Underneath my yellow skin

It was the best of games; it was the worst of games

Let’s talk Binding of Isaac: Repentance by Edmund McMillen. Why? Because. I read a review of it on Steam that has stuck in my mind. The review said (and I paraphrase) that this is the best version and the worst version of the game at the same time. To them, if you’ve never played the game before, it’s the best time to get stuck in. If you’ve played before, then this iteration will be frustrating. I agree with this. Well, maybe not it’s the best iteration, but if you’re new to the game, you’ll probably appreciate it more than if you’ve poured hundreds (*cough* thousands *cough) of hours into it.

I will say if you’re new to the game (or even if you’re not), play on normal for the love of all that is good and holy. Hard is backbreakingly hard. In Rebirth, Hard was harder than normal, but not terrible. Or maybe it just seemed that way after playing it so much. Anyway, Hard Mode is no fun at all, but you have to do it if you want to get all the achievements. As I’ve explained before, if you get an achievement on Normal¬† Mode, that’s fine and dandy; you still have to do it in Hard Mode. If you get the achievement in Hard Mode, then you get both (as well as all the unlocks for both). So for OG Isaac people, it makes sense to default to Hard Mode. I got one of the new bosses with Bethany, thinking to myself that it wasn’t as bad this time. I must be OP! No, I had accidentally changed it to Normal Mode. Honestly. It’s so much easier. There’s part of me that is half-tempted to do Normal Mode for all the new achievements that would get me because I can go ten to twenty (or more) runs without winning. In the old days, I won more than I lost. Granted, I mostly played with Azazel, Eden, and Isaac with a few Samsons thrown in for fun, but still.

Indicative of the unevenness of the new expansion: The two new characters, Bethany and Jacob & Esau. Bethany is a terrific character and so much fun. I even beat Greedier Mode with her, which is quite possibly my least-favorite mode in the whole game. I would play with her all day every day and have fun doing it. Now let’s turn our attention to, sigh, Jacob & Esau. I’ve written before how much I loathe this character/s, but it bears repeating. I hate them. So much. And so does everyone on the internet. Normally, you can find someone who will stan for any given character, item, etc. There is no one who will say that Jacob & Esau is a good character. The most anyone will do is say that if you have this item and this item and this circumstance and, and, and, well, then, it’s almost bearable.

In addition, Tainted Jacob is even worse. I had read in the forums that while J&E sucked, Tainted Jacob made it all worth¬† it. Once I unlocked him, I found out that many of those people meant it ironically. There are a few who actually like him (and there’s a reason it’s Tainted Jacob and not Tainted Jacob & Tainted Esau), but most absolutely loathe him. It starts out with Tainted Jacob with unkempt hair and a haggard look. After a given amount of time, probably a minute, the ground starts rumbling, breaks open, and Dark Esau burst free. With flames trailing behind him. He follows Tainted Jacob relentlessly and charges at him from time to time. If Dark Esau hits Tainted Jacob, Jacob dies and becomes The Lost for the rest of the floor. You have the Anime Sola in the consumable spot which is constantly recharging. When you use it, it captures the closest enemy to you for a few seconds. If Dark Esau is around, he always gets caught. If you manage to beat the boss of the floor, Dark Esau goes away and you become Tainted Jacob again on the next floor. Except the one time I remained as the Lost and Dark Esau never showed up again. Relief! If I had been able to find Holy Mantle, I might have been able to do serious work.

Anyway, I can understand why people like this character because you can use Dark Esau to damage the enemies, but I hate it. One touch from anything after you turn into The Lost and you’re dead. Constantly trying to evade Dark Esau is exhausting. I’m not playing the game for ‘fun’, but none of this is enjoyable.

The Tainted Characters are a mixed bag at best. I like Tainted Forgotten for funsies. Tainted Cain is interesting to mess with. Tainted Bethany is fine. Tainted Samson is intriguing. But the best Tainted Character by a wide country mile is Tainted Lilith. There is no question and it’s not even close. The rest of them range from meh to fuck you very much. I’ve given them all a fair shake except for Tainted Lost because he’s just OG Lost but with ‘better items’. Yeah, right. Better is in the eye of the beholder.

In addition, some of the best items of the game have been nerfed, much to my dismay. The way I play is to find a constant source of soul hearts if possible and they nerfed four items that give you black hearts. Well, eliminated the black hearts from one, nerfed two, and completely changed one. Maw of the Void used to have a chance of giving you a black heart and now doesn’t. Serpent’s Kiss, same. Now, however, you can only have a chance to get black hearts with contact–which makes it excellent for The Forgotten and Tainted Forgotten, but no chance of black hearts from shooting your tears. Well, ok, The Nail…I put it in the nerfed category, but it’s actually changed. It used to give you one blue soul heart plus a bunch of other stuff. Now, it gives half a black heart instead (plus a bunch of other stuff). The most interesting one is Satanic Bible. It still gives you one black heart when you use it, but if you use it before the boss fight, you get a Devil’s Deal for your reward after the boss fight instead of a free boss item. I don’t like not getting the free item, but a devil’s item every floor? That’s pretty cool. Not using the Satanic Bible if I don’t want the Devil’s Deal? Not great.

I got both Maw of the Void and Serpent’s Kiss in a run and was so excited. I got NO black hearts for several floors–even though I had 3.00 in luck. That’s when I looked up the items and discovered the nerfs. Edmund is always trying to fiddle with balance, which is admirable. But, it’s ok to let some items be ridiculously OP. It’s ok to have some runs where you just storm it. Even runs I win, I rarely feel OP.

And, honestly, I think I’ve hit the ceiling of my skills. I have roughly 175 achievements to go and I highly doubt I’ll get them all. More to the point, I’m reaching the end of my ability to can with the game. Every run is grueling and I rarely make it to the end. I ain’t mad about it, though, because it’s given me many, many hours of gameplay and there is a ton of new content. I would encourage anyone who has even an inkling to try this game to dive in. It’s well worth it.

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