The Binding of Isaac (video game)

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The Binding of Isaac
Binding of isaac header.jpg
Designer(s) Edmund McMillen
Florian Himsl
Artist(s) Edmund McMillen
Composer(s) Danny Baranowsky
Engine Adobe Flash
Platform(s) Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux
Release date(s) September 28, 2011
Genre(s) Action-adventure, dungeon crawl, roguelike, shooter
Mode(s) Single-player

The Binding of Isaac is a 2011 independent video game designed by Edmund McMillen and Florian Himsl, initially released for Microsoft Windows; the game was later ported for OS X, and Linux operating systems. The game's title and plot were inspired by the Biblical story of the Binding of Isaac. After his mother receives a message from God demanding the life of her son as proof of her faith, Isaac flees into the monster-filled basement of their home, where he must fight to survive. Players control Isaac or one of six other unlockable characters through a procedurally generated dungeon in a roguelike manner, fashioned after those of The Legend of Zelda, defeating monsters in real-time combat while collecting items and power-ups to defeat bosses and eventually Isaac's mom.

The game was the result of a week-long game jam between McMillen and Himsl to develop a Zelda-inspired roguelike that allowed McMillen to showcase his personal feelings about both positive and negative aspects of religion that he had come to discover from his Catholic and Christian family members while growing up. McMillen had considered the title a risk but one he could take after the financial success of Super Meat Boy, and released it without much fanfare to Steam in September 2011, not expecting many sales. The game soon gained popularity partially as a result of various Let's Play videos showcasing the title. McMillen and Himsl released an expansion "Wrath of the Lamb" in May 2012, but were limited from further expansion due to limitations with the Flash platform. They had started working with Nintendo in 2012 to release a 3DS version, but Nintendo later backed out of the deal, stating controversy over the game's religious themes.

Developer Nicalis worked with McMillen in 2014 to complete a remake of the game The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth bringing additional features that McMillen had planned that exceeded Flash's limitation, as well as to improve the game's graphics and enable ports for other systems. Rebirth was released in November 2014 for Windows, OS X, Linux, and the PlayStation 4 and Vita platforms, and later in July 2015 for Xbox One, Wii U, and Nintendo 3DS. Rebirth has since seen one expansion with a second planning expansion in development.

The Binding of Isaac has been well-received and by July 2014, McMillen reported over 3 million copies had been sold. The game has been said to contribute to renewed interest of both players and developers within the roguelike genre.


Gameplay screenshot of The Binding of Isaac, showing Isaac attacking (center) and two enemies (top left and top right)

The Binding of Isaac is a top-down 2D dungeon crawler game in which the player controls Isaac or one of six other unlockable characters as they explore the dungeons located in Isaac's basement. The characters differ in speed, amount of health, amount of damage they deal, and other attributes. The game's mechanics and presentation is similar to the dungeons of The Legend of Zelda, while incorporating random, procedurally-generated levels in the manner of a roguelike game.[1] On each floor of the basement dungeon, the player must fight monsters in a room before continuing onto the next room, most commonly using the character's tears as bullets in the style of a twin-stick shooter, though other methods become possible as the character gains power-ups. Once a room is cleared of monsters, it will remain clear, allowing the player to re-trace their way through the level, though once they move onto the next level, they cannot return. Along the way, the player can collect money to buy equipment from shopkeepers, keys to unlock special treasure rooms, and new weapons and power-ups to strengthen their chances against the enemies. Power-ups include passive items that improve the character's attributes automatically, active power-ups that can be used once before they are recharged, and single-use power-ups. The player's health is tracked by a number of hearts; if the character loses all their hearts, the game ends in permadeath and the player must start over from a freshly-generated dungeon.

Each floor of the dungeon includes a boss which the player must defeat before continuing to the next level. On the sixth of eight floors, the player fights Isaac's mother; after defeating her, Isaac crawls into her womb. Later levels are significantly harder, culminating in a fight against the heart of Isaac's mother on the eighth floor. An optional ninth floor, Sheol contains the boss Satan. Winning the game with certain characters or by certain conditions unlocks new power-ups that might appear in the dungeon or the ability to use one of the other characters.


