Guide: the binding of isaac
Intro and Disclaimer
Looking to notch your first win or just learn more about this cryptic roguelike? Welcome to my Top 10 Beginner Tips for The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth Plus!
Before we get started, I want to remind you that as always with guides like this, these tips are just the opinion of one idiot on the internet. This list was compiled by me and is not meant as statement of fact, but rather a helpful starting point for new players. Also please keep in mind that Isaac is a game of exceptions to rules, and thus many of these tips can and will be influenced by a given run's composition. That out of the way, let's get started.
1. Basic Map Layout
My first tip for new Isaac players is learning the basic map layout for floors in Isaac. Now, there are TONS of variations on rooms that you can encounter on each floor in this game, as you can see with this peek at the Wiki, and much of that falls outside the scope of this video. BUT there are a few key points to touch on as basics.
ITEM Rooms are found on the first three sets of floors - Basement, Caves and Depths - and require a key beginning on the second floor. Other than that cost of a key, item rooms typically contain a free item and should always be visited so save your keys!
Shops are also found on the first three sets of floors and always require a key to enter directly. Shops have their own unique pool of items with a typical item cost of 15 cents, and although items are sometimes on sale and consumables can be purchased for a lower cost, a good beginner guideline is to visit the shop if you have an extra key or two and can meet the 15 cent minimum.
Every floor from the beginning of Isaac until the very end also contains a boss fight, and while the boss fights generally get progressively harder and there ARE ways to skip past the fight, you pretty much always want to fight the boss because you also get an item from the boss as well as a chance for more items, but we'll touch on that later.
That's the very basics of map structure in Isaac, and while simple it's important to help you achieve success as a new player.
2. Secret Rooms
My second tip for new players in Afterbirth Plus is a secret! Both Secret and Super Secret ROOMS are found on every single floor throughout the game and offer the player a risk/reward scenario: they can be hard to find but the payouts are potentially lucrative.
The standard secret room usually borders 3 or 4 rooms, while the super secret room always borders only ONE room and it is never a special room - that is, it's never an item room, shop, boss room, ect. It's always a normal room.
Secret rooms must usually be entered using an explosion placed in the center of an adjoining wall, and remain open once they've been bombed. To help you locate secret rooms of both types, remember that ALL of the doors to the secret room can never be blocked by a rock or a gap - they must always be accessible to a player on the ground.
One important beginner strategy is making use of the standard secret room as a pathway - using two bombs may be able grant you access to a room that would otherwise be off limits. Keep an eye out for those secret rooms!
3. Deals with the Devil
The third tip on my list for beginner Isaac players is the one with the most potential to have a gigantic impact on any run: Deals with the Devil. While you can get a lucky teleport to a deal with the devil early via a Joker card or a Red Chest, the standard way to reach a deal with the devil is the chance for the deal to appear following boss fights - a Devilish door opens and inside you may find some of the most powerful items in the game... if you're willing to trade away some of your heart containers.
The math involved in figuring out whether you get a deal with the devil is affected by a LOT of different things in the game and is outside the scope of this video, but at a basic level deals are based on whether or not you take red heart damage throughout the course of a given floor. The most important floor is the second floor of the game (or the first floor if it's an XL floor). At the end of the second boss fight, you are guaranteed a Deal with the Devil if you have taken no red heart damage for that floor. You can protect your red hearts by accumulating soul hearts and black hearts, so prioritize picking those up at any opportunity on the first and second floors. Now, devil deals do cost health, and I know trading health can be scary for new players, but I assure you that more often than not trading away some or nearly all of your HP for these items is the right call.
If you watch some of my runs you'll see that sometimes I take deals that take me down to one heart or even half a heart - and do I die sometimes right away on the next floor? Of course! But taking powerful items is typically better than playing defensively in Isaac, and I encourage you to be aggressive with these deals and get some experience rolling with some of the best items in the game as a result. Some items in the Deal with the Devil give BACK health as well, so it's really helpful to get to know this item pool well as quickly as you can.
As a small note, if you pass up a deal with the devil you will then receive a chance for Angel rooms, which have items from their own angelic pool. While items in angel rooms don't cost health, and a couple of the most powerful items in the game are found there, those items are exceedingly rare, and overall Devil deals are just better and what you should aim for.
4. Curse Rooms
Speaking of playing fast and loose with your HP, my fourth tip for Afterbirth Plus new players is making use of Curse Rooms. The curse room is a special room with its door encircled by spikes. The curse room will deal damage to you on both the way in and the way out, unless you can fly in which case you only take damage on the way OUT of the room.
Be on the lookout for an opportunity to bomb your way into the Curse Room via the secret room as mentioned earlier, and keep in mind the deal with the devil mechanics and don't spend your red health on the curse room before fighting the floor boss. For early players it might be better to check the curse room as the LAST thing you do on a floor, when you know there is extra HP lying around or just feel like your health is in a comfortable spot.
Curse rooms are a big risk reward considering the damage required to enter them, and sometimes contain nothing but enemies or troll bombs, BUT they can provide soul hearts or items. However be wary that the curse room item pool is split between very good items and some very bad ones. Get to know these items early so you know which ones to snap up and which to avoid at all costs.
Curse rooms are often worth the risk in my opinion, but entering a curse room should always be a calculated risk based on your current health
5. Health is a Currency
You might be noticing a lot of talk about HP and different types of health. Well, my fifth tip for new Isaac players will wrap that up by saying that you should think of your HP in Isaac as a *currency*. Deals with the devil and curse rooms are only a couple of the examples of this in Afterbirth Plus.
