… I mean, if you want to.
Not to immediately undercut the entire point of this article, but in the modern age of toxic fans and unpleasable fanbases, it feels wrong to write an article saying that the developer of The Binding of Isaac should stop updating it without acknowledging that… it’s your game, Ed. You can do whatever you want with it. This isn’t a demand as much as it is a plea that I have other things to do and I won’t get around to doing them if you keep adding new characters, items, bosses and challenges to your game, but as long as you keep releasing expansions then I will keep buying them.
But here’s why maybe you shouldn’t.
I recently passed a pretty big Binding of Isaac milestone – I have now played the game for more than 1,000 hours, and it’s a little bit jarring to have that number right there in front of me. That’s more than 40 days of my life spent playing this specific video game. Unless I live to be 110 years old, I will have spent more than 0.1% of my entire life playing The Binding of Isaac. It’s hard to talk about how long I’ve spent playing this game without my gaze drifting off into the middle distance as my mind wanders to things that I could have done with the time I spent playing this game. Spending time with loved ones. Learning to play the piano. Playing RollerCoaster Tycoon Deluxe instead.
The Binding of Isaac is, out of all of my favourite games, definitely the one that I’m most reluctant to admit that about. Maybe it’s because I’ve measurably spent more than a month of my entire waking life playing it, maybe it’s because of the general tone of the game (“Aw man, I picked up Sinus Infection when I already had Number One and Brimstone! Now the booger synergy might ruin the pee-lasers I’m firing out of my mouth!”) that makes it hard to discuss amongst people who aren’t aware of it. Or maybe it’s just because of all of the games that I undeniably love, it stills irritates me so much. If you’ve ever played a game as Keeper pre-Repentance, you’ll understand.
See, The Binding of Isaac works well as an embodiment of independent games as a whole. Every crude joke or questionable design choice that would have been focus-tested out of a more professional production would have ruined the experience. After the success of Super Meat Boy, Edmund McMillen was able to create Isaac free of any oversight from executives, or financial expectations, so he was able to make a game exactly the way he wanted to; full of religious imagery, body horror, and so many poop/dead baby jokes that even mid-2000s Newgrounds would think “Whoa, steady on there, that’s a little bit crude, don’t you think?”
The Binding of Isaac is a pillar of the roguelike genre – games with randomized layouts, enemies and power-ups, to maximize variety and replayability – and doubtless one of the most successful independent video games in the world. It was such a surprising sleeper hit that Edmund followed it with an expansion, and then a remake, and then an expansion for the remake, followed by another, and now another, and while the reaction to each of these expansions is mostly positive, it tends to be slightly less positive every time, and I’m here to explain why I think that is, and why it wouldn’t be the worst idea for Edmund to treat the game the way most of its players treat Jacob & Esau and leave them alone forever.
Here’s why, maybe, Edmund should consider not updating The Binding of Isaac anymore.
This is like the 8th time you’ve done this
Just to be clear, I’m not even exaggerating. The original flash The Binding of Isaac was released in September 2011, featuring Isaac, Maggy, Cain, Judas, ??? (commonly referred to as ‘Blue Baby’ because ‘???’ is quite difficult to pronounce,) and Eve. This was followed by an expansion, Wrath of the Lamb in May 2012, which added another playable character, Samson, alternate versions of existing floors, more items, bosses and enemies, and an extra floor at the end of the game. Given that the game as it stands now currently has… eleven different ‘final boss’ fights – not counting the separate ‘Greed Mode’ – it’s kind of amazing to think that there was a time when making it to ‘The Chest’ was the final step of the game.
When Edmund wanted to update the game, but was hindered by the limitations of the Flash engine, a remake was developed/published with the help of Nicalis, and thus began the reign of The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth in November 2014. Hundreds of new items, synergies, enemies, bosses, trinkets, two new final bosses, a boss rush, four new characters (one of which had to be unlocked by an ambitious community-driven Alternate Reality Game) and more, all combined to create the ultimate Isaac experience; one that has a rating of ‘Overwhelmingly Positive’ on Steam from over 130,000 reviews, which is more reviews than all three Modern Warfare titles and Skyrim: Special Edition have received on Steam, combined!