The Binding of Isaac's plot is loosely inspired by the biblical story of the same name.[2] Isaac, a child, and his mother live in a small house on a hill, both happily keeping to themselves, with Isaac drawing pictures and playing with his toys, and his mother watching Christian broadcasts on television. Isaac's mother then hears "a voice from above", stating her son is corrupted with sin, and needs to be saved. It asks her to remove all that was evil from Isaac, in an attempt to save him. His mother obliges, taking away his toys, drawings, and even his clothes.

The voice once again speaks to Isaac's mother, stating that Isaac must be cut off from all that is evil in the world. Once again, his mother obliges, and locks Isaac inside his room. Once more, the voice speaks to Isaac's mother. It states she has done well, but it still questions her devotion, and requests she sacrifice her son. She obliges, grabbing a butcher's knife from the kitchen and walking to Isaac's room. Isaac, watching through a sizable crack in his door, starts to panic. He finds a trapdoor hidden under his rug and jumps in, just before his mother opens his bedroom door. Isaac then puts the paper he was drawing onto his wall, which becomes the title screen.

During the game's loading points, Isaac is shown curled up in a ball, crying. His thoughts are visible, ranging among rejection from his mother and humiliation from his peers to a scenario involving his own death. The game features 13 endings, one after each major boss fight.

Development and release[edit]

The Binding of Isaac was developed following the release of Super Meat Boy, which McMillen considered a significant risk and a large time effort. When Super Meat Boy was released to both critical praise and strong sales, he felt that he no longer had to worry about the consequences of taking risks with his finances supported by its sales. He also considered he could take further risk with the concept.[3]

The Binding of Isaac's main concept was the result of a weeklong game jam that McMillen had with Florian Himsl; at the time, his co-contributor on Super Meat Boy, Tommy Refenes, was on vacation. The concept McMillan had was two-fold: to develop a roguelike title based on the first The Legend of Zelda game's dungeon structure, and to develop a game that addressed McMillen's thoughts on religion.[3]

In expanding the gameplay, McMillen used the structure of Zelda's dungeons to design how the player would progress through the game. In a typical Zelda dungeon, according to McMillen, the player acquires a new item that helps them to progress farther in the game; he took the same inspiration to assure that each level in Isaac included at least one item and one bonus item on defeating the boss that would boost the character's attributes.[3] McMillen also wanted encourage players to experiment to learn how things work within Isaac, mirroring how he had done with the original Zelda game.[3] He designed the level progression to become more difficult with the player's progression in the game, as well as added additional content that became available after beating the game as to make it feel like the game was long.[3]

On the story side, McMillen explained that the religious tone is based on his own experiences with his family, split between Catholics and born-again Christians.[3] McMillen noted that while both sides born out faith from the same Bible, their attitudes were different; he found some of the Catholic rituals his family performed inspiring, while other beliefs they had were condemning of several pastimes McMillen had participated in like Dungeons & Dragons.[3] He took inspiration from that duality to create Isaac's narrative, showing how religion can both instill harmful feelings while also bringing about dark creativity.[3] He also stated that he also tended to like "really weird stuff" relating to toilet humor and similar types of off-color humor that did not sit well with his family and which he had explored in previous games before Super Meat Boy.[4] While Super Meat Boy helped to make his reputation (including being one of the featured developers in Indie Game: The Movie), he felt it was a "safe" game considering his preferred type of humor, and used Isaac to return to this form, considering that the game could easily be "career suicide" but would make a statement about what he really wanted to do.[4]

Within the week, they had a working game written in Adobe Flash's ActionScript 2. The two agreed to complete it out as a game they could release on Steam though with no expectations of sales. Completion of the game from the prototype to the finished state took about 3 months with part-time development.[3] During this time, they discovered there were several limitations on the size and scope of both Flash and ActionScript that limited how much they could do with the game, but continued to use the tools as to release the title.[3] While they were able to release the "Wrath of Lamb" expansion, the limits of Flash prevented them from putting out a second planned one.[3] McMillen said that because they were not worried about sales, they were able to work with Valve to release the game without fears of censorship or having the seek an ESRB rating. Releasing through Steam also enabled them to update the game freely, several times on its initial release, an aspect that they could not do with other consoles without significant cost to themselves.[3] They did release without significant end-user testing, as it would have taken several hundreds of users to go through all the various combinations of items that a player could collect, and McMillen recognized they had released the title with their buyers being playtesters for them.[3] A week after the Steam release, McMillen released a demo version via the website Newgrounds.[5]

