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How to Beat “The Binding of Isaac”

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Poppy is the author of "A Bard's Lament" and the Black Diamond series. She lives in Enoshima, Japan, with her husband and young son.

The Binding of Isaac is an independent 2D adventure game created by Edward McMillen and Florian Himsl. Despite it being very "cartoony," this is very much an adult's game, touching on dark themes such as abortion, suicide, gender identity, child abuse and how religion might negatively affect a child—all of which are topics that video games usually avoid.

The Binding of Isaac's strangeness allowed it to gain fast popularity, leading to a lot of sales on gaming platforms such as Steam. The plot was inspired by the bible story of the same name. Isaac and his mother live alone together. Isaac plays with his toys and keeps to himself, while his mother watches Christian broadcasts on TV. One day his mother hears the voice of God who tells her that she must kill Isaac to prove her faith. She's already taken away his clothes, toys, game console, and locked him in his room. Isaac escapes into the basement from his mother, who searches for him after grabbing a butcher's knife.

The game entails getting through the different floors of the game, fighting monsters and bosses on each floor, and collecting items as you go.

Why the Game Is Hard

There are a lot of features of "The Binding of Isaac" that make it arguably more difficult to complete than the average 2D dungeon game. These include:

  • The fact that there are no checkpoints. Unlike most games where you can save or checkpoint in certain areas, the Binding of Isaac starts on the first floor, and takes you back to the beginning each time you fail.
  • There are different rooms and enemies with each playthrough. You can't 'memorise' the map because it's different every time. Each floor has a boss level, a shop and a bonus item room, but these are always in different places, and therefore impossible to learn by heart.
  • Different items and bosses with each playthrough. There are many different items Isaac can collect, from accessories to improve his tears range (tears are his form of attack), or to improve his speed, to creatures who shoot enemies with you. Items are never the same in the playthroughs—you may get some great items in one game, and get nothing good in another. Bosses are also different too —although there is a limited number of them, it's never possible to guess which one will appear on which floor.
  • You can't go back to previous floors. You may kill enemies easily on one floor and have lots of spare hearts or items, however, once you've descended to the next floor, it's impossible to go back.
  • Pills and cards. Sometimes Isaac can pick up pills, which can have good or bad effects. There is a possibility to pick up the item "PHD" to know the effects of pills, but it's a rare find and appears in very few playthroughs. Therefore, taking a pill is a risk; although it may help the player (by granting "full health" or a bonus to stats) it could also harm the player (lowering health or stats). The different tarot cards can be memorised, but there are so many that it's difficult to do so. Cards can drop bombs or hearts, or even instantly kill the player.

Advice on Beating the Game

There are some great tips useful for beating this game.

  • Dodge first, aim later. It's easy to lose your health quickly in a battle, especially if the room is full of enemies. Isaac can lose health (one hit = half a heart) by being shot or hit by an enemy. Isaac's attack, his tears, are unlimited, so a good way to save on health is to shoot blindly and concentrate on dodging enemies' attacks until the room is clear of danger.
  • Keep an eye on your health. Hearts are precious in that game, buy them at shops if you can, and keep the item "Yum Heart" if you get it. Blue hearts will add to your health even if your hearts are full, so grab them whenever possible.
  • Research the items you pick up on the internet. There are plenty of guides online explaining what each of the items does. Some accessories that Isaac has on his body, such as various contact lenses, belt, coat hanger, etc will stay with the player throughout the game, but other items will be dropped in place of others. Check what the items do: would you rather keep hold of an Anarchist's Cookbook or Monstro's Tooth? Choose wisely.

Apart from that, the only thing you can really do to beat the Binding of Isaac is to practise, practise, practise. Only by playing it a lot will you get used to the items, the gameplay, what different enemies can do and how to beat them. The Binding of Isaac is an extremely addictive game so you might find you're playing it more than you planned—for me, it became a daily obsession until I'd beaten the final boss. This wasn't bad, though, because usually just one playthrough is enough for your fix, and depending on how well you do, this doesn't last too long.

The Binding of Isaac remains to be one of the most popular and most discussed indie games of all time, always highly recommended by players.

© 2014 Poppy


Poppy (author) from Enoshima, Japan on November 10, 2017:

Hey dude, thanks for checking this out. I appreciate you checking before writing. Congrats on your million-view badge, by the way - I made a forum post about you. :) Keep it up X

Jeremy Gill from Louisiana on November 10, 2017:

Poppy, I was literally going to write an article with the same title, was told that it had been taken already, and found my way here. Thanks for the tips, and I'm glad to discover a fellow Hubber enjoys the game!

Another great item is the Placenta, which offers unlimited (albeit painfully slow) health regen. After each fight, simply stay in the room until you're back to max and proceed.