An Indie darling in its own right, Binding of Isaac has had the benefit of an extensive DLC expansion and being developed and produced by the one of the creators of the critically acclaimed Super Meat Boy. To this day, both of these still hold a spot amongst my most favorite games. I’ve put near 40 hours into my Isaac addiction alone, so I’m rather critical when it comes to grading similar titles. With my time with the Wizard’s Lizard, I’ve found an equally addicting affair that takes several lauded features from Isaac and other similar roguelike titles, and modifies and even improves some to craft an occasionally familiar, but wholly enjoyable experience.
First and foremost, WL plays like a twin-stick Isaac; you’re not limited to 4-way firing. You also have a dedicated sprinting function, which you will utilize to get out of sticky situations. Rather than bombs, you have access to a magical immediate-area blast attack and “totems” which, depending on type, can be laid at any point and can rain all manner of elemental justice on your enemies. These run on a cooldown system, and it quickly shows to be an unwise decision to waste them on weaker enemies. In fact, a major benefit the totems bring to gameplay is an element of strategy that Isaac typically lacks. There are situations where enemies will not be defeated by standard weaponry alone before they can reach you, but with a well-placed totem, a trap can fell a group of nasties before they have the opportunity to sap half your health bar.
And sap it they will, but then even this becomes a unique part of WL, as death isn’t the end. In fact, it’s often the means to great rewards! Dying once turns your character in a halo wearing ghost, and this brings new implications and dangers. On death, enemies occasionally leave behind spirits of their own, and while in your own ghostly form, they can now hurt you. The risk comes in several dungeon-wide escapades that require the use of living and ghostly forms to pursue, as being ghost lizard allows you access to specific items that only he can reach. While death can bring on even greater challenges with new enemies, it’s entirely possible to earn your life back. Fighting through the ghostly hoard to earn back the privilege of your fleshy exterior is all but imperative, as you will not likely survive the later areas without the crutch of your ghostly half to fall back on should you perish again
Just like in Isaac, every game you start drops you in a fairly different series of rooms each time, though they start to blend together on repeat playthroughs, as the situational variety tends to dwindle quickly. In lieu of upgrades that give or modify abilities, you find a variety of weapons and equipment, like helmets, gloves, charms and the like. However, (and this is a big issue I have with WL), wearing a spiked helmet, green gloves, demon boots, a diamond ring, several charm necklaces AND carrying an abacus around do not change my appearance in the slightest. One of the most entertaining visual aspects of Isaac was the variety of horrid things you could do to him simply by finding upgrades! The game loses an excellent source of entertainment by not providing similar feedback to the player beyond a menu screen list.
In keeping up with any upgrades and items you’ve nabbed, the in-game menu screen provides a much needed function that I always wish was in Isaac. You always have access to a larger map and a detailed list of all owned items and
their abilities. This leads to my favorite feature in Lizard, one that really sets it apart from Isaac in a superb way: progression! Before beginning a run, you’re dropped into a hub, where you have access to a store. While dungeoning, you may run across special shops that will sell you a single blueprint. These blueprints give permanent additions to the hub store, where you can buy and set your starting equipment before each run. To earn money for your equipment, you must seek out missing adventurers in the dungeons and rescue them. Each rescue adds a permanent 500 gold to your starting funds, and a plucky new npc to wander around the hub.
But far and away my favorite indication of progression comes from the upper door in the hub, which leads to the museum. What could be in a museum, you ask? Well, this museum provides several rooms, each detailing a specific aspect your progression. How many enemies have you killed from a specific dungeon? What weapons have you found? Equipment sorted through? Each found item finds a resting place, along with an apt description of what it is and what it does. The enemy rooms indicate just how many you’ve killed, along with an often cute description and their behavior pattern. It adds an entirely new dynamic to playing the game, and appeals to my want to play just one more in hopes of finding another something
to add to my collection. The metagame is strong in this one.
The last item of importance in the hub is the ability to open shortcuts to further dungeon zones a la Spelunky. Opening the first one was a bit of a pain for me, so I’ll enjoy not explaining how I did it.
There are secrets that are in no way apparent on your first, fifth, or twentieth playthrough, and I won’t give any hints as to the whereabouts of the few I know of. What I will touch on is possibly the most important aspect of this game in relation to Isaac: The Difficulty
. Typically, the game is standard fare, with your ability to escape dungeons unscathed hinging on your ability to adapt to specific creatures and situations that most often present themselves. That said, there were certainly rare instances of little resistance prior to a specific room, only to be so completely overwhelmed as to die then and there. At the end of each zone you will come across a boss, and this is one of the stronger aspects of WL when compared to Isaac. In Isaac, boss characters may differ on colors, and therefore strength, speed or defense. In WL, bosses behave
differently, with varying methods of attack, depending on your luck of the draw. I can’t tell you how irritated I was to reach the first boss for the second or third time only for him to whip out an entirely different attack pattern that I hadn’t previously witnessed… and kill me. I was flabbergasted in the best possible way. That said, boss encounters can be too
difficult. They have far too much health, and the few attack upgrades you can find barely augment your strength to point where I didn’t even really notice a difference. Expect to spend a lot of time learning patterns and flexing your muscle memory if you want to succeed.
Wizard’s Lizard more than scratches the itch left by Binding of Isaac, and improves and even introduces many features unique to the genre. This game relies heavily on acquired blueprints, making your starting inventory the most important aspect of each playthrough
. During my play time, I’ve noticed several mechanics and ideas lifted straight from the most popular action rogues, namely Isaac and Spelunky, but this in no way detracted from my time with WL. Rather it insights warm feelings of times gone by with some of my favorite gaming experiences. In the week that I’ve been playing WL, features have been added and notable tweaks were made. I fully expect more content to make its way in for a good while, and what’s here is already arguably more than enough. In short, this game is excellent, and easily sucks away the hours crawling through dungeons just to get a little bit closer to the end, or find that one item or blueprint you’ve been pining after.