On your runs you may also encounter blood donation machines, which give money for HP; or demon beggars, which take health for other rewards. While not digging too far into these mechanics, I will just encourage you to look at health as another currency along with your money and consumables, and experiment with spending your health for rewards in Isaac.
If you're aggressive with your HP at first, you'll gradually learn where the line is and discover that it's often worth it to spend some HP in search of the perfect benefit or item to craft a successful run.
6. Spending Money
Health is a currency, but what about actual currency? Spending money is my sixth tip for new players in Afterbirth Plus. Shops in Isaac feature consumables for sale, as well as items which come from a unique shop pool. Shops are pretty involved and you're best served learning the items within them over time, but a few tips come to mind for beginners.
First, if you have an extra key and five cents, it's not a bad idea to pick up a soul heart from the first floor shop if one is available, to protect your chance for a deal with the devil on floor 2.
Secondly, shops may feature donation machines or restock machines. Accumulating money in your donation machine unlocks more items and options for the shop in the future, and also allows you to store money for future runs, which can be extracted by bombing the machine. It's a good idea to donate if you have some surplus money. You may feel like you're wasting your pennies, but your future self will thank you! Restock machines can be played with money or activated with a bomb, and refresh the shop with new items and consumables, which is a great way to get a better item easily once you know which ones are better than the others.
Finally, be aware that the shop can also contain enemies or a miniboss fight, so keep your guard up and don't relax when you're entering the shop!
7. Tinted Rocks
Isaac is a game of secrets, and my seventh tip is one of my favorite small secrets in the game - Tinted Rocks. Tinted rocks are rocks marked with an X - and as with any buried treasure, X marks the spot!
Bombing these rocks will always pay out with something, and the best payouts are typically either additional soul hearts to bolster your HP or The Small Rock, a nice damage-increasing item which is very helpful to any Isaac run, particularly early.
Often on a floor you may think you're sorely lacking in health only to discover that you've missed a tinted rock or two with soul heart health inside. Take the time to learn the markings, and keep in mind that tinted rocks can be much harder to spot on some of the later floors, but a good track record in spotting these special rocks can drastically increase your chance of success.
Remember tip #5, health is a currency, and one place to earn that currency is inside tinted rocks.
In Afterbirth Plus, picking up three items from certain subsets of items will give you a transformation. The transformations vary widely, but by far the most powerful is my eighth tip: Becoming Guppy.
The Guppy Transformation occurs after the player picks up three of the six items in the game themed after a cat owned by developer Edmund McMillen, named Guppy. The Guppy transformation grants the player the ability to fly, an adorable cat player model complete with ears and tail, and a blue fly is spawned with each tear that hits an enemy. Blue flies then seek out and attack enemies close to your character, dealing 2x your tear damage each.
This transformation is extremely powerful and is an important goal for any Isaac run -so where can you find these items? The usual places to find Guppy items are directly in the curse room, in deals with the devil, and from red chests. Guppy's head can also be found in golden chests. Keep an eye out for a special trinket The Left Hand, which replaces gold and brown chests with red chests and will drastically increase your chances of becoming our favorite feline - but keep in mind that it is a gamble and those red chests may only contain spiders and troll bombs.
9. Focus on Dodging
So this book knowledge is great and all, but when you get right down to it Isaac is still an action game. So my 9th tip for new players is to focus on dodging enemy shots, rather than on doing damage.
The vast, vast majority of enemies and bosses in Afterbirth Plus have predictable movements and attack patterns, but be aware that they vary widely. Focusing on learning these patterns frees you up to then pick your moments and deal damage efficiently, rather than just frantically shooting.
Sooner or later in Isaac you will find yourself in a run severely lacking in damage, and the only surefire way to make it through these runs for that surviving by the skin of your teeth feeling of accomplishment is by learning to dodge effectively. There's no better feeling than completing a floor and getting a Deal with the Devil against all odds to snag a miracle item and save an otherwise doomed run
Pay attention to enemy tendencies and focus on dodging to increase your chances in The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth Plus.
10. Keep Learning!
All of these tips will be built on and develop over time, and my tenth and last tip for new players in Afterbirth Plus is to keep learning! Isaac is one of the most discussed, recorded, streamed, and documented games out there so you have plenty of opportunities to learn. If you're wary of spoilers, you'll probably have to just rely on making your own notes and observations as you play, or visiting the Isaac Wiki for specific items when you encounter them without digging too deep.
Once you're more comfortable with the game, you have many more opportunities to beef up your Isaac Fu. For specific item information, website Platinum God is a fantastic resource, and here's where I'll put in a plug for my own Item Spotlights, which is an ongoing series in which I take an in-depth look at some of the more interesting items in Isaac. For more in-depth discussion and guides, I'd recommend visiting the r/bindingofisaac subreddit.
But my personal favorite way of building up my knowledge is of course through YouTube videos. I have my own series here on the channel and I'd love for you to come check it out. But there are many creators who have excellent Isaac series. For general base knowledge of items and mechanics, I highly recommend YouTuber Bisnap, who always goes out of his way to explain items and their interactions; for excellent gameplay and streaking I recommend checking out streamer CobaltStreak, who has put together some large streaks in the past and is highly effective at running the game quicky and efficiently; for hilarious commentary and excellent Daily run play I'd recommend checking out Northernlion, perhaps the most prolific and well-known of Isaac creators; and for overall entertainment value and fantastic game breaking runs and mod gameplay, check out streamer and YouTuber Hutts.
Watching creators like these was a huge help to me early in learning the ins and outs of this crazy game, and I encourage you to do the same by checking the links in the YouTube video description!