Over the past few years a subset of platformers have come to pass. All focusing on very difficult challenges, some may even call impossible challenges. 1001 Spikes is another one of these games to come along. It even brings along a few new features with its retro themed visuals, and chip tunes. Watch your every step. There are hazards everywhere.
PROS: Challenging gameplay. Crafty level design. A lot of content.
CONS: All stages need to be cleared to play the last leg. High difficulty.
PARODIES: Of popular video game characters galore.
Appearing first on consoles, 1001 Spikes recently made its way to computers. It also came to every major computer operating system in the process. Windows, Macintosh, and Linux. Developed by Nicalis, the game is another title that relishes high difficulty. Following the paths set by stuff like I wanna be the guy, VVVVVV, and Super Meat Boy, it focuses a lot on platform jumping through relentless traps. Nearly everything in the game will kill you, from the obvious spikes, to lava, chasms, buzz saws, spears, to boulders. Everything wants you dead. At first you might think it isn’t all too different from other NES themed indie games you’ve played. But given enough time, you start to see where 1001 Spikes does have its own identity.
1001 Spikes is a puzzle platformer. Instead of having difficult jumps or traps as small sections of any given level, the game makes them the entire level. Or more accurately they become puzzles. The game tasks you with trying to figure out where to jump, and when. How to time a landing just right or when to shoot a projectile. Projectiles are rarely used to actually kill enemies. Instead they’re used to hit switches, or knock an obstacle back so you can sneak through. Each stage in the campaign is little more than a room 2 to 4 screens in height or length. The object is to collect a key so you can open the door, and exit. As a bonus, each stage has a hidden skull. Collecting the skulls will not only add another life via 1-Up, but over time unlock characters, and features.
Many of the unlockable characters, and costumes are parodies of famous NES game characters. Among these, are a really spot on spoof of Ghosts N’ Goblins’ Arthur. He even takes two hits to die with the first hit knocking off his armor, revealing his underpants. There is also a Ryu parody (Street Fighter), who even throws fireballs, and dragon punches. There is a Master Chief parody (Halo), replete with armor, and weaponry. There are also many other parodies, and in-jokes. Even Commander Video from Bit Trip Runner makes a cameo along with his Atari 2600 era Activision themed rainbow.
In a way, the structure is a lot closer to something like Wrecking Crew, Boulder Dash, or Bomber Man. It can be deceiving at a first glance because the puzzles resemble action games like Castlevania, Ninja Gaiden, or Mega Man given the brutal nature of the traps. The game also keeps tabs on the time, and lives spent on completing each level. This lends itself to making the game appeal to people who love the concept of speed running. Much of the difficulty comes not from the obvious hazards themselves, but from the unexpected surprises. The stages are sadistic in that just when you think you’ve found somewhere safe to land, it turns out to be a crumbling block. Or booby-trapped with spikes. Or a switch that drops chunks of the ceiling on top of you. As you move on, the game quickly becomes a job in trial, and error. You’ll begin examining each room for potential treachery, expecting the worst with each landing. This may sound like an awful masochistic time. But you’d be surprised to find it is fun in its frustration. Each section is like a code you have to crack. When you do, sections that were previously impossible become much, much simpler. Again, setting you up for the challenge of trying to win with the best possible time.
1001 Spikes does have its own storyline that you can see unfold as you progress. It tells the tale of a young explorer named Aban Hawkins. His father is a renowned archaeologist who goes missing. Aban never got along with his father, and was always at odds with him. Nevertheless, when his sister calls him into the office to give him a box from their father, it leads him on a quest. Aban goes to South America to explore deep caverns. It is here he wishes he hadn’t gone, as of course, these caverns prove to be death trap central. If you can manage to beat all of the levels in the campaign, you’ll be granted access to the final leg of Aban’s journey. Fortunately, (or unfortunately depending on how you look at it) you can skip any level if it proves too difficult for you. Any level you’ve previously skipped can be replayed at a later time. So you can move on, clearing a few later stages, then go back to a previous one that got a little too irritating.
In addition to the primary campaign the game does have unlockable arcade modes. It should be noted all of them can be played with up to four players. The first one is a coin horde mode, where everyone battles it out over a golden vase. At the end of the round it will explode. So players have to hang onto it long enough to get more coins than their opponents. Their opponents can try to claim it from them, but a bigger problem are the traps, and enemies in each of these stages. You can expect to lose a lot of lives here, as in the other modes.
The second arcade mode takes a little bit more of an action game leaning. You have to climb a giant tower to free a hostage from their captors. Each tower is a few stages long. You get 9 lives per stage, and if you lose all of your lives you have to start all over again from the bottom of that tower. Being that it is part of a notoriously difficult game, expect as many death traps, as you would during the campaign. But you’ll also have a lot of grunts trying to impede your progress. They’ll get in the way during crucial moments, They’ll shoot you. They’ll do anything they can to make you lose.
The final arcade mode is a long series of extra levels that aren’t in the campaign. Many of these are more difficult. Being designed more for multiplayer, instead of worrying about an exit key, and 1-Ups these stages have coins. So much like some of the recent Super Mario Bros, games, you’ll compete by coin collecting. But again, it becomes pandemonium as you also have to worry about the myriad of deathtraps. Coins you collect in the arcade modes, can be used for items in an unlockable shop. These items include aforementioned hidden characters, and costumes. As well as the ability to watch the game’s many cinema screens at one’s leisure. I should also mention that some of the costumes can only be used in the arcade modes. Why this is I have no idea.
In any case, 1001 Spikes is a pretty cool game on whichever platform you choose to play it on. Although for some reason the Wii U version doesn’t utilize the popular off TV mode. There are reports that this may be patched in at some point. But if you pick it up for Nintendo’s box, at least for the time being, you will have to look at the TV. But again, it is an enjoyable, well crafted game. Just be advised it isn’t a game for the faint of heart, and that if you’re easily put off by games with high difficulty you may want to think twice about it. For everyone else, it’s certainly worth playing. You can play it in small bursts, or jam on it for an entire day off from work. It’s another soul crushingly difficult game, but a satisfying one.
Final Score: 8 out of 10.