For owners of the original game, there would be one more free update; Florian Himsl, who co-created the game with Edmund, released The Eternal Edition update in May 2015, which added in a few new game mechanics and items along with a ‘Hard Mode’ that certainly lived up to the description. It was nothing remarkable, but it was a fun – and free – send-off to the original title that had unexpectedly become one of the biggest games of the year.
In October 2015 came the first proper expansion for Rebirth, aptly named Afterbirth. New bosses, new items, a new floor with a new final boss, two new characters, and an entirely new way to play named Greed Mode in which you fought against waves of spawning enemies in order to earn money to buy sweet items that would help you defeat waves of enemies faster. Greed Mode was joined by an even bigger ARG involving the number 109, the 1987 film The Lost Boys, a missing poster found at the Santa Cruz boardwalk, and a mysterious voicemail message whose initials were translated numerically to reveal GPS co-ordinates in Santa Ana, California, where buried under a pile of loose change was a very well-hidden statue of the game’s secret new character, Keeper. I’m not making any of that up.
The next expansion after this was Afterbirth+ in January 2017, which added another new character and another new floor with another new final, no really, for real this time, final boss. There were also new bosses and items and enemies, and Greedier Mode, a harder version of Greed Mode with faster-spawning enemies, less money, and a new final boss for this mode too. New items, trinkets and features were added periodically in ‘Booster Packs’, of which there were five, the last of which included a new boss, several new enemies, several hundred new room layouts, and yet another secret character ‘The Forgotten’. This was intended to be the final update to the game, as it had several tools for modders who enjoyed making their own items, characters and challenges, and Edmund was going to take a step back and let the community have fun with their own content for the foreseeable future.
So in April 2021, Repentance came out. Two new characters, two new final paths with two more final bosses, hundreds of more items – again – dozens of new bosses, challenges, secrets, trinkets, achievements, rooms, and all of this came with the twist that on top of the full roster of characters in the game, which was now at a whopping seventeen, every single character in the game now had a ‘Tainted’ variation with their own unique playstyle, starting items, and achievements for beating everything the game had to offer, which meant the total number of playable characters had actually more than doubled from fifteen to thirty-four. There’s no denying that The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth has been packed full with new content. So much content. Possibly even too much content, some might say.
There’s nothing inherently bad about frequently releasing new content, but The Binding of Isaac has never marketed itself as a game with a roadmap. People wanted more of it, sure, but a remake and five expansions? It’s an incredibly replayable game, so replayable that streamers like NorthernLion, Hutts and Sinvicta can still regularly upload videos of the game every single day and still get viewers, but that doesn’t mean that everyone desires to play this game – and only this game – until the end of time.
Maybe this just irritates me more because I’m something of a completionist, but I have now 100%-finished The Binding of Isaac nine times, because every time I finished it, more content was added with more achievements for beating more bosses with more characters, and around the third time that new content was being added to Rebirth, I stopped seeing it as a positive opportunity to play more of the game I enjoyed, and started to think of it as another task on my to-do list. I’m really happy to have finished the game, Edmund, but having spent more than a thousand hours on it, I’m happy to leave it in the past and play some other things. And while ultimately the onus for this is on me – I’m sure a few of you are wondering “Could you not just… not buy or play any future DLC?” which is an entirely justified question – then at some point you have to look at the diminishing returns of every expansion and wonder if perhaps you’ve added enough.
This is something that I can actually measure by looking at the global stats for Isaac’s Steam achievements. 86.5% of people who have bought this game have actually made it past the second floor, which is basically the starting point. The first DLC, Afterbirth, added ten new challenges that automatically unlocked but still had achievements, and 54.4% of players have unlocked those. 43% of players have the achievement for unlocking a challenge from the second DLC, Afterbirth+. The earliest achievement that I can see from Repentance that people have completed (‘A Secret Exit’, unlocked by beating Hush three times) is sitting at 14.9%. And Repentance has been out for three months now, so I can’t imagine there’s going to be a sudden resurgence of interest in it.
So, I appreciate the dedication here, but I would not advise making yet another expansion for, at most, 15% of the people who bought your initial game. Especially since I am in that 15% and I am actively telling you “Please, no more.” But maybe I wouldn’t have so many reservations about the game if every expansion didn’t require you to re-learn the basics of the game from the ground up; speaking of which!
Balance is the antithesis of fun
There’s nothing inherently wrong about trying to balance your video game, just like there’s nothing inherently wrong with masturbation, but that doesn’t mean you should do it at a job interview. Reading that sentence back, I have absolutely no idea what point I’m trying to make, but I will carry on regardless.
To me, the defining appeal of The Binding of Isaac – the most triumphant embodiment of its indie spirit – is the fact that there are several dozen combinations of items and trinkets you can find that make the game literally impossible to lose. In any game conceived by a more professional developer, these rough edges would have been sanded off for mass marketability in the name of ‘balance’ but Edmund McMillen recognized that the chance of lucking into any of these combinations made it a reward that the player had earned. It’s also much easier to accept that sometimes you might get screwed over by the Random Number Generator when just a few runs prior, the very same Random Number Generator blessed you with a blissfully overpowered run.
This one legitimately broke the game, by the way. It would crash constantly until I restarted. Still worth it.
Which is why it’s so disappointing to me that after a remake and four expansions, Edmund has now decided that some of these items are a little bit too fun. People are having too good a time picking up Brimstone and destroying enemies with chargeable blood-beams. 20/20 (Isaac now shoots two tears instead of one) was too much of a relief when it showed up, so it should come with a sizeable damage-down effect to compromise. Everyone loves Dark Bum, the familiar who picks up red hearts (useless if you’re already at full health) and converts them into soul hearts (temporary health you can pick up on top of your usual heart containers)! *5 seconds later* We regret to inform you that Dark Bum now spawns angry spiders.
It’s one thing when the best items in the game are no longer as effective, but Repentance also nerfed a lot of items and characters who weren’t that great to begin with. The most noticeable is ‘The Lost’, Rebirth’s super-secret character who notably has no HP and is incapable of acquiring any. They can also fly, shoot spectral tears, and take devil deals for free (can’t trade away your health if you don’t have any health) but they were still widely-regarded as too difficult to play as, so when Afterbirth came out, an achievement was added that enabled The Lost to start with ‘Holy Mantle’, which is essentially a shield that protects you from one hit per room. This turned The Lost from the hardest character in the game by far to a character who was surprisingly fun. They were still very difficult, dying immediately if you ever took more than one hit per room – very easy in rooms with waves of enemies, boss rush, or any multi-stage final bosses – but they were at least feasible.
In Repentance, The Lost has, well, lost the ability to take multiple Devil Deals, and they are now limited to just one per floor. Not the end of the world, but it is a little eyebrow-raising, like… what, people were complaining that this character was too easy? But the real nerf was Holy Mantle, the once-per-room damage preventer and saving grace of one of the hardest characters in the game. The way Holy Mantle used to work is that upon taking a hit, it would visibly break and give you a second – literally, one full second if half a heart of damage would have been taken and two seconds if it would have been a full heart of damage – to get out of the way of whatever hit you. For some reason, this has been lowered to 0.5 seconds. Every single time that I have died in Repentance while holding Holy Mantle, it has been because whatever hit me the first time went on to hit me again before I’d even had the chance to get out of the way. This is a problem for every character – anyone can find Holy Mantle in a Treasure/Angel Room – but especially for The Lost, whose greatest advantage has been halved for seemingly no reason. This isn’t a case of a particularly overpowered combination being nerfed to more reasonable levels, this is just taking an already-difficult character and making them significantly more difficult, and… why? Who was clamouring for this? Who was repeatedly telling the developers that this game was too easy?
Repentance in general makes everything harder and doesn’t provide any meaningful benefits in return. Shop items becoming free if you can find two Steam Sales? Removed. Being able to play a Devil Beggar twice while only paying out with your health once, if you’re fast and precise enough to activate them before the mercy invincibility wears off? Gone. Being able to take two-heart Devil Deals if you only have one heart and some soul hearts? Nope. But what benefits have we been given in return, eh? Well, a lot of powerful items and combinations are now a lot less effective, but on the bright side… a lot of enemies are now faster and deal more damage!
This is a problem anyway but it’s especially bad because this will be the very first thing that existing players notice when playing the game. The two new characters? They’re not unlocked yet. The two new final bosses? It’ll take some time to reach them. The new items? Maybe you’ve encountered one on the first floor. But chances are, the first thing that anyone who has previously played the game will notice has been changed is that every enemy that shoots projectiles at you now shoots them twice as fast. Why?
The matter of everything being made more difficult is very annoying to me because the most plausible explanation behind this decision is that Edmund and the team thought that experienced players were getting through these sections too easily, and wanted to keep them on their toes. Which is understandable to an extent, but it completely ignores the fact that it’s perfectly reasonable and not problematic in the slightest if people who have played a video game for hundreds of hours have gotten reliably good at it. They’ve corrected a problem that didn’t exist and created a new problem for themselves because everyone’s first impression of the game will likely be “Wow, everything just got a lot harder for no reason and I see no benefits at all to the player.”
It would be dishonest of me not to mention that some of the tweaks to balance did take items that were generally considered subpar at best and were actively avoided by players at worst and drastically improve them. Monster Manual was a spacebar item that used to spawn a random familiar for one room – pretty useless – and it now spawns a familiar that lasts for the entire floor. Holy Water was one of the worst items in the game – it was also a familiar that followed the player, and upon them taking damage, it would break on the floor, creating a small puddle that didn’t last very long and dealt pitiful damage to enemies who stepped onto it – but is now a projectile that can be thrown into enemies for decent damage and leaves behind a very large puddle of water that damages enemies while also freezing them in place. These are decent and welcome changes, along with the rebalance that changed Keeper from one of the worst characters in the game to actually pretty fun.
But I would take the useless Holy Water and the terrible Keeper back in a heartbeat if it meant that 50% of the best items in the game weren’t made less useful, awesome or fun, under the misguided impression that players were just having too much fun with these items and they needed to be ‘fixed’ to bring the fun back to manageable levels.
I’m just saying Edmund, there was another guy I know who was obsessed with ‘balance’.
That’s right, Steppenwolf from Scott Snyder’s Justice League. And you know what happened to him? He got his ass kicked by Optimus Prime. Just saying.
… Not that one.
There we go.
There are hundreds of items to collect in The Binding of Isaac. As of the release of Repentance, there are 711 items on the collection page. That’s billions of different combinations to encounter, synergies to discover, and once-in-a-lifetime runs to enjoy. It’s no wonder that it’s a regular feature for several prolific Let’s Players with daily uploads, given that even after watching someone play 5,000 runs of ostensibly the same video game, there are still different situations players can find themselves in and different combinations they can stumble into. Unfortunately, as much as Isaac thrives on interesting item combinations, with 711 different items to choose from, there are also many that… aren’t that great.
‘The Bloat’ is a very blunt way to sum up a very broad problem; I’ve noticed that the more items the game has, the more likely you are to encounter what are commonly referred to in the Isaac community as trainwrecks. And, full disclosure; some of my favourite content produced by the Isaac streamers I’ve mentioned already is their reactions to hilariously bad runs, runs in which you are playing the game to the very best of your ability, but the items you get just flat out don’t allow you to succeed. It is of course, hypothetically possible to beat the most difficult boss in the game with the lowest possible damage without taking a single hit, but this is hypothetically possible in the same way that winning the lottery is; the odds are truly astronomically small if you don’t have the right tools for the job.
What causes ‘the bloat’ is the abundance of items that wouldn’t be considered a valuable addition to basically any run. These are mostly supporting items, like low-damaging familiars, Luck Ups; pretty much any item related to money or the recurring shop room, given that it stops showing up after Floor 6. And then there are items that have interesting effects but don’t really improve the run at all, like Cursed Eye or Isaac’s Heart – bad examples as they are both considered pretty terrible items already – or My Reflection (your tears have much lower range and return to you like a slow, disappointing boomerang) or ‘Boom!’ which is just ten bombs. The latter two have been in the game since the beginning, so I can’t exactly blame Repentance for those, but with every expansion comes more and more items that serve similarly “… Meh” purposes, and increase the chances of having a “… Meh” run from start to finish.
And this isn’t taking into account that there’s a large number of items that are quite literally useless for certain characters; I mentioned ‘The Lost’ before, a character who is incapable of gaining HP. You might think that this means that items that only increase your HP would be removed from the game when playing as The Lost, and you would be completely wrong. Ditto for any character with similar limitations on their health, which involve Keeper, Blue Baby, their Tainted counterparts, Tainted Samson and Tainted Bethany. HP ups for these characters aren’t entirely useless, but as your only HP is temporary, so are the gains. There are also items that only activate or provide a benefit when you take damage, which you may guess are not very useful at all when playing as The Lost, who can never under any circumstances take damage. Or you could just keep finding active/spacebar items, when you can (almost always) only carry one of them at a time.
The annoying thing is that there is a relatively straightforward fix for this. Every item in the game has a secret assigned number which roughly correlates with the quality of the item, and there are certain items that have the very beneficial effect of preventing low-quality items from spawning. Some have pondered why these low-quality items are even in the game at all, but I do understand that even if they were all removed, all that would change is that every mid-quality item in the game would slowly start to be considered low-quality instead, and so on. But it does beg the question; how hard would it be exactly to slip a little something into the code to ensure that at some point in the first six floors, the player maybe has at least one guaranteed decent item? Not a game breaker, just an item to ensure that they actually have a fair chance to make it further. The cruel thing about Isaac is that if you’re not already powerful, you probably won’t be strong enough to, say, avoid taking damage for an entire floor, thus fulfilling the requirements to get a Devil Deal, or stockpile enough HP for the chance to play a Devil Beggar. The most reliable way to get a good run in Isaac is to already be having a good run.
The issue isn’t just that there are too many items in the game, but that some of them are just… not great. From the very beginning of Isaac, there have always been items that were basically just subpar versions of other items; Spoon Bender gives you homing tears, which are obviously very useful. Telepathy For Dummies is a book that gives you homing tears… in the room that you use it. It’s… fine, and it has a very low charge so you use it quite frequently, but it’s still just a worse version of a better item. There’s also Sulfur, which – okay, I’ve been putting it off, but we need to talk about Brimstone.
Brimstone is the greatest item in the history of all of video games. I’ve already mentioned that it replaces your tears with a gory beam of blood that takes a few seconds to charge but travels the full length of the screen and deals impressive damage to everything it comes into contact with, but I really can’t overstate just how fantastic this one item is, turning Isaac from a scared little child literally crying on his enemies, to a demonic powerhouse who can demolish rooms full of enemies in seconds. I definitely shouldn’t say this, but one of my security questions for an online work thing I had to sign up for is “What is the best item in The Binding of Isaac?” and the answer is “Brimstone, obviously.” Including the word ‘obviously’. And I would feel more worried about revealing that but my other two security questions are regarding the name of a childhood dog that I didn’t have, and the exact date I first played RollerCoaster Tycoon. Good luck guessing exactly 17th September 1999, chumps.
So Brimstone is a fantastic item, but being just one item out of seven hundred means you won’t get to enjoy it very often. Which is perhaps why Repentance adds Sulfur, an active item that you can use every three rooms, which has the effect of… temporarily giving you Brimstone. That’s it. You can stack it for a super-Brimstone if you get multiple charges in the same room, but other than that it’s just plain old regular Brimstone, but on an irritating timer. What exactly was the point of this?
It’s understandable that the game does need to repeat items, especially ones that serve a basic function, like HP Up, Damage Up, Tears Up etc, but when the more original items in the game are little more than dollar store versions of existing items, it can be hard to get all that excited over them. And that’s my issue with the Bloat.
Not that one.
Another big Isaac mod just came out
So, funny story, but Afterbirth+ was initially touted as the absolutely very final update to Isaac. The curtain had been called, the encore was over, and the fat lady had sung. It was a fitting enough end, with a fittingly hellish final boss that embodied the finality of the finally final ending (although I must admit that the really truly for real this time ending in Repentance is a big improvement) and enough support for mods had been incorporated that any new content would probably be provided by the fans themselves. And this was done in a very open, transparent and respectable way, not the shitty deferential “Oi, idiot players, finish our game for us!” way that Bethesda would attempt to utilize with Fallout 76.
Unfortunately, right about the same time as Afterbirth+ was coming out, a fan-made expansion was also released, named Antibirth. Afterbirth+ had one new character; Antibirth had two. Afterbirth+ had one new floor; Antibirth had four, including an entirely new alternative path to take. Afterbirth+ initially had 89 new items; Antibirth had… well, the Antibirth wiki says over 90, but I counted closer to 80 manually, so I’m not certain. But the new items in Antibirth were a lot better, honestly.
