ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

5 Reasons The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is the Best Indie Game of 2014

Updated on December 20, 2014

Release Date: November 4, 2014

Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, PC, OSX, Linux

Developer: Nicalis

When thinking of the characteristics of an indie game, many will come up with the same list: a small studio/development team, quirky and innovative gameplay, and unique, sparse -- if any -- overt storytelling. The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth hits all three nails with one swing, doing so under the familiar guise of a standard top-down shooter. But the game is anything but "standard," as any player will discover within seconds of picking up the controller. The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, a remake of the popular flash-based Binding of Isaac, deserves a nod for the Best Indie Game of 2014 due to five critical aspects of the game.

1. The Story

The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth follows very closely the biblical story of the same name. This is all but spelled out for you in the game's intro sequence (you can find the video below). Basically, baby Isaac's religious television-watching mother, known simply as Mom throughout the game, hears a "voice from above" telling her to cleanse her son of his sin. When removing his clothing and taking away his toys doesn't do the trick, the voice tells her to sacrifice Isaac. Isaac, seeing his knife-wielding mother charging at him, hides in his room. When his mother enters, Isaac finds a hidden trap-door to the basement, and with no other options, flings himself into the unknown.

It's all the story you get at the start, but it's all the driving force the game needs. The endings (of which the game has sixteen, including the epilogue) slowly reveal more pieces of the puzzle, but in the end the entire story is left open to interpretation, and will have you thinking for hours after you've finished.

Isaac is more than just a naked child: he's surprisingly complex.
Isaac is more than just a naked child: he's surprisingly complex.

2. Character Design

Indie games can star some really out-there protagonists, especially when compared to blockbuster titles. Lately, we've seen flowers, sand-ninjas, suit-wearing octopi, and even common goats take the stage in their own eccentric adventures. But criminally underrepresented are the young protagonists, from whose view the world is a stranger, scarier place. We got a good look at a baby's view of the outside world in Among the Sleep, which manages to show the horror in the mundane as only a toddler could see, but Rebirth does something slightly different. In Rebirth, we see horror from horror, the workings of an undeveloped psyche dealing with traumatic events the only way a young child could-- by taking refuge in real-life objects near and dear to them, which manifest themselves in disturbing ways. The terrors of the inside world.

It's hard to read too much into the psychological stuff as you're destroying smiling poop monsters by farting on them using a magic bean, as you might be for the first few levels, but as the endings are revealed and you learn more about Isaac, the dynamics of his family, and the dark nature of his internal struggles, you'll realize that Isaac is much more than a naked crying child. People have gone really, really in-depth with their analysis of the game; just take a look at this Reddit post (WARNING, heavy spoilers). And that's just Isaac-- as much can be said about some of the other playable characters, what they represent, and how they tie in to the story as a whole.

Some item combos are both aesthetically pleasing and highly deadly.
Some item combos are both aesthetically pleasing and highly deadly. | Source

3. Gameplay

Like most top-down or multidirectional shooters, Rebirth takes minutes to learn and days to master. There are 343 collectible items according to the wiki page, and each one will alter your character, making each run feel like a fresh experience. Some of the items alter the game in dramatic ways-- your Isaac could go from shooting tears to laser beams or bombs, gain the ability to fly or turn to stone, even speed up or slow down time. And then there are a ton of items which have a passive effect on your current run: items that increase health, luck, or attack damage, for example. It takes a long, long time to experience and remember what each of these items has to offer (or, if you want to cheat, you can look up the items in an online database-- I recommend this one (spoilers!), as it's very phone-friendly). Once you learn what each item does, you can start experimenting with item combinations to see how powerups interact with each other. Some runs will make your character nearly invincible to enemy attacks, while others might make you powerful enough to kill any enemy, even bosses, in seconds.

However, it's the randomized level layout that makes the game so challenging. The game contains a number of room layouts, each with dozens of enemy, obstacle, and item layouts. These rooms are randomly placed on each floor of your current playthrough, meaning that each time you play the game, you're experiencing that combination of items and monsters for the first time. You might find yourself breezing through the current floor only to find yourself facing two sub-bosses and a swarm of leeches right before the main boss door. This keeps the game exciting, as you never know what to expect from the next room. That being said, if you happen to play a run that you really like or want to share with a friend, you can take the run's seed -- a series of eight letters and numbers -- insert it at the main screen, and play that run again any time you want, although you won't be able to unlock new items or achievements on seeded runs.

Even with all of the variables, the game never ceases to be a crisp, challenging experience, run after run.

Some religious symbols are more obvious than others.
Some religious symbols are more obvious than others. | Source

4. Details and References

Edmund McMillen, the mind behind a number of great flash games including Meat Boy and Aether, crams his games full of detail to fulfill even the most discerning fans' expectations, and Rebirth is no exception. Each of the 343 items in the game has a unique description that appears when you pick the item up; these descriptions range from one-liner jokes to allusions to popular culture to references from McMillen's other games. They add a sense of humor to an otherwise very dark game (again, aside from the smiling poop monsters), but they also show how much thought went into every last detail of the game.

Aside from these original details, there are many, many allusions to religion and the bible scattered throughout the game. A majority of the unlockable characters are direct biblical references (not a spoiler- you can see their names from the character select screen from the get-go), many of the collectible items deal with religious symbols, artifacts, or fables, and even some of the enemies are derived from biblical stories. As explained in the "Story" section, Isaac's mother's faith in God is the driving force behind the action, and as the player unlocks more items, characters, levels, and endings, the religious undertones come closer and closer to the forefront of the game's true meaning.

..and the cute poops. Don't forget the cute poops.
..and the cute poops. Don't forget the cute poops. | Source

Does Rebirth make your top 5 list?

See results

5. Replayability

The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth was free during November to PlayStation Plus members, and it was included in a Steam sale at around $5 (the sale has since been reduced to 2/3 the normal price, $10.04), but even at its normal price of $15, the game is worth that and more. I've played the PS4 version nearly fifty hours already, and I expect at least another ten before I've collected even seventy percent of the collectible items the game has to offer. The game's 16 endings take numerous playthroughs to unlock, many of the items require specific scenarios to obtain, and a few of the unlockable characters require a great deal of skill and patience to both unlock and use effectively.

After you've mastered the game's normal mode, there is a series of challenge modes-- runs that start you with a specific set of themed items while adding other challenges-- to complete, and once you've proved your mettle by completing those, the game offers a hard difficulty setting to appease your masochistic side.

Even with all of this content already at our fingertips, McMillen has announced plans to release an expansion with even more items, characters, enemies, and levels in the near future. To show appreciation to the fans, he's even launched a Community Item Suggestion forum, from which he will pull ten ideas for items to include in the game.

With its nearly endless replayability, plans for future content, sharp, precise gameplay, and thought-provoking story, The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth easily tops my list of best indie games of 2014. And unlike most once-and-done indie games, I don't see myself putting this one down for a long, long while.

But what do you think: does Rebirth make your top five? What do you consider the top indie contender? Leave a comment with your thoughts below!


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)