The Binding of Isaac for Complete Noobs.

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Welcome to this basic guide, I hope you find it helpful and if you’ve any questions or comments please do leave something down below and where possible I’ll try and reply asap.

This is going to be aimed predominantly at the folks who have never played The Binding of Isaac before and who want to get a little more up to speed before the next sizeable chunk of new content lands later this week on Steam. (And at a later unconfirmed date for console)

Apologies in advance for the wall of text that awaits you. I’ve tried to segment it a little but there is quite a bit to take on board so please don’t try to digest this in one go, save the page and refer to it as and when.

What is The Binding of Isaac about?

Well the game is loosely based on the bible story of the same name and its creator Edmund McMillen (@edmundmcmillen) has commented on many occasions that the “story” explores several themes but is very much open to interpretation. Personally I tend to lean towards the “commentary on how religion can affect young children” angle but that’s because I’m a cynical git. That said, it doesn’t really matter, the story plays second fiddle to the actual gameplay and there are enough lore and fan theory sites out there to fill enough of anyone’s free time should you so choose. It is quite a dark game with everything from the loading screens to the in-game imagery and enemies making me feel quite uneasy for a good while when I first started playing.

The game is viewed from the top down perspective and movement and firing is controlled with the 2 sticks or WASD and arrow keys depending on your platform. If you’ve ever played a twin-stick shooter, you’ll be fine.

The Levels and their layout:

The levels or floors as they’re known will be randomly generated each and every time you play. You may encounter familiar layouts or enemy combinations but very rarely will you see the same room and you should never see the exact same level unless playing a preset or “seeded” run. (more on these later)

1. Basement or Cellar (2 floors)

2. Caves or Catacombs (2 floors)

3. The Depths or Necropolis (2 floors) >>>> Mom Boss fight.

4. The Womb or Utero (2 floors) >>>> Mom’s Heart boss fight.

5. Sheol or the Cathedral (2 floors) >>>> Satin/Isaac boss fight.

6. The Dark Room or The Chest (2 floors) >>>> Mega Satin/ Blue Baby boss fight.

(More levels and alternate floors will be arriving with the Afterbirth update later this week)

Each floor will have both guaranteed rooms and some that are down to chance or dependent on meeting conditions within the level. I’ll explain a few of those next.

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Examples of maps:

The Item/Treasure Room:

Possibly the most important room during your first few hours and a room you should always check out. Found by seeking the Yellow Crown on the map. This room will contain one random item which can be good, bad or indifferent depending on your current run or personal preference. Generally, especially early doors you’re going to want to take whatever is in the room and you’ll pretty quickly learn which items to squeal with glee at and which to consign to the Run-killer folder and never ever pick up again; expect to get this wrong a whole bunch at first!

The item room will appear on every floor until you reach “The Womb” and will always require a key to enter the first floor.

The Cursed room:

This room has spikes on the door and without certain protective items or a flying ability, you will take damage on the way in and out, (again, half a heart each way until the Womb where it’ll be a full heart each way) The curse rooms in the early game always seemed a waste to me but after the runs started to add up I quickly decided that the chances of getting a great item were more than equal to the cost. I’d strongly encourage you to risk these rooms whenever possible, some possible items are annoying and it sucks to have wasted a heart but personally the only time I’d outright avoid these rooms is when the damage will leave you with 1 full heart or less. As with all of the special rooms you’ll come across, if you notice there is an adjoining room without a door and you have plenty of bombs, see if you can bomb your way in to avoid the damage or use of a key (especially early on in a run). The same goes for when you’re in a cursed room, if you have the bombs, try the 2 or 3 “empty” walls, you may find a route out and perhaps even a secret room.

The Boss Room:

Shown on the map as a skull, this room will contain (as you’d guess) a Boss fight. Barring one or two level skip items, you will have to finish this room before you can descend to the next level. There is a wide range of bosses that may appear and they are all daunting at first but honestly very simple once you learn the timings. You’ll have your favourites and the one’s you dread but given time you’ll best the lot. Once you beat the Boss you will receive a random item; the fun (and frustration) stems from not knowing what it does. For the vast majority, boss items will be positive for your run with it usually being a health, speed or range upgrade but every now and again you can get given an item.

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Bosses

The Mini Boss Room:

Marked on the map as a skull (It looks slightly darker on screen compared to the boss room) This again is usually well worth the risk as they will quite often drop very good items even in early levels. As with all random items, you’ll get the good and the bad.

The Special Room:

This room along with a list of several others will show up on the map This won’t appear on every level, but it’ll show up a lot of the time, the rewards for these rooms are generally brilliant or awful; very little middle ground. These rooms will be boss fights with one of the seven deadly sins or occasionally the Super versions which tend to have more health and stronger attacks. If you come across this room early on it’s going to be a war of attrition (especially Envy) with your low damage output but this is another room where I’d say the risk is just about worthwhile.

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The Seven Deadly Sins

The Shop:

This room appears on the map as a coin and after the first floor usually requires a key to be able to enter. The shop will offer between 2 and 5 items for sale depending on how much you have donated, costing anywhere from 3 to 15 cents. All of the items found in the shop are beneficial; no item is a run killer. It is however very possible to buy a random pill and have it be negative though so watch out. In the corner of shops, there will usually be a donation machine which you can interact with and donate coins. By doing this, you can upgrade the amount of items the shops will stock. Any money donated will carry over to future runs although a huge WARNING here if you donate enough to get the machine to 999 coins, adding another will cause the machine to explode dropping some coins and resetting it to ZERO. Coins can be bombed out of the machine although I’d recommend only doing this when desperate. Get into the habit of donating as much as you can spare as some of the later unlocks are super useful items. I won’t list them here as I don’t want to spoil anything but the amount of coins needed to unlock something or upgrade the shop are as follows:

10,20,50,100,150,200,400,600,900,999

The Devil Room:

This is a super important one so stick with me. This room has a chance of appearing after killing the boss, although there are things you can do to greaten the chances during the level. Acquiring certain items such as the Pentagram or by killing the beggars you see in the level will grant you access. The items offered in this room are usually traded for your hearts be it red, white or black depending on what you have upon entering. Every time you enter a Devil room there is a 10% chance that it will spawn a mini-boss called Krampus instead of a “Devil deal”; killing him will give you one of two offensive items. Generally the Devil rooms offer offensive items. It is possible to kill yourself if you take an item which costs the same amount of hearts you have left so be careful! There literally a page full of ways to improve your chances of getting a Deal on the Binding of Isaac Wiki but rather than copy paste a wall of text I’ll link to the Wiki towards the end of this article.

The Angel Room:

Like the Devil room, this has a chance of appearing after killing the levels boss. Items found herein will be limited to just one (and/or occasionally chests) but will be free unlike in the Devil rooms where you must swap hearts. As before, there is a full page on the wiki dedicated to ways to improve your chances of one appearing but don’t worry about it for now.

Secret Rooms:

In my experience, these rooms appear on most levels but not 100%. They sometimes contain coins, bombs, hearts or pills and occasionally regular items. The rooms are random and not on the map without picking up one of the appropriate pickups. The best way I can broadly cover their locations is like this.

Room 1. Usually near the shop. Look on the map for a blank space that has three rooms adjoining it. After a bit of practice, you’ll be able to spot the one or two most likely locations for this room on each map.

Room 2. In my experience, the second secret room on most levels tends to be attached to one of the final two rooms before you fight the boss so either the room with the boss door in it or the one prior. If you are low on bombs try to save at least 2 for the next floor or until you find some more as bombs are usually best saved for blowing up rocks to access chests or power-ups.

Other rooms:

There are several other rooms to learn about, but I’ll save those for a part 2 as at the beginners stage you’ll have your hands full trying to take in all the weirdness without adding layers and layers on top at this stage.

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For me the sheer volume of items is one of Isaacs biggest draws. It means that with so much choice and so many different possibilities to putt from the hat, no game is ever going to be the same. to this day some 600 hours in I’ve yet to have more than a handful of runs that i could describe as very similar. Try and think of the item pool as a bag of those horrifically expensive gourmet jelly beans; They’re for the most part really nice but there’s a handful that you absolutely hate and in the same way, you’ll be able to spot them a mile off and know to steer clear after a couple of accidents.

Theres a huge temptation for me to show you the really terrible items and save you the agonising feeling of watching a fantastic run being fatally crippled by that one item you’ll grow to loathe but I’m not going to. That would ruin for me one of the huge elements of the game that drew me in and continued to do so for many many happy hour until i’d unlocked and memorised all 250+ items.

What I would reluctantly suggest if you’re really having a hard time or more understandably being in the middle of a perfect run and you can’t remember if the item at your feet is amazing or horrific. Open up your device of choice and have this page in your bookmarks. Use it sparingly and if you found it helpful, go and say thanks to @eluc_ he’s a top chap and has made many Isaac players lives immeasurably less stressful with that page!

Even the really crappy items do honestly have there uses and that nicely brings me to the next section. If you’ll forgive the Middle Management bullshit buzzword; It’s all about the Synergies.

