The Legend of Bum-bo is, for better and worse, a highly ambitious experience.
A prequel to The Binding of Isaac, the game places players in the role of Bum-bo, a minor character from Edmund McMillen’s earlier title. After his beloved coin is stolen, Bum-bo embarks on a journey into perilous dungeons, fighting his way through hoards of monstrosities reminiscent of the smash-hit title.
As players make their way through the many characters’ playthroughs and endings, however, it reveals itself to be something more than what they might have initially expected, carrying much grander implications for the series’ characters and their fates as a whole.
It’s a simple set-up, basically applying a new skin to the premise of McMillen’s earlier work while providing a new way for the minor bits of information to be revealed about the universe with each ending unlocked.
Plus, thanks to the biblical references, toilet humor and gore galore found throughout, it establishes itself nicely as a McMillen creation that will leave fans happy with what they’ve been given.
And yet, amid all of this fan service, it also distinguishes itself as something entirely different from its forbear in a couple of key ways.
One of these is its art style. Whereas The Binding of Isaac was shown in the form of a top-down 2D art style, The Legend of Bum-bo presents players with a mock-paper craft world. everything, from the characters to the environment, is shown as cardboard creations, propped up or hanging with bits of string in all of their digital cardboard glory.
It’s a highly creative spin on McMillen’s art style, and when given further weight by story revelations, it becomes all the more impressive that it was pulled off to the extent it was.
The other, and arguably most ambitious, area where The Legend of Bum-bo sets itself apart is in its gameplay. Instead of using of The Binding of Isaac’s twin-stick shooter schema, the game plays out in a series of turn-based RPG battles mixed with connect puzzle mechanic influenced by RNG.
Puzzle pieces need to be connected in rows or combos of 4 or more to initiate attacks via thrown objects, guards against attacks in the form of walls of poop, and enemy delaying boogers that gunk up enemy movements.
This is further built upon by deck-building mechanics in the form of bought or discovered spells. Able to be mixed and matched as the player sees fit, spells can influence the tide of battle with special attacks, buffs and debuffs applied to the player or enemies, and much more; all of which are fueled with mana gained by successfully connecting puzzle pieces in longer and longer chains.
There are some gameplay elements that carry over from The Binding of Isaac – namely the raising of stats to increase one’s chances of success, the use of money to buy new abilities and items, and having a slew of different characters to play as – but overall, it’s an entirely separate experience from the one The Binding of Isaac provided.
For the most part, it works too. The strategy inherent to turn-based battles is made all the more engaging by the addition of the puzzle elements. Several minutes can be spent havering over the puzzle board, looking for a string of puzzle pieces that can lead to the best move and set oneself up to use a game-changing spell.
This all comes together to create a title that does good on its ambitions, and for most fans of McMillen’s work, that will be enough to enjoy the experience immensely.
However, the Legend of Bum-bo isn’t without its drawbacks, some of which can be deal-breakers for those that experience them enough.
While the blend of genres is great when it works, there are moments where the different gameplay elements can clash with one another, usually due to the RNG mechanics.
Battles can be lost for no other reason than that the RNG weren’t on one’s side, with the pieces necessary to initiate an attack or spell never materializing.
Likewise, the game is technically rough. Several glitches have been found and addressed since launch, from interface issues to characters not being properly buffed or enhanced from spells.
To be fair, McMillen did develop the game independently alongside James Interactive, meaning they had to troubleshoot problems on their own. Likewise, none of the glitches make the game unplayable.
However, they can cause headaches that may put people off from the experience, and otherwise drag down the successes of the otherwise impressive experience.
When all is said and done though, The Legend of Bum-bo is a highly worthwhile experience. Though flawed in places, it makes good on many of its ambitions, bringing together gameplay genres and capitalizing on ideas for an experience that can enthrall longtime fans and newcomers to the Binding of Isaac universe alike.
ProsGood story with surprising revelations about the series
Well-realized paper craft design aesthetic
Blend of gameplay genres that usually work well together
ConsRNG can create unfair situations
Lots of small glitches
Nov. 12, 2019
Edmund McMillen, James Interactive
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