The Binding of Isaac Afterbirth - title

The Binding of Isaac Afterbirth box artThe hit indie game comes to Nintendo Switch

Whenever you hear people discuss the best indie games of all time, one game always seems to come up: The Binding of Isaac. This roguelike dungeon crawler, fashioned after The Legend of Zelda, has sold millions since debuting on PC six years ago. Now it’s back, this time with its most complete version yet, The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth+ on Nintendo Switch.

The Binding of Isaac – a brief history

If you’re not familiar with Isaac, a little background is in order. The original game was developed using Adobe Flash, and it was phenomenal, but the software had its limitations. To bring the game to home consoles, the developers needed a better game engine and partnered with Nicalis. Together they produced an enhanced remake, The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth. Rebirth was later given two expansions, Afterbirth and Afterbirth+, the latter of which is the version released on Nintendo Switch.

Along the way, significant new content has been added to Isaac, all of which is included in Afterbirth+. There are new characters to play as, new items to collect, new enemies and bosses to fight, and much more. It’s the definitive version of one of the greatest indie games ever built, and you can play it anywhere on Nintendo Switch.

The sad tale of little Isaac


Game Details

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch
Developer: Nicalis
Publisher: Nicalis
Genre: Roguelike, Dungeon Crawler
Modes: Single-player, multiplayer
ESRB Rating: M (Mature, 17+)


Horror, shock, and tragedy are the best words to describe Isaac‘s demented story. It begins with Isaac and his mother living peacefully and happily in a small house on a hill. Isaac is a quiet boy, preferring to draw pictures and play with toys, while his mother watches Christian programming on TV. One day though, his mom hears voices from above telling her that her son has been corrupted.

In order to protect Isaac from the evils of the world, his mother locks him away in his room. Later, mom receives further instructions to prove her devotion to faith by sacrificing her son. However, Isaac overheard this and searches for an escape, discovering a secret door leading into the basement. This leads directly into the events of the game.

The Binding of Isaac Afterbirth beginning

A twin-stick shooter

While most games these days overdo it with excessive tutorials, Isaac take a much more minimalist approach. The only instructions you’re given at the start is to move with the left analog stick, shoot with the right, and be sure to use bomb and search for items. That’s it.

With twin-stick controls similar to games like Smash TV and Geometry Wars, Isaac is all about dodging enemies and shooting for your life. Isaac’s main form of attack may tug a few heartstrings though—he shoots sobby projectile tears. Sad, sure, but what really sets this game apart is how your basic tears can be modified in hundreds of different ways.

The Binding of Isaac Afterbirth animation

Fear the tears

Afterbirth+ contains over 600 items, many of which alter Isaac’s tears significantly. Some might increase your tears’ fire rate or damage, while others imbue them with completely new properties. For example, during one run I acquired the “Jacob’s Ladder” item and my tears began firing sparks in random directions. Another time, I discovered an item called “Death Tooth,” which created a poison aura around me every tear I shot.

Another extremely cool aspect is that your tear effects stack. You could, in theory, find both aforementioned items and have electrified tears that also shroud you in poison. Even more properties can be added too, such the “Apple” item that randomly fires razor blades or “The Inner Eye,” which grants Isaac the ability to fire triple shots. I had a blast exploring the hundreds of items to collect, and found the endless permutations so fascinating.

The Binding of Isaac Afterbirth dungeonExplore procedurally generated dungeons

It’s not just the dizzying array of items that make Isaac such a unique game. Another thing that sets the game apart is its procedurally generated dungeons that change every time you play. Everything gets randomized—from the items you’ll find, to enemies you face, to layout of the dungeons themselves. This adds tons of unpredictability to every run-through, as you never know what horrors await you in the next room.

I used the word horrors on purpose, too, since the game relishes in its own morbid sense of humour. From giant poop monsters, to mounds of blood-spewing organs, the boss art design is delightfully grotesque. Regular monsters can be just as vile too, like headless bodies that gush damaging blood, or infested head creatures that spews flies. While gross on the surface, the enemies’ amusing mannerisms and charming 16-bit presentations ooze personality.

The Binding of Isaac Afterbirth mom

Content, Content, Content

In addition to its huge list of collectible items, Afterbirth+ features a massive amount of extra content. There are 13 playable characters, more than 180 enemy types, 90+ bosses, and over 20 endings. You only see a fraction of the total content each run through, resulting in near-endless replay. Many Isaac players, myself including, wind up logging hundreds of hours without even realizing it. The game is that fun.

The Binding of Isaac Afterbirth boss

Local Multiplayer

The Switch version of Afterbirth+ includes local multiplayer for up to four people. Everyone who joins in will share the same heart pool though, so multiplayer doesn’t mean you’ll have an easier time. Though of course, more players is definitely more fun.

What’s odd is that starting a multiplayer game is just as obtuse as the game is at times. I actually had to go online to figure out how to start a multiplayer game, so I thought I’d share how to do it:

  1. From the Switch home menu, go to Controllers > Change Grip/Order
  2. For each controller, press the SL and SR buttons simultaneously
  3. Return to the game, and start a new run
  4. Once in the dungeon, have the second player press the + or – button on their controller
  5. Finally, the second player chooses their character

It’s really unimaginable that the games doesn’t explain this!

The Binding of Isaac Afterbirth secret

Compete in Daily Challenges

Even though the main game has virtually unlimited replayability, you can also participate in fun daily challenges. In the Daily Challenge mode everyone around the world plays the exact same dungeon, with the same special properties and items. Your goal is to set the best time and highest score, all tabulated on global leaderboards.

Not only is it fun to compete against other players, but the daily challenges also let you explore new ways to play. You’ll start the challenge with a random character, stage, and starting items, and on holidays there are even specific theme-curated runs. As an example, one challenge was set in a dark dungeon where my tears were the main source of illumination. Another time, I got to try the unlockable Old Keeper character, and received bonus items nearly every room.

Daily Challenge mode is the icing on the cake for this sweet, sweet game.

The Binding of Isaac tears

Final Thoughts

One of the greatest indie titles just got a whole lot better. The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth+ for Nintendo Switch packs hundreds, if not thousands of hours of enjoyment into a single game. With every game being totally randomized, you’re sure to find something new and exciting every time. From the many fun items to collect, to the interesting bosses to face, to the unique endings to unlock, this game is top notch through and through.

+ Awesome 16-bit graphics
+ Unlimited replay
+ Plethora of fun items to collect
+ So much content with this expansion
+ Daily Challenges are a blast 
+ Lasting charm and appeal

– Lack of tutorials/explanations
– Blood and gore may turn some people off

OVERALL

Gameplay: 4.5/5
Graphics: 4.5/5
Sound: 4/5
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 5/5

Overall Rating: 4.5/5 (90%)

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