Underneath my yellow skin

WWDTAOL: The thin line between hard and unfair (video game edition, part two)

In my last post, I wrote about difficult games. I was going to write about the thin line, but then got caught up in actually writing about the games. I have a confession to make. One of the reasons I quit playing Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is because I was playing too much of it. At this point, a full run can take an hour or more. Then, I do the rerun (victory lap), which can take another half hour. There is very much a ‘just one more run’ feel to it–but a run isn’t fifteen minutes. At least you can save now–that’s a relief.

Anyway, I resisted Repentance until I didn’t and now I can’t stop playing. Partly because it has so much new content, but also because it still has that ‘just one more run’ feeling to it. I read the Steam reviews when it came out and while most people were positive, there was a vocal minority of dedicated Isaac fans who declared the game had jumped the shark. Personally, I thought it started declining with Afterbirth and hit the nadir with Afterbirth+, so I was inclined to believe those minority voices. They qualified their credentials (True Platinumed the game) before saying they thought Repentance was too hard.

If you had asked me a few hours after I started playing Repentance what I thought of it, I would have been firmly in the minority voice’s camp. it felt hard just for the sake of being hard and the new character wasn’t any fun. Then, I got a good run with Bethany and managed to beat ??? (the boss of The Chest) and was able to tick off three achievements. And, yeah, I was still playing on hard so yay for me. Suddenly, I saw the appeal of Bethany and took her on a victory lap. Now. We’re going to get into really spoilery territory so fair warning. All the stuff until now is not completely new because the alternate path is basically Antibirth (mod) made official. This, however, is a secret path, much like Hush or the Void with Delirium as the boss. Or MegaStan.

I will fully admit that I had to look up this shit because there was no way I would have found this on my own. I don’t know if someone data-mined or actually figured this out, but that’s not me. I am forever grateful for those who are more diligent than I am. Anyway. I’m bringing it up now because I decided to take OP Bethany on this alternate path. I had fought the boss(es) of this area with Azazel with sick damage and The Wafer (half-damage taken) and still could not beat the final boss. So, yeah. I wanted to take Bethany up there because even though it wouldn’t count for the achievements, at least it let me see the boss again.

By the way. I just have to mention something I’m pissed about. I made it up to this boss and unlocked the Red Key. What should I do with it? I wasn’t sure. I didn’t want to completely spoil it for myself, but I wanted to know so I skimmed the wiki on it. Apparently, you’re supposed to use it in the hallway between Mom’s bedroom and the living room.  Oh. I should back up and explain that. Ok. The new secret path goes like this. On the 2nd floor of The Depths (or the equivalent), there is a door with a ‘glass’ panel in front of it. You can only unlock it after beating Mother, the final boss of the alternate route, which I did with Azazel and unlocked the second new character–Jacob and Esau. Yes, two characters in one and fuck that character. They may be my least-favorite character in the whole game, including The Keeper.

I looked up the new door in The Depths II because as I said, there was no way I was going to figure out how to open it on my own. It makes sense once you know about it, but that’s not how my brain works. You have to open the door with The Polaroid or The Negative, which is a choice you have to make after beating Mom, the boss of this floor. The problem is that you can’t leave Mom’s boss room once you’ve finished the fight and you have to have something to get you out of the room so you can go back to the strange door. There is a Fool Card hidden behind a depressed skull with an X on it. You have to bomb said skull to get the Fool Card. Then, you use it after the Mom fight, touched the strange door, and you’re in. There are ways to get around it, but that’s the main gist.

Once you’re in, you go back up through the floors, fighting the enemies. Any special room you already opened on your way down doesn’t contain any items in it. Oh, on the way up, you have to go through one new floor in order to find the boss room. In it, there will be Dad’s Note, which, once you grab it, it’ll start you on your ascent. Then you have to find the room with the spotlight in it it take you up to the next level. Once you find that room in the Basement I, it takes you up to…Home! You wake up in your bedroom and there’s a chest with an item. There’s a room to the right once you leave your bedroom that has a consumable in it. To the left (as you look at the screen) is a long narrow room, which is the living room. Then, if you exit on the other side, there’s a long hallway at the end of which is Mom’s bedroom. There’s a bed and a chest. In the chest the first time is Red Key. After that, it seems to be Mom’s Heels–probably for range. Also thematically correct.