It’s kind of a nice story then, that Edmund was so impressed by this fan-made content that he got in touch with said fans and they worked together for several years to incorporate this content into the actual game, along with some spicy new content directly from Edmund as well. It’s a heartwarming tale of fans and creators coming together to make something beautiful, and it’s great and wonderful and it kind of terrifies me. Because Antibirth is far from the only notable fan expansion that Isaac has received.
I’m not too familiar with many of them and haven’t played any myself, but the big one at the moment is Fiend Folio, put together by many established creators who have previously worked on other big expansions like Revelations, Alphabirth and Retribution. It debuted in December 2020 with a new character, twelve new bosses, 250+ new enemies, three challenges, two new game modes and more. I’ve mainly heard of this mod because of one of those challenges that has become quite infamous, ‘Dad’s Home’ in which you only need to clear two floors, but every single enemy that you encounter throughout the run spawns again in every single room you enter. Including the floor 1 boss fight. That’s so sadistic and cruel that I would genuinely expect Edmund to put it in a Repentance update when no-one’s watching.
But it’s a disservice to the community to imply that Fiend Folio is the only expansion that’s a big deal. Revelations itself is a multi-part game mod which has currently released two out of three parts, including two new characters, 61 new items, 16 new bosses, two new floors, and while there has been a bit of a schedule slip (part one and two both released in 2018, part 3? TBD) then it’s still a widely-respected and thoroughly enjoyable addition to the game. And after the precedent set by Edmund when he decided to incorporate Antibirth into official Isaac canon, this kind of terrifies me, because Edmund has already established that when he says “This is it, the really final update, the really really real last one, no more after this, for real and for true, enjoy it while it lasts because there will be zero new updates coming after this!” then he is liable to change his mind if he sees some fancy fan-content that’s impressive enough.
This isn’t a wholly bad thing – or even a bad thing at all; it’s incredibly positive that Edmund has such respect for modders in his community that he is willing to work directly with them to put their ideas into his game – but as someone who has very happily finished the game and would be content for this to be the end of the line, you can probably understand why I’m skeptical that this really will be the final update when Edmund has now confirmed that he’s willing to put any sufficiently-impressive fan-made material into the game as official content.
The world needs more Edmund McMillen titles
I thought I’d end on a more positive note, but while it might come across as insincere given the context, I genuinely have enjoyed the multitude of fantastic titles that Edmund McMillen has unleashed upon our unsuspecting world, so I am being completely sincere when I say that one of the largest benefits to The Binding of Isaac never receiving another update, would be the amount of time it would free up for Edmund to pursue other projects.
The most-famous of Edmund’s other titles is probably Super Meat Boy, a fantastically challenging retro platformer and arguably indie royalty, which was followed up in 2020 by Super Meat Boy Forever, which no-one really seemed to be excited about. It was an automatic runner rather than a precision platformer, and instead of the levels being painstakingly created to be as fitting as possible, they’re randomly generated from a selection of pre-determined level-extracts that combine together with no real cohesion. Also, I’m pretty sure that this from Edmund himself is a close as he is legally allowed to come to stating that he thinks the game is trash.
I don’t want to say “Well, maybe if you weren’t working on Isaac so much, you could have worked on this game instead and it would have been better!” because ultimately, I don’t know any of the reasons why Edmund didn’t return to work on the sequel and it would be really shitty of me to blame Edmund for the underperformance of a video game that he didn’t even work on. But having played The End is Nigh, a similar but very distinct retro-themed hard-as-nails platformer, I can state with absolute certainty that if Edmund had been more involved, or if he had just worked on a completely separate project, then that project would have been more successful, critically-acclaimed, and worth everyone’s time and attention than what Super Meat Boy Forever ended up as.
There’s also The Legend of Bum-bo, a spin-off title from Isaac that combines Edmund’s trademark gross-out humour with Bejeweled, of all things, only instead of diamonds, square and circles, the tiles are boogers, bones, poop, teeth and pee. Because of course they are. Regardless though, it was a very well-made take on the traditional tile-matching formula and I was happy enough to play it for thirty hours when it came out, and then play it again for another fifteen hours when Edmund pulled a… well, pulled an Edmund and gave it a free update which added a new character, some new items, and a couple of achievements. The only criticism that anyone could accurately give The Legend of Bum-bo is bluntly that it wasn’t as successful as Isaac, which now that I’ve typed it, makes it much easier for me to understand why Edmund would continue to tweak an existing title that put more effort into creating more original works.
