Nailing a large jump perfectly, deciphering how to solve a block pushing puzzle, using your quick reflexes to take down a scorpion running at you with your trusty daggers. Executing these tasks can be strenuous, but 1001 Spikes uses that difficulty to make you feel like a platforming master once you finally conquer them.
Inspired by NES games of the past, 1001 Spikes is stylized to feel like a retro platformer. From 8-bit graphics to a chiptune soundtrack, the game takes close attention to detail to ensure it is as faithful to that era as possible. While this kind of design is seen more and more frequently in the indie game scene, I didn’t mind it here. Vibrant colors compliment the characters and level designs make the game look similar to retro games while still showcasing some modern day improvements. 1001 Spikes’ soundtrack is equally as fantastic. The music changes to match both the personality of the character you are playing as and the intensity of the action further immersing you into the game.
You play as Aban Hawkins, Indiana Jones look alike and son of famous explorer, Jim Hawkins. Constant arguing leads to Aban leaving home to make a living on his own. After his father passes, Aban receives instructions to go to Ukampa in South America and find the treasure that lurks in a temple there in order earn his father’s respect. Aban goes in spite of his father to prove that he can do anything his father can. Each new mode and character you play as adds to the story that is shown through dialogue-only cutscenes with little animation. The true meat of the game, however, is in it’s intentionally hard gameplay.
2D side-scrolling is the name of the game here. You have 1001 lives to complete the main campaign, though you earn more throughout your adventure. The thing 1001 Spikes does differently than other platformers is its two different jump buttons, one small and one high. This mechanic is smart, giving the player more freedom to move in a way that they feels comfortable and controlled. All too often in platformers you get stuck at a section because you can’t nail the perfect amount of time to hold the jump button for. Here I knew exactly where my character would end up at all times. This is also thanks to the tight movement controls that make precise movements a possibility, a necessity in such a frantic game.
Just because the game controls well does not mean that the game will be a breeze. Developer 8bit Fanatics were set on bringing back the hard as nails difficulty seen in the NES era. I will start off by saying that the challenge is greatly appreciated. The difficulty makes finally beating a level after the 100th try rewarding, a satisfaction that is hard for other games to match. Patience and repetition are essential to successes. That said, is this game ever frustrating.
1001 Spikes prides itself on being a game that doesn’t use checkpoints. I felt like a pro when I completed levels in one go. But for each time I beat the level once, I died at least 50 times. Most of the time it was on obstacles I already cleared previously. No checkpoints means you will be doing the same sections of a level over and over again until you reach a new part you haven’t seen yet only to die immediately from not knowing the landscape. This trial and error mentality was exhausting. Once you have seen a scenario play out a couple times it is easy to figure out how to conquer it. Before that however, you will have to try multiple times, usually because a poison dart came out of nowhere or a spike randomly emerged from the ground.
Even with all of this stress, the reward is so worth it. Not only the self accomplishment and bragging rights, but the unlockable content as well. There are over twenty characters in the game all with their own abilities. Some are simple skin changes for Aban, like him in a parka for example, while others are nods to characters from other franchises, Ryu from Street Fighter and Nathan Drake from Uncharted for example, even characters from indie classics, such as Commander Video from the Bit.Trip series and Curly Brace from Cave Story, make appearances as playable characters. Knight Aban, a nod to Sir Arthur from Ghosts ‘n Goblins, can take two hits instead of one and Slayer Aban, a nod to Simon Belmont from Castlevania, uses a whip instead of projectiles to attack. Each character feels different and keep the gameplay fresh and exciting.
There are also a handful of unlockable modes besides the main story that allow you to play with up to four friends in local multiplayer. The Golden Vase is a competitive mode in which players try to collect a larger amount of coins than their opponents that the vase launches out. The other two modes, Tower of Nannar and The Lost Levels, are cooperative modes in which everyone focuses on getting to the end of the stage with as many lives remaining as possible. Multiplayer in 1001 Spikes is a blast. Everything special about the game really comes to light when see someone pick up a controller and play the game instantly understanding the mechanics. This accessibility and a clear goal ensures that this is an intelligently crafted game.
If you don’t like being told, “You are dead”, over and over again, this game is not for you. It’s reasonable to veto out of a situation that brings you to a point where you want to break your controller in half. But if you are up to the task, 1001 Spikes will reward you with a sense of accomplishment only retro platformers can supply.
Note: The 1001 Spikes review was written based on digital PS4 and Playstation Vita versions of the game.