The Binding of Isaac Afterbirth +: Switch review

  • Format: Switch (version reviewed), PC, PS4, Vita, Xbone, Wii U, 3DS, iOS
  • Unleashed: Out Now
  • Publisher: Headup Games (Switch), Nicalis (everything else)
  • Developer: Nicalis
  • Players: 1-4 (offline only)
  • Site: http://bindingofisaac.com/
  • Game cartridge provided by the publisher

Prince taught us what it sounds like when doves cry. It’s sort of “HEEEE!” if we remember rightly. But what does it sound like when a very young child trying to escape his psychotic, fundamentalist Christian mother cries? According to this game, it’s sort of “blap blap”, a bit like embarrassing wind. You’ll be hearing that sound a lot, as the eponymous Isaac uses his tears to defend himself in this notorious twin-stick shooter.

Yes, the Switch is rather late to this party (especially for those of us in the EU), but it’s a great – if grim – party. Not sure what it’s all about? Isaac’s mum is trying to kill him because God has apparently told her to, so he dives into what proves to be a surprisingly spacious and suspiciously dungeon-like basement in a bid to escape. There, he faces various monsters and gruesome, mutated, forgotten siblings all trying to kill him. Your job is to fight through a variety of randomly-generated floors, ultimately defeating “Mom” herself in your bid for freedom.

The graphics are distinctly retro, but the design is anything but cute. Expect to come up against poop, mutated children bleeding from the eyes, and many creatures that never had the chance to fully form into a human being. This is not a happy game.

Not exactly Teletubbies, is it?

At the beginning of each run, Isaac has nothing but his infinite supply of slow and weak tears, and one bomb. He also starts with just three hearts, this amount increased only with specific (and, as with everything else, randomly generated) powerups. You’re never sure what you’ll get on each run, apart from the fact that each floor has a (randomly selected) boss to defeat before you can progress. You therefore enter each room with trepidation, unsure just how easy or hard you’ll have it next.

The thing is, once you enter a room with enemies in it, you can’t leave until they’re all dead. Or of course until you are, at which point you’re sent all the way back to the beginning of a new run. This isn’t a game that’s very forgiving of mistakes and, although it never feels unfair, it’s hard to deny that the entirely random nature of each playthrough can skew your chances of success quite a lot. One run might regularly throw difficult enemies at you while withholding the best weapons, yet the next might almost exclusively present relatively simple foes and some of the best weapon pickups. Worth bearing in mind, then, that you can replay and share any particular run setup via a seed (code).   

If you’re going to pick up a copy of this for the Switch, we’d recommend the physical version. That’s always our preference anyway, partly because a little shopping around will turn up a cheaper copy than going digital. In this case though, you’ll also be given a physical game manual  and – yes – stickers. Yay! Whichever version you go for, be aware that there are no Switch-exclusive features here although, by default, you do have a TV version and portable version in one. And, yes, it runs perfectly.

The final element of this game is the tutorial system, in that there isn’t one. Reading the manual will help to an extent, but by and large, you learn as you go. How much distance should you keep when fighting that enemy, and how fast or slow is it? What are this boss’s attack patterns? What do you do with these coins? What are the pros and cons of each weapon? What’s up with these tarot cards you sometimes find? And so on.

So, it’s certainly not the most predictable or friendly game, but that’s all part of the charm. The days of Nintendo blocking the release of family unfriendly games is far behind us, and just as well; Isaac’s adventure is a great addition to the Switch’s library.

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Written by Luke K

He plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He’s the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value.

He doesn’t have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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