ETA: The item in this chest is one of Mom’s items, which makes sense. If you look around her bedroom, you can see all her items strewn about. It’s a neat touch.

The thing is, though, Red Key (and the consumable equivalent, Cracked Key) don’t work like any other item in the game. With any other active item, you press the spacebar and the item works. Or with the consumable, you press Q and the card/pill activates. This didn’t work at all so I had no idea what to do. I went to the wikis and you have to go to the particular area in the hallway next to Mom’s bedroom and press the item. There is a faint red outline of a closet, but I have terrible eyesight. Why do you want to unlock this secret room? I’ll tell you why. To unlock the Tainted Characters. Wait, what? Tainted Characters? Why, yes, indeed. These are not new characters. No, they are twisted versions (thus, tainted) of the already-existing characters (and the two new ones, of course). Again, thematically appropriate that they are locked in a closet. You touch them and they fly upwards, then they’re available to play from the character selection screen.

I did this with Bethany on the victory run and hoped that it would unlock the Tainted Character. I mean, I touched her and watched her fly upwards. It should work, right? Wrong. It didn’t. Oh well. I had to try it. I did beat the boss of Home with Bethany on this run, but that didn’t count, either. Plus, I had so many defenses, I couldn’t really understand what was happening in the fight. It was still fun, though, and reminded me why I liked the game in the first place–to be fucking OP!

Here’s the thing. You have to do this with each character in order to unlock their tainted counterpoint. At first, it sounded overwhelming because of the randomness of getting the item or the consumable. Oh, by the way, there are red rooms in the vanilla game as well which is interesting. Anyway, there is one trick that you won’t believe that makes the quest less random, even though it’s still tedious. All you have to do is drop a trinket in a boss room (or a Treasure Room (item room), supposedly) and on the way back up, it’ll turn into the Cracked Key. Given that you spawn in the boss room of each floor, you can just pick it up on the way up to Home.

By the way, this path is brilliant as far as fitting the theme. You find out more about Dad as well, and, it does the unthinkable of making me feel a sliver of sympathy for Mom, which I never thought was possible. She’s still terrible and does awful things to Isaac, but I can at least understand how she ended up where she was.

Currently, I’ve unlocked Tainted Eden (the first), Samson, Judas (cheating as I came back as Black Judas while playing as Isaac), and Azazel. No, I have not unlocked Tainted Isaac yet, which is funny. Why? Because the game is so much harder, yo! Even the vanilla game. The thing about the Tainted Characters is that they are a weird version of the regular. So, Eden, who starts with random items, stats, and health, is converted into Tainted Eden, whose items, stats, and health changes every time they take damage. Every time! It’s like the Missing No., but with each hit. I hate the Missing No.

Here’s the thing. All the Tainted Characters have a Post-it Note of their own, which means having to do all the achievements for them that I’ve done for the regular characters. That’s a shit-ton! I tried Greedier Mode for about ten seconds before quitting out. I hated it before and I doubt I’ll like it now. I’ve also managed to beat the final boss of Home with Samson with a ton of extra lives and OP damage. And I still came thisclose to losing it. In fact, I was pretty sure I was going to lose before the end abruptly happened.

So. What’s my current thinking about the expansion? It’s both incredible and way too much/too hard. It’s the thing I’ve noticed from other reputed tough games (*cough* FromSoft)–buying into your own hype and feeling the need to constantly up the difficulty. The Keeper, Hush, and Delirium are all examples of this. I hate The Keeper as a character and would never play them if it weren’t for the achievements. I never ever do the Hush any more and I only do Delirium when I’m super OP. I have some sympathy for devs because while they want to bring in new players, they want to keep their fanbase happy as well. But I still maintain that it’s not the brutality that makes the games so playable.

I have more to say, but I spent this whole post talking about Repentance. I’m leaving it here for now and I’ll pick it up again in a future post.


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