General Items.

These are the meat of your runs, items that can be found randomly or in boss fights and item rooms or shops. Currently there is over 300 of these both active and passive. During any given run you can have dozens of these items applied to your character leading to some insanely powerful attacks and some that are just ridiculous looking. Passive items will be applied to your character and be viewable on the pause screen whereas active items which require you to use them will appear at the top left of your screen, sometimes with a power bar next to them. Some items will apply an effect to your character usually changing his appearance and some of them will require you to use the item with a button press.

Trinkets.

These are a little different to the general items in that they are kept in a separate slot to the active items you may hold. You can normally only carry one of these at a time (one specific pickup allows you to hold 2) and they are all passive; lending you abilities or bonuses without you actively having to “use” them. Once picked up, these items will appear in the bottom left of your screen. With a couple of notable exceptions, Trinkets are largely beneficial and should be collected regardless until you find a better one.

Cards and Runes.

The 31 cards and 8 runes you may find are all Active items so require you to use them with a button press. The rune or card you hold will appear in the bottom right of your screen. They have many effects ranging from doubling the amount of coins you currently hold to being able to kill any enemy in the game with one shot. With one exception these are all of benefit to you; the key is knowing when to use a card and when to save or discard one.

Pills.

Pills go into the same slot as the cards and runes so without the pickup that allows an extra slot, you can only carry one Rune, Card or Pill at any time. Pills are the most annoying item for the new player in my opinion. They are random in both effect and appearance each time you play so the pill that gave you extra health on the last run may reduce your health on the next. 8 or perhaps 9 of the effects would be classed as outright negative with about the same amount being positive with the remainder, like the cards and runes being context sensitive to your particular character that run or the position you find yourself in. Once you have used a pill during a run, it’s effect will be revealed for the duration of that run so if you do happen to stumble across a room full of “health up” pills you’ll know what they do after the first use.
The only rule I have for using pills is avoid using unknown pills when lots of enemies are close by as you may set yourself up for a fail.

Transformations.

As i mentioned earlier some items will change not only the abilities of your character but also the appearance. In the same vein certain combinations of items will lead to a transformation of your character into an altogether stronger character. I’m going to avoid spoilers once more but try collecting items that have similar names or a matching theme and see what happens. One transformation in particular will turn most runs into a won run so if you’re super struggling, perhaps look up the most popular transformation.

That brings me to the end of a huge “basics” guide and i hope it serves you well even if you’ve not read most of it. I could honestly type pages and pages more in microscopic detail but i’d be ruining a huge element of the game and once you reach a certain point, you’ll no doubt go looking yourself and find one of the many community wiki’s.

A couple of final notes…

Have a look on Youtube, there are loads of people that do daily Isaac runs either leaving it to chance or particularly fun community suggested seeds. (You can run the same seeds if you see a good one as the passwords for each level are the same across all copies) I’d recommend having a look a NorthernLion for his Isaac videos. He’s quite good at explaining the pros and cons of various items and tactics and helped me a great deal after i’d gotten my first few completions under my belt.

If you’ve any comments or would like to suggest any specific areas you may want covered in a part 2 to this guide, please feel free to let me know.

Good luck and see you at Real Platinum God.!!

 

 

Flame Over PS4 Review

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Flame Over is a game that’s quick to highlight the comparisons to another acclaimed rogue-like Spelunky, their website featuring a quote from Kotaku which draws the direct comparison.

I can’t help feel that a lot of people will have gone out and bought this game on the strength of this alone; I know I was primed had a review code not landed in my lap a couple of days prior to release.

So, is it really Spelunky with a hose? Well, yes and no.

You’re a lone firefighter who is tasked with putting out fires throughout randomly generated levels against the clock. It’s a pretty simple formula and it’s done very well for the most part.

There are two types of fire you’ll encounter, electrical and regular. Regular flames can be put out with your ever reliable hose, whereas electrical flames can only be neutralised with your extinguisher. This leads to careful management of both, all the while seeking out places to top up mid mission to avoid the short but time consuming trot back to the level start to refill.

The controls are pretty much classic twin stick shooter with a couple of clever tweaks to help you spray while strafing. There’s an initial few minutes that feels a bit awkward but by the time you’ve finished the tutorial you’ll be more than capable.

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The levels are randomly generated and span 4 areas; they contain both mid-level power-ups and permanent character upgrades to make your decent into the inferno that bit easier. The in-level items you can find and buy aren’t always overtly clear with what they do and I have to say I liked this; it makes you work out what they do under a bit of high pressure trial and error. Some items tend to be much more helpful than others; the latter seem to simply add another step to something you were able to do adeptly without.

