The Binding of Isaac was a 2011 Flash collaboration created by Edmund McMillen (of Super Meat Boy fame) and programmer Florian Himsl. It was a top-down, rogue-like, dungeon crawler reminiscent of the 2D Legend of Zelda games. The game’s story and aesthetic were inspired by biblical themes and the horrors of childhood nightmares. The Binding of Isaac has certainly never been a game for the squeamish.

Developers: Nicalis and Edmund McMillen

Platforms: Windows, OS X, Linux, PlayStation Vita, PlayStation 4

The premise of the game is that the mother of the title character Isaac hears a voice from God one day telling her to sacrifice her son, with Isaac then fleeing into the macabre depths of their basement. The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is a remake of this, now with a retro, 16-bit, pixelated art style.

All of the content from the original game and its Wrath of the Lamb DLC are included in Rebirth, accompanied by new content equal in size to these combined. This fresh content includes new enemies, new bosses, over 150 new items, 4 new playable characters and a whole array of special challenges. Many of the original items and enemies have also been overhauled to make them function in a more streamlined way. This means that Binding of Isaac veterans can expect to be kept on their toes just as much as newcomers.

The distinctive art style resembles that of the Gameboy Advance era, while the sound design has been entirely revamped. The sound effects are more gruesome than ever before, though the new soundtrack composed by Matthias Bossi and Jon Evans doesn’t quite manage to match the quality of Danny Baranowsky’s score to the original game.

Rebirth also contains an abundance of entirely novel features. There are now extra-large rooms, double boss fights, speed run rewards and even a hidden boss rush room. A local multiplayer has also been added, with Rebirth including the option to sacrifice a portion of health to spawn an in-game familiar controlled by the second player.

The new seed system is also a particularly nice touch, allowing players to share their experiences with each other as every randomly generated play-through has its own unique code which can be shared and input to recreate the dungeon layout. This can allow for a level field in competitive speed runs between players, and special seeds act like cheat codes, allowing for cosmetic changes to the game and also secret challenges.

The greatest change has been the new engine which allows the game to overcome the limitations imposed by the original running on Flash. Rebirth runs smoothly, without the slowdown or crashes experienced in the original. It also features full controller support; something which the original sorely lacked. Even more significantly, Rebirth allows you to save your mid-game progress which you can return to later, rather than forcing you to do a complete play-through each time like in the Flash original. The new engine has also allowed for far more detailed and dynamic environments, making its predecessor’s backdrops look rather sparse by comparison.

Rebirth’s initial launch was somewhat shaky, with many players experiencing running issues and graphical glitches, but to their credit, Nicalis patched these issues with admirable swiftness, fixing most of the teething problems in a matter of days.

In an industry increasingly populated by lazy HD re-releases, Rebirth stands as a shining example of what all remakes should actually aspire to, not only to faithfully recreate the original but also to improve upon it in every possible way. The sheer volume of content on offer coupled with the game’s replayability makes Rebirth an essential purchase and one of the best titles released this year.