Even without Bum-bo, The End is Nigh and Super Meat Boy, Edmund would still have one of the most impressive indie résumés on the planet. Gish, Triachnid, Aether, the original Meat Boy… while it would be wholly misrepresentative to make this argument without any disclaimers, I would like to point out something about the number of games that Edmund has developed. Prior to the release of The Binding of Isaac, Edmund had released 45 games between 2001 and 2010. Since its release, Edmund has released 12 games, and half of these were directly-related to Isaac. Admittedly, one of the games related to Isaac is Four Souls, an entirely new card game based on the series which has been very positively received and was funded extremely quickly on Kickstarter by passionate fans. Also admittedly, of the 45 games prior to Isaac, the vast majority are Flash games that would take far less time to develop than a big project like The End is Nigh, and 11 of them are Flash games with the words ‘Dead Baby’ in the title. So it would be completely dishonest of me to just say “45 is bigger than 12! What’s with the slow release schedule, Edmund?” to a developer who, comparatively speaking, releases new products and updates with surprising frequency, but hopefully the point does remain that with Isaac now well and truly (allegedly) in the past, I’m much more excited for any new projects from the mad mind of Edmund McMillen than I would be for any hypothetical Isaac updates.
None of this is remotely connected to the real reason why I’m begging for no more updates, and that’s simply because I’m an achievement hunter, and even when the updates are free, it’s always a mild annoyance to me when my precious ‘100% completion’ rating is lowered to something else (Fun fact, in the move between Rebirth and Afterbirth, if you previously had 100% of the achievements, do you know how many you had once the achievements for Afterbirth were patched in? 69% exactly. Nice.) And due to my completionist nature, I feel obligated to get back up to 100%, even when nobody would care and I’m not even enjoying the game anymore.
But I also do genuinely feel that after one initial game, two expansions for said initial game, an updated re-release, three expansions for the re-release and multiple other updates… maybe it might be time for Edmund to consider this game finished. And now you’re free! Free to create the next The Binding of Isaac, or focus more of your time on Mew-Genics (that’s a real upcoming game he’s working on, I’m not suggesting he performs eugenics on cats. Or Gen I Pokémon) or just relax with the money you have rightfully earned by being one of pioneers of indie gaming from its infancy in Newgrounds submissions to outselling Call of Duty titles.
Or… and again, I don’t want to undermine my own argument here, but having seen firsthand just how toxic fans can be, especially when they’re convinced that they know your work better than you do, I feel obligated to point out in the strongest possible terms, if you want to keep updating The Binding of Isaac basically forever, then it’s your game to do whatever you want with and don’t listen to idiots like me telling you to stop before you’re ready. I am convinced that The Binding of Isaac is finally at an end, and it seems like a very fitting one, but if you have more ideas or there’s more fan-made content that you’re really impressed by, or if you just feel like it, keep updating the game. Because it’s genuinely one of the greatest indie titles of all-time, and your instincts have not steered you wrong so far.
But just in case you were feeling the opposite way, as if you want to stop working on the game but feel as if there’s still work to do, or are worried that your new projects might not be as successful, then let me assure you that you have already struck gold here. Mew-Genics might not be as big a hit (this will age terribly when that game sells eleventy billion copies in its first week) but it’s understandable that it won’t be as big as arguably the most-successful independent video game ever created.
The Binding of Isaac is a video game that I am always reluctant to admit is one of my favourites, because with that comes the admission that I’ve spent 1,150+ hours playing it (another 150 finishing off the Tainted characters between the beginning and end of writing this blog) and for personal reasons, that makes me feel a bit… I mean, I could’ve learned Japanese or how to fly a plane by now. But make no mistake; The Binding of Isaac truly is one of my favourite games of all-time, although I’m sure I will frequently deny it. And as much as I’ve enjoyed playing it, and have played it for many hours in the past, and I’m sure would continue to play it for many hours in the future if another update drops… I’m also happy to leave it be.
In summation, congratulations and thank you, Edmund. You’ve developed a wonderful game, and thank you for the hours of fun, and you should be very proud of yourself, and… please, for the love of God, please don’t update this game anymore. I have important things to do.
Shut up, RollerCoaster Tycoon Deluxe is an important thing to me.