Each level will also present you with numerous opportunities to save people (and cats) for time and health rewards respectively, while you gain money (at a rather generous rate I must admit) the whole time for successfully dousing patches of flames you encounter.

The physics of the fire are fantastic. Flames realistically growing and traversing the spaces they inhabit to quickly fill and overwhelm you, if you don’t learn the most efficient fire fighting techniques pretty quickly and most important of all, make completely sure you’ve doused any smouldering patches to stop yourself becoming trapped between two raging infernos.

The way the game conveys heat is nice and clear, although it lends to being easy to cheat it. As you get closer to a fire, a little circular dial starts to fill up around your player and if you don’t move back a safe distance, when it fills you’ll lose one of the four hearts you began with. It’s simple enough to back away to the door or a nice damp spot you’ve just created and there is a little bit of lag between you reaching safety and the meter dropping, so you do have to plan ahead a little more than you think at first. The meter seems to count the adjoining room as a safe area if you’ve just cleared it so even if there’s a patch of molten lava at your feet, crossing the threshold to the previous room resets your heat meter instantly in nearly all cases. This wouldn’t be so bad but the game pretty much shows you this during the demo which if not intended seems a bit of an oversight.

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My main genuine gripe stems from the frankly brilliant fire physics. Certain burning spots will erupt every few seconds, launching fireballs into and across the room; these both damage your player and also have a decent chance of either spreading the fire further or re-igniting an area you have just hosed. This is indeed fiendish design but so horrendously annoying; perhaps overly so. One mistimed fireball can at any moment fly through the open door you’ve just entered through and turn the room you spent time and precious water & foam to put out. I appreciate this is almost certainly intended and any game that is vaguely rogue-like is going to lean towards the harder end of the scale; it just seemed to happen far too often for my tastes meaning I’d almost always either restart the level or stop playing altogether.

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I’ve put over 500 hours into The Binding of Isaac and Spelunky combined over the last 18 months or so and in both of those games, you never feel properly abused by the RNG; bad things happen more often than not through a bad player decision, not at the whim of the game. I personally felt that Flame Over never lets you feel like you’re in the driving seat enough. Unlike in the other rouge-like/rouge-lite games, you’re very much a passenger going where the game wants to take you and you just have to do the best you can.

While typing out that last paragraph I come to the realisation that:

1. Maybe I’m not the Rouge-like aficionado I secretly think I am.

2. Flame Over may in fact be a more rogue-like game than anything I’ve played in that sense.

My grumbles aside I’m sure this game will have its own cult of loyal followers and judging by the largely very positive user reviews on Steam and admittedly very enjoyable underlying mechanics.

Overall this is a fun little game that sadly falls short of drawing me in for the gaming holy grail of “one more game”. Levels are satisfying to beat but often feel like the game simply won’t let you to win with the overuse of the overpowered flaming projectiles.

Pros

+ Amazing fire physics.

+Controls feel brilliant and responsive.

+Random levels mean huge replay-ability.

Cons

– Frustrating beyond words at times.

-God awful jazz soundtrack throughout.

Score:6/10

Holy Potatoes! A Weapon Shop Review.

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On first glance you’d be mistaken for thinking that Holy Potatoes! A Weapon Shop is aimed broadly at younger gamers and potentially the free to play market too, but underneath the bright, colourful cartoony visual style there lies an incredibly deep and rewarding management game that has kept me chasing that next big pay day for far longer than I would have expected.

As the games title suggests, you find yourself running a weapon shop and your goal is to craft the finest, weirdest and, at times, some very familiar looking weapons in a bid to make as much money as possible.

The depth and underpinning structure is really quite a feat when you look at sheer number of weapon building options and then one level more in the micro-management of production of your item. Each potential recipe has different stats such as Magic, Speed, Strength and Accuracy; all of which you can adjust on the fly during the production cycle. You also have the option of buying boosts during this phase to massively increase the returns on your stat of choice; think of how you hire freelancers in Kairosofts Game Dev Story. Using a combination of all the tools available you can, should you want to; build the ideal weapon for each of the Heroes waiting in town for your sales team to roll in. You can get by equally well by taking the more lazy, time efficient route and making each weapon type as you would expect it to be, a slow hard hitting mace for a warrior or a nimble but comparatively weak dagger for a rogue. But, if you really want to get the best returns for your time and consumables, you will need to make more bespoke weapons depending on the classes and needs of your customers.

