1001 Spikes is a very difficult 2D platformer ala Super Meat Boy. It had promise coming from Nicalis the same developer behind the well-received Cave Story. However, unlike Super Meat Boy, this game falls flat at almost every turn.
In 1001 Spikes you play as treasure hunter Aban Hawkins who became one in the first place because his wealthy father wouldn’t lend him any money. Obviously becoming Indiana Jones is the next logical step in that thought process, but I digress. His father tells him of a treasure that would allow Aban to live in comfort, if he could navigate the treacherous terrain to obtain it. Beyond that there isn’t much story, but that is perfectly fine as this is a precision platformer and it isn’t important. Unfortunately this part does not always deliver.
One thing that made Super Meat Boy so great was that hazards were easily visible so the player knew exactly where they were at all times making the game more skill based than trial and error. This is not always the case for 1001 Spikes. Oftentimes there will be stone heads that shoot knives that are carved into platforms only to blend in with cracked rocks surrounding it resulting in you not seeing it immediately.This extends to points where there is some trial and error involved which should not exist in this type of game adding more frustration than utilizing the player’s skills. At some points blocks will fall when you jump under with no indication that they are any different than the numerous other blocks on screen. In this specific way it reminds me a little bit of I Wanna Be The Guy (but not nearly as random or unfair). This is all compounded by the fact that there is no one button restart if you know you are having a bad run. You have to pause the game and scroll down to restart the level which, in concept does not seem like a big deal, but with how often you might want to restart levels, it is a pain. There is also a specific problem I found with the attack that Aban has access to. Aban can throw knives to defeat the enemies that he comes up against within the forests and caverns that he will traverse. However, if you are close enough to an enemy and press the attack button, he will lunge and perform a one hit kill. This is great except when you want to throw the knives and the lunge ends up with you on a block of retractable spikes which happened to me more than once.
Luckily the controls are very tight. Aban has a short jump and a high jump which allows the developers to make specific ledges barely reachable due to the set nature of the mechanics. Jumping around is satisfying and barely avoiding a set of spikes by pixels is gratifