The Binding of Isaac can be a bit overwhelming at first. Certainly, when I first played the original version, I felt as though I didn’t really know what to do, and didn’t see the appeal of it all. But all it took was for one friend to tell me a few hints and tips and guide me through the first levels before I was hooked, and ending up clocking days worth of playtime.
Now, The Binding Isaac: Rebirth is out on PS4, PS Vita, and PC, and it’s free on the former two platforms for PlayStation Plus subscribers. While this remake goes a bit further to explain certain things, it can still be a bit confusing at first. So we’ve put together this beginner’s guide with plenty of hints and tips to get you started with the game.
Avoid enemies like the plague.
This might seem obvious, but health is precious in Isaac – there’s a long way to go to the end, and you won’t want to have low health or you’ll be restarting before you know it. Remember, if you die then that’s it.
It’s a twin-stick shooter.
So play it like one – use the D-Pad or left stick to move around all the time while firing with the right stick or directional buttons – don’t stand still, and keep firing those tears
Douse the flames.
While rocks don’t usually have anything in them, fires which appear around the levels often do, and this can be a great way to get coins or hearts.
Don’t rush to the boss.
Although you might just want to get through the first level and onto the next, you should try to explore every room on each floor before heading to the boss. That way you’ll be fully equipped to take them on, and for the subsequent levels.
If you fail – and you will fail at some point, everyone has a bad run – then don’t be disheartened. It’ll be randomly generated, sure, so you can’t exactly predict what’s coming next but you might get better upgrades this time and you’ll know the enemy patterns better.
It’s not over.
Once you’ve completed the game for the first time, that’s only really the start of things. There’s also all of the DLC expansion content in Rebirth too, and then a whole lot more new to this version of the game, so just restart and go beyond the end.
Don’t trust all items.
Some items – we cover them down there – might seem like a good idea but actually have bad side effects, such as the tick which makes bosses less powerful but gets stuck so you can’t pick up anything instead, or the cat’s head which gives you nine lives, but resets to one heart each time you die. That’s probably worse than just dying, as it’s too hard to progress.
Okay, now that we’ve got those slightly condescending tips out of the way, we can get onto the bigger stuff – we’ll tell you all about secret rooms, items, shops, abilities and more.
A lot of these pick ups are self explanatory – keys open doors or boxes (go for the gold ones before the others) while bombs blow up rocks, walls, and can damage enemies. Currency in the form of coins should be pretty self-explanatory too. There are of course hearts which will restore your health, but then there are soul hearts which extend your health but disappear completely after you’ve lost them. The same goes for black hearts, which are new to rebirth, although those deal damage to enemies in the room upon depletion.
Beyond that, you’ll find pills which either provide bonuses or are detrimental to your character’s stats, as well as having other random effects such as teleporting you. There are also tarot cards which work similarly to pills but have a larger range of card-specific effects.
Items, Trinkets & Followers
The items, which are either passive or can be used actively, are the bread and butter of Isaac. These come as upgrades, with plenty of them stacking on top of each other to turn your character into a grotesque – yet powerful – creature. There’s hundreds of them in total and while some of them explain what they do when picked up, you might want to look at a wiki or guide if you don’t think it’s added anything.
Although plenty of these items stack, there are items which can be used as limited power-ups, and these will appear with a gauge next to them in the top left. These have a wide array of effects, allowing you to unleash large attacks or simply jump over gaps in the floor. These need to be recharged by refilling the gauge, completing rooms to do so. Trinkets work similarly in that you can only hold one at a time, but instead of being one-use, their effects – such as health regeneration or improving item drops – are persistent until you swap them for another one.
Followers are a unique type of attack item which, instead of having to be actively used by you, will float around your character’s head and even fire its own projectiles at the enemy, or bring its own unique ability to the game. There are plenty of these in-game, with some even protecting your character defensively rather than attacking the enemies.
While many of the rooms in games are randomly populated with enemies and chests, there are some rooms which will be very much the same in each playthrough, whether they’re shops, item rooms, or something secret. We’ll cover some of the more basic ones (as well as a couple we feel need to be explained) now.
These rooms with a golden door which you’ll usually need a key to unlock house an item on a pedestal for you to take. It’s always worth hunting these out, though it can sometimes be a bit disappointing when you pick something up and the thing you’re already holding is better!
In the shop you’ll find a few items to buy with the coins you’ve collected. It features everything from hearts to pick ups and even larger items, which will naturally cost more. The Steam Sale item cuts the prices of everything in the shop by 50%.
You may come to a room which looks a little bit like a dungeon and features nothing but a set of spikes in the middle. Here, you can stand on the spikes and sacrifice your health in order to make chests appear.
This room is quite intriguing. Here, you can trade away a piece of your HP or two (permanently – you won’t be able to collect hearts to get it back up, but HP+ items will gain those back) for an item. It’s a bit of a risk, but the reward might be worth it.
We naturally don’t want to spoil anything, but the secrets here aren’t things you’d usually find by chance, instead only looking for them after having them pointed out to you.
We’ll cover this one first, because there’s one in every level and it may be something you pass by without knowing about it, and it can be a huge help. These rooms can be found by blowing up the centre of a wall to reveal an entrance. That might sound vague, but you’re more likely to find it bordering three rooms or in the middle of four rooms when you look on the mini-map – essentially in the gaps between non-joining rooms.
The gallery of images above shows the process of guessing a secret room location, before blowing up the wall to access the room, and then the inside of the room itself. Look at its location on the map – it’ll be in places such as that.
Although there are plenty of rocks in the game, either used as an obstacle or for decoration, there is a certain breed of rock which is effectively a chest and will contain items – usually soul hearts, but not limited to them. To open it, you’ll need to blow it up, revealing the prizes inside.
See that rock below the bomb in the image above? That’s the one we’re talking about.
If you don’t have an ability such as flying or jumping to allow you to cross a gap in the world, you can create a bridge by blowing up an adjacent rock. The debris will then pave the way across for you, as you can see in the images below.
We hope this guide helps you discover the brilliance of The Binding of Isaac – let us know how you get on with this game and post any questions in the comments below!