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From time to time familiar faces from games, movies and TV will randomly show up knocking at your workshop door requesting a specific weapon type along with harder to achieve stat requirements. You have to be careful should you take on these jobs as failing the build will cost you time and any consumables used in building along with missed sales opportunities from regular production, it is worth however as the payday for these weapons is huge. These events are usually when you can expect to see some of the genuinely funny character and weapon lookalikes to appear. At the time of playing, these encounters were occasionally a little frustrating as you had to answer a multiple choice question to take on the quest. The answers were sometimes seemingly random meaning you could quite easily miss out on a great quest by poor luck alone. Happily the developers are very active on the steam forums and are taking on board and fixing users niggles pretty promptly.

There is quite a lot more depth hidden away after the initial tutorial levels and it comes at a steady and not overwhelming pace but I won’t go into detail as I think that may ruin some of the discovery that’s not immediately apparent. It’s worth pointing out that you don’t need to take advantage of all of the random events and time sensitive offers you’ll encounter to be successful. You don’t feel like you have to jump to attention every time an alert marks something new. This gives the whole game a feeling of always having options; you can play this game how it suits you rather than how the developers want you to play.

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On face value alone this looks like the kind of game most people would expect to see being played on a tablet or smartphone, but it’s actually quite a deep, and satisfying romp that can equally well be played out on the comfort of your computer. The developers have done a brilliant job of injecting their humour into the game and it doesn’t once come across as trite or off target.

According to the developers Facebook page, IOS and Android versions are in the long term plan and I really hope this comes to fruition as I can see this game taking up even more of my time. For me Holy Potatoes is a great game with simply tons of things to learn, discover, build and sell and one that personally would fit on handheld devices so well

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Niko Through the Dream Review.

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Niko Through the Dream is a game I first became aware of a few weeks ago via twitter after seeing a random auspicious retweet. With its mix of Escher-like floating islands and the promise of devious puzzles, my malnourished and forgotten Portal receptors were called into action.

The first offering from developer Studio Paint, Niko is a 1st person puzzle game featuring movement and logic based portions alongside some 3D platforming. It begins nice and gently, without any direct signals or signposts and gives you free reign to explore the minimalistic world taking as much time as you need, for the most part without penalty.

The puzzles are, as I suspect will be the case generally, my main draw to the game and on the whole they are satisfying and well-conceived. Depending on your personal taste some sections may miss the mark slightly but for the general audience, I think the entertaining/annoying balance is pretty much on point. I rarely became stuck because something was too cryptic or obtuse; none of the puzzles felt cheap or expected too much of the player. If you are a veteran to this genre or a paid up member of MENSA then you will almost certainly find the majority of the tasks rather too everyday but that’s not to say fun won’t be had. Puzzles can involve shapes, sound, colour or more mechanical elements and the difficulty ramps up gently but consistently. I didn’t get the impression that all the good puzzles were squeezed into the early game and then bulked up with filler thereafter.

The environments you travel to are varied and not restricted to the monochrome as a lot of the games screenshots would suggest; yes they’re a little clichéd with the green level and the ice level but each puzzle and area represents a defining point in the protagonists past and as such avoid feeling like they’ve just been shoehorned in just to conform to gaming tropes. Each different space feels unique and considered, not ‘let’s do a green level next’.

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I played with controller and felt that while the simple control scheme was serviceable enough, the option to swap key bindings, change sensitivity and invert view would have increased my enjoyment and lessened my frustration, especially in the more fiddly moments.

Speaking of frustrating, fiddly moments; I found nearly all of the platforming sections to be clunky and not really all that fun by comparison, especially when faced with aggravating checkpoints that may send you back 3 or 4 steps and controls that don’t feel at all suited to precision jumping, especially without having visible legs to gauge your landing.

Along with the out and out puzzle sections, the soundtrack was a highlight for me and complimented the world without ever drifting into repetition which I imagine it is something quite demanding to account for when you don’t know how long your player may be in the same location.

There are numerous collectibles throughout which do reward you with more than the usual tick in the box and steam achievement, but I have a young child so hunting for things is a day to day chore I don’t seek to simulate in my slightly ephemeral free time.

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At around 6 hours long it neither hits that point where you’re ready for the ending to come, nor does it leave you aching for more which is I think as fair as approximation of how I feel after the ending played out. At its current price of around £6.50 I actually found the game to be of perfect length and nicely segmented which allowed me to get bits done before having to dive back into real life for a few hours. Upon my return I felt as though I’d picked up right where I’d left off.

I’d love to see what the developers come out with next as the fundamentals are absolutely nailed on. Whether it’s a sequel of sorts or completely new venture, I for one will be keeping an eye out on twitter for the next rouge tweet that signals a new game.

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