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Review: 1001 Spikes

Posted by on July 5th, 2014 | 2 Comments | Tags: ,

This is a rough one, folks, not for the faint of heart. Off the bat, I need you all to know that 1001 Spikes kicked my ass for about a month straight. I kept coming back though, and, like DeNiro in Raging Bull, it never got me down. I have beaten 1001 Spikes in full. This is a tale of perseverance.

1001 Spikes is a 2D sidescrolling platformer that wants to kill you. You play as Aban Hawkins, a son on a mission to redeem himself in the eyes of his recently passed father. Your adventures through the ruins of Ukampa and beyond are all taken up in the name of proving yourself to the legendary Jim Hawkins. The story as a whole is a bit watered down, but it’s told in short cutscenes that are at the very least unobtrusive. The overall art style of the characters – squat, 16 bit, with a dozen or so animations – is super-sized to a human scale during said cutscenes, which adds a neat effect. Different modes in the game are offered as new ‘episodes’ to Aban’s adventures; another neat effect that adds to the overall presentation of the game. The main course, though, is in the gameplay.

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To say 1001 Spikes is punishing is an understatement. Infuriatingly difficult is a bit more on target. I’m going to settle with demanding platforming perfection. Yeah, that fits nicely. The point of the game is to grab a key and get to the exit in each stage. There are about six different locales to traverse, ranging form regular old ruins to lava-ridden death pits. You can low jump with X, high jump with Triangle, and shoot/throw daggers with Square and Circle. These simple concepts, when surrounded by creative level design, shine brighter than a classic Macho Man promo. The addictive replayability of 1001 Spikes is influenced by a few different factors.

There is a golden skull in each of the 30 base Ukampa levels. This collectible adds a challenge to an already seemingly impossible game. Nabbing all of the skulls will take a precise hand and an explorer’s problem-solving mind. The big draw to playing 1001 Spikes for hours on end is the fact that the whole game is like a complex, video-game version of Simon. From point A to point B, there are anywhere from 10-50+ different ways to die. I lay awake the other night counting one of the toughest levels and had to stop around 42. Pits, spikes, scorpions, arrow-shooting wall faces, flamethrowers, spinning ninja stars, angry totems, and more mar your way from the entrance to the exit. If that’s not crazy enough, each stage only lasts from 20 to 80 seconds long once you master it. Upon watching me play for a while, a friend of mine summed the game up as “Trial and Error: The Game.” While I don’t completely disagree with him, I do feel that there’s more to 1001 Spikes than simply trial and error gaming. By the time you reach the tenth level, you are way warier that you were at stage two. Those arrow-shooting faces become highlighted by your heightened danger-vision. You recognize audio and visual cues, and your brain and fingers have been trained to react swiftly, else you face your sudden death. This is a primo example of the classic gaming formula: play, learn, improve, repeat. It isn’t until the very end of the game that you finally feel somewhat safe; a probable master of 1001 Spikes.

Unlockable costumes/characters and a few different game modes round out the replayability of the game nicely. There are a ton of allusions to various franchises in addition to the inclusion of some indie favorite characters. It’s not too surprising that Cave Story‘s Curly Brace shows her face in 1001 Spikes (NICALiS is responsible for both games). Aban’s knight costume is described as “Whitey-Tighties,” a relatively blatant allusion to Arthur from Ghosts N’ Goblins. One character, El Testigo (“witness” in espanol), changes the music to that of Braid when you play as him. His death animation is surprisingly similar to that game’s main character, too. Coincidence? Nah. It’s cool that the unlockables aren’t purely aesthetic. Curly Brace utilizes her jetpack, for instance, which drastically changes the game and allows for some outlandish speedruns. The Lost Levels (a collection of non-story stages), Tower of Nannar (a climb-to-the-top affair complete with bosses and reskinned traps), and The Golden Vase (a 4-player free-for-all arcade mode) are perfect arenas for trying out new characters and finding one that fits your playstyle.

The only knock against 1001 Spikes are that there is absolutely no online interaction whatsoever beyond the systems’ capabilities (video streaming, etc.). For a game that encourages speedrunning (there is even an option to turn on a speedrun timer), I found it odd and frankly bizarre that there were no leaderboards. I would love to see how much faster I am than Chris on every single stage then be humbled by some savant who beat my time by seconds. There’s also a lack of cross-save functionality, which confused me for a good while. The game is essentially the same on Vita and PS4. The only major difference is that the Vita version is solely single-player; The Golden Vase multiplayer game is not available and all other modes are 1P (as opposed to the PS4 version which supports 4P in all modes). I’m sure there are some networking, coding, programming technicalities explaining why the two games are separate, but I was initially peeved that my progress and unlocks didn’t carry over between systems. I got over it, though, and am one costume away from 100%-ing the Vita version. I’ll tackle the PS4 version in due time.

It is the best of games, it is the worst of games. In an age of tutorials, user-friendliness, and other sorts of hand-holding, 1001 Spikes stands out in its utter disregard for the player’s sanity. This is the closest I’ve gotten to throwing my controller since playing Chris in PixelJunk Shooter 2 online. I have learned things about myself in playing this game. For one, I have evolved from a remote tosser to a pillow puncher, which is a lot less expensive. My girlfriend hates 1001 Spikes and she has never played it. I guess it’s tough to sell the compulsive feeling of ‘gotta-beat-it gotta-beat-it gotta-beat-it AWWW COME ON!” to non-gamers. If you want a platformer that will keep you on your toes till the very end, you won’t go wrong here. Before you pick up the controller, though, you’ve gotta ask yourself one question: Do I feel gamer? Well, do ya, punk?

A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. For more info on our review policy click here.

General Info

  • No cross-save
  • No leaderboard support