition of Daily Challenges seems well suited to this style of game. I am not personally big on leaderboards, but have so far tried my hand at the dailies. By adding a score counter, Afterbirth can further entrench itself as a Twitch favorite, and give more legitimacy to racing leagues. Having the different items combined with more characters ensures that each daily can remain unique.
All in all, I am happy with my experience in the expansion so far. I am not anywhere near unlocking or discovering all of what Afterbirth has to offer, but I am going to have fun doing it.
Have you been playing Afterbirth? Let me know what you think below!