Developer: Nicalis, Inc./8Bit Fanatics
Platform(s): Wii U, Xbox One, PlayStation 4,
PS Vita, 3DS, PC (Windows, OSX, Linux)
Release Date: June 3, 2014
ESRB: T for Teen
1001 Spikes might go down in the record books as one of the most brutally difficult games in history. Every step you take and every leap you make will need to be heavily scrutinized as you try to carefully make your way to the key and then the exit in this retro-inspired, 8-bit platformer. And you will die—many, many times. But that's also part of the game's charm; 1001 Spikes revels in its masochistic tendencies, a fact that becomes glaringly clearer the further you progress.
One might think that this would tend to work against the game, but it actually harkens back to the golden era when 8-bit games were at their most challenging, and succeeds because of it.
The story begins with our protagonist, Aban Hawkins, on a journey to discover the treasure of a lifetime after receiving a letter from his archaeologist father, who is presumed to be dead at that point. After a few short levels in the first world (which serves as a sort of tutorial), the narrative digs deeper into Aban's history, revealing his troubled past with his father who harbors no love lost between them, a fact that is made abundantly clear when it's discovered that he left everything in his will to Aban's sister. Thus his desire to find the treasure is to one-up his father and show him that he's not a worthless nobody.
Waiting within the different temples you'll explore are an array of various booby traps, crumbling platforms, lava, bottomless pits, scorpions, and much more. Oh, and spikes; lots of them. Bloody spikes, I should add—an aspect that no doubt contributes to why the game is rated T despite its feel-good retro look. That aside, this is a game that pulls out all of the stops to intentionally make sure you get caught in a cheap death and die. Think you're safe after missing a few hidden darts and a scorpion? Not when the panel you're standing on triggers a set of spikes that come up from underneath and kills you. Or a dart hits you unexpectedly. Such is the nature of the beast.
Aban has only three actions in the entire game: a short jump, a high jump, and throwing knives (of which he has an unlimited supply, apparently); the latter of which is used to kill some of the scorpions or help repel certain traps (such as darts and the like). It might sound extremely unfair and maybe even unappealing due to its masochistic nature, but the game's cruel design is actually what adds so much to the game's charm. Ultimately when you boil it down to its rawest form, it's trial and error at its finest, but make no mistake—that doesn't mean skill isn't involved. To succeed, you'll need to learn and discern how to recognize booby traps as well as their patterns in each level. The further you get, the quicker on your feet you'll need to be.
In addition to the story mode, there are a few arcade modes you can play through with up to three potential other players. The Golden Vase has you fighting to grab a golden artifact that produces more coins the longer you're in possession of it, but you'll need to avoid all of the traps and obstacles of the stage at the same time. Tower of Nannar has you chasing down cultists up a tower in order to save a kidnapped girl, all the while grabbing gold and treasure along the way. The Lost Levels is a remixed version of the main quest with longer but fewer levels and the addition of gold coins to collect. You can also unlock additional characters to play as (with a few surprise appearances), and there's even a shop where you can buy things with the gold you've collected from the extra modes, which is a nice touch.
Visually, 1001 Spikes' 8-bit aesthetic clearly works in its favor. What better era of gaming to emulate if you're going to create a tough-as-nails platformer, right? And fit right in with those games it does; Nicalis and 8Bit Fanatics chose wisely when deciding what sort of visual look to go with. The pixelized artwork in cutscenes are also extremely well done and recall some of the best pixel work done in games like Ninja Gaiden and the like. And equally as impressive is the game's soundtrack, which emulates 8-bit synthesized music as well. I can't say I loved every song, but there were a few extremely catchy tunes, and just about every track fits to a "T" with the level it plays on.
Ultimately, 1001 Spikes is an acquired taste; it largely depends on your level of masochism and how much you can handle when it comes to purposefully difficult game design. That said, it's a journey I'm glad I got to experience; thankfully, there is some legitimately great level design amongst the game's forty odd levels or so, and the experience doesn't just hinge on the novelty of it being extremely hard. When you finally get to the end of a level unscathed, it's a great feeling; once again evocative of the hard-earned victories that many 8-bit games used to make you work and struggle for. You may want to throw your controller a few times in the process, but it's all worth it in the end. Just watch that next step; it's a doozy.
+ Tough-as-nails but rewarding gameplay
+ 8-bit aesthetic works well with the game's premise and is attractive
+ Music is catchy and fits well with each level
+ Extensive content and replay value
- May be too tough/infuriating for some
Overall Score: 8.5 (out of 10)
1001 Spikes is yet another great retro-inspired title that recalls and successfully emulates the incredible challenge of games from 25 years ago.
Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable Wii U eShop code provided by the publisher.