Cancelled Nintendo 3DS port[edit]

In January 2012, as the game has surpassed 450,000 units sold, McMillen stated that he was approached by a publisher that had interest in bringing the title to the Nintendo 3DS as a downloadable title through the Nintendo eShop, though McMillen had reservations given Nintendo's reputation for less risque content.[6] In late February, McMillen stated that Nintendo had rejected the game because of "questionable religious content", later stating that he believed that Germany's then-recent decision to rate the game "16+" for "blasphemy" had influenced Nintendo's decision.[3][7][8][9] Nintendo's decision brought the game's developer Edmund McMillen to praise the Steam platform, which does not require games to obtain ESRB ratings to be published on the service, and the freedom it gave to the publishers regardless of the game content, and several game websites were outraged at Nintendo's decision.[8][9]

Nintendo would later allow the Rebirth remake to be released on both the New Nintendo 3DS and the Wii U in 2015.

The Binding of Isaac: Wrath of the Lamb[edit]

"Wrath of the Lamb" redirects here. For the religious apocalypse, see Book of Revelation.

An expansion to the game, entitled Wrath of the Lamb, was released through Steam on May 28, 2012.[10] McMillen was inspired to create the expansion not only due to the success of the base game, but because his wife Danielle has fully completed the base game, the first game he had written that she had shown significant interest in.[3] The expansion adds 70% more content to the original, and contains more than 10 bosses, over 100 items, over 40 unlocks, two additional endings, and two additional optional levels.[11] This expansion added new "alternate" floors, which can replace the normal Basement, Caves, Depths and Womb to Cellar, Catacombs, Necropolis, and the Utero. These floors contain harder enemies, and a different set of bosses. Other features include a new item type, Trinkets, which have a variety of passive or triggered effects when carried, as well as new room types and the addition of a "Super Secret Room" to each randomly generated floor.[citation needed]

The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth[edit]

Sometime in 2012 after Isaac' release, McMillen was approached by Tyrone Rodriguez of Nicalis who asked if McMillen was interested in bringing the game to consoles. McMillen was interested, but insisted that they would have to reprogram the game to get around the limitations of Flash as to include "Wrath of Lamb" and the second planned expansion, remaking the game's graphics in 16-bit instead of 8-bit, and McMillen had wanted nothing to do with the business aspects of the game. Nicalis agreed to these, and began work in 2012 on what would become The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, an improved version of the title.[3] It was released on November 4, 2014 for Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation Vita, with versions for the Wii U, New Nintendo 3DS, and Xbox One released on July 23, 2015. The game introduced numerous new playable characters, items, enemies, bosses, challenges, and floor seeds. A content pack, entitled The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth was released for Rebirth in October 2015, adding new alternate chapters, characters and items, as well as wave-based Greed mode.


The Binding of Isaac
Aggregate scores
Aggregator Score
GameRankings 84.23%[12]
Metacritic 84/100[13]
Review scores
Publication Score
Eurogamer 9/10[14]
Game Informer 8/10[15]
GameSpy 4.5/5 stars[16]
IGN 7.5/10[17]

The Binding of Isaac received generally favorable reviews from game critics. On the review aggregator GameRankings, the game has an average score of 84.23%, based on 22 reviews.[12] On Metacritic, the game has an average of 84 out of 100 based on 30 reviews.[13]

In Germany the game has received an age 16+ rating because of potentially blasphemous content, the first such time a game was rated in that manner.[18] McMillen believed this has persuaded Nintendo to opt out of a 3DS port of the game.[3]

McMillen had only expected the game to sell a few hundred copies when he released it on Steam. For the first few months of its release, sales were roughly a few hundred per day, but shortly thereafter, McMillen found sales suddenly were boosted, a fact he attributed to numerous Let's Play videos that had been published by players to showcase the game and drove sales. By November 2012, the game sold over one million copies, with at least one quarter of those having purchased the "Wrath of the Lamb" extension.[3] As of July 2014, the game has sold over 3 million copies.[19] The Binding of Isaac is said to be a contributing factor towards the growth of the roguelike genre since around 2010, with its success paving the way for later games that used the roguelike formula, such as FTL: Faster Than Light and Don't Starve.[19]


  1. ^ Scheirer, Jason (September 19, 2011). "Nightmarish Indie The Binding of Isaac Shooting Up Steam Next Week". Wired. Retrieved December 23, 2015. 
  2. ^ "Youtube video of the trailer". December 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r McMillen, Edmund (November 28, 2012). "Postmortem: McMillen and Himsl's The Binding of Isaac". Gamasutra. Retrieved December 20, 2015. 
  4. ^ a b Grayson, Nathan (June 26, 2012). "The Binding of Edmund McMillen". Eurogamer. Retrieved December 20, 2015. 
  5. ^ Haas, Pete (October 9, 2011). "The Binding Of Isaac Demo Released, Big Update On The Way". Cinema Blend. Retrieved December 23, 2015. 
  6. ^ O'Conner, Alice (January 6, 2012). "The Binding of Isaac 'mega expansion' incoming". Shacknews. Retrieved December 23, 2015. 
  7. ^ Kollar, Phil (2012-02-29). "Binding Of Isaac Blocked From 3DS Due To "Questionable Religious Content"". Game Informer. Retrieved 2012-03-01. In a follow-up tweet, McMillen confirmed that the decision was "due to the games [sic] 'questionable religious content.' He then took the opportunity to praise Steam for being such an open and supporting platform for independent and digitally distributed games. 
  8. ^ a b "Nintendo won't allow Binding of Isaac on the 3DS eShop". Destructoid. 2012-02-29. Retrieved 2012-02-29. It's a disgusting and sad situation, and I can only hope that something is done soon to change the way both Nintendo, and the industry in general, views the role between the hardware developers and software artists.(...)"All this stuff has opened my eyes so much more to the freedom devs have with Steam. Censorship like this doesn't pop up that often in games, and there really are only a handful of "banned video games" or highly censored ones. It's nice to have the freedom to publish something that speaks its mind about religion on a platform like Steam." 
  9. ^ a b Groen, Andrew (February 29, 2012). "Nintendo blocks 3DS Binding of Isaac for "questionable religious content"". Ars Technica. Retrieved December 23, 2015. 
  10. ^ Fletcher, JC (7 May 2012). "The Binding of Isaac's Wrath of the Lamb begins May 28". Joystiq. Retrieved 7 May 2012. 
  11. ^ Marchiafava, Jeff (7 May 2012). "The Binding of Isaac Expansion Dated". Game Informer. Retrieved 7 May 2012. 
  12. ^ a b "The Binding of Isaac for PC – GameRankings". GameRankings. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 6 January 2013. 
  13. ^ a b "The Binding of Isaac for PC Metacritic Score". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 3 November 2011. 
  14. ^ Teti, John (7 October 2011). "The Binding of Isaac Review". EuroGamer. Retrieved 3 November 2011. 
  15. ^ Biessener, Adam (3 October 2011). "Equal Parts Gross, Disturbing, And Fun – The Binding of Isaac – PC". Retrieved 3 November 2011. 
  16. ^ Meunier, Nathan (30 September 2011). "GameSpy: The Binding of Isaac Review – Page 1". GameSpy. IGN Entertainment. Retrieved 3 November 2011. 
  17. ^ Johnson, Neilie (11 October 2011). "The Binding of Isaac Review – PC Review at IGN". IGN PC. IGN Entertainment. Retrieved 3 November 2011. 
  18. ^ "16er-Einstufung wegen... Blasphemie" [16 rating because of... blasphemy] (in German). 4 January 2012. Retrieved 9 February 2012. 
  19. ^ a b Mahardy, Mike (July 4, 2014). "Roguelikes: The Rebirth of the Counterculter". IGN. Retrieved December 23, 2015. 

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