1001 Spikes is a throwback to the old school days of 8-bit platforming. As was customary in old school platforming, Spikes is insanely difficult and unforgiving. The game is more akin to Mega Man than Super Mario, with levels meant to be played multiple times over until they are mastered. However, the setting is not futuristic like Mega Man, with players controlling an Indiana Jones-esque hero named Aban Hawkins.
Aban’s father is the real treasure hunter, who has amassed a fortune through a lifetime of plundering. After leaving all of his fortune to Aban’s sister, Tina, Aban distances himself from his father. Some time later, his father goes missing and is presumed dead. Tina gives Aban a box that was left to him by his father. Inside is a map and a note, explaining that if Aban can stop being a bonehead, this is his chance to claim his own treasure. Aban accepts this challenge and thus, the setting for 1001 Spikes is born.
Players have 1,001 lives to use up as they traverse through Spikes painstakingly difficult levels, and you will need them. Traps do give players a split second of warning before springing, however many of them seemingly come out of nowhere. This is by no means a knock on the game, but a testament to the trial and error approach that players will need to overcome the games toughest obstacles.
Early levels are used as semi-tutorials, teaching players the mechanics of the game as they make their way through. There are a number of mice scattered about, and for some reason – Aban has the ability to speak with them. It is in your best interest to speak with every mouse you encounter, as they provide helpful tips in addition to teaching you the basics of 1001 Spikes.
The deeper you get into the game, the more difficult it becomes. Spiked traps are common, as are statues that spit poison darts, falling floors, and enemies with road runner legs. Some players will be temped to try and speed run through Spikes. There is even a game mode specifically for that purpose. However, there is absolutely no way that anyone is going to speed run this game on their first playthrough. Such mastery will take multiple playthroughs, and I strongly suggest taking your time to think about what is ahead of you, as well as what is behind you.
When you die in Spikes, you start back at the beginning of the level – there are no checkpoints. Watch and play it cautious, as places that look the safest are often the most dangerous. Also, this game loves to kill off players just inches from the exit. However, that’s part of what will keep you going, again and again, until you finally reach the exit of a level. I often said to myself, “I’ll just give this level a single shot, so I know what I’m getting into when I come back later”. Then I would suddenly realize an hour had passed, I’d died a few hundred more times, and was about to start yet another level. Its addicting like that.
There is something about 1001 Spikes that grabs hold of you and won’t let go. Taunting you, daring you, challenging you to make it just a little bit further. By the time you finish any given level, you will have mastered it. From every timed jump and every knife throw, to every block that needs to be moved. The controls are as simple as they come – high jump, low jump, throw knife. It is this simple control scheme, melded with fantastic level design that will keep players up late into the night and through the early morning.
Fortunately, players that are easily frustrated can skip a level if it becomes too maddening. However, it’s almost pointless, as the final pieces of the temple cannot be unlocked until previous levels have been completed. It really is best to just grit your teeth and take your time through the hardest obstacles. Trust and believe that you will eventually make it through them, because you will. 1001 Spikes is more a test of patience, than it is a test of skill.
1001 Spikes story mode offers 61 awesomely designed, yet frustratingly difficult levels. Each of them can also be played co-op with up to four friends. This not only makes the game easier, but also a lot more fun. Every level has a golden skull in it, which is always easy to see and hard to reach. I highly suggest collecting these if you plan to play with a friend, as they unlock some awesome characters and even add extra lives.
Unlockable characters are themed after those from similar platformers, such as Tempura of the Dead, Cave Story, Nyx Quest and Bit.Trip. Some of Aban’s family members thrown in there too, like his sister Tina. Aban himself can dawn additional outfits, all based after more popular games, like Castlevania and Street Fighter. Spikes also offers platform specific outfits from Halo, Super Mario, and Uncharted. What’s even more exciting, is that each character possesses their trademark powers and abilities. For example: Mario throws fireballs and stomps on bad guys, while the Street Fighter version of Aban has shoryken and hadouken abilities.
Outside of the main campaign, Spikes offers a few different, but equally awesome modes. The Lost Levels gives players 101 lives instead of 1001, but is just as unforgiving as the main campaign. The difference here is the way levels are laid out, which are specifically built to be played with a number of friends using unlockable characters. The Tower of Nannar offers a whole new story, featuring brand new levels, enemies, and bosses. It’s also much more forgiving than the main campaign, with nine lives per character, the ability to respawn with friends that are still alive, and an unlimited amount of continues. Finally, is the Golden Vase mode – a Super Smash Bros type of experience that places players in combat arenas as they battle each other for gold.
If you are a masochist like me, then you will love 1001 Spikes. The game levels are well designed and super challenging, but not so frustrating that you will give up on them all together. In fact, Spikes is a very rewarding experience, providing an overwhelming sense of accomplishment with every successful jump and dagger throw. The ability to play all of the games modes with up to four friends is just fantastic, offering hours of fun for everyone involved. Spikes is a must-own for fans of old school games like Mega Man and Darkwing Duck. Even if you aren’t a fan of difficult games or old school throwbacks, I suggest giving 1001 Spikes a try. It’s a terrific game, with a ton of content for the asking price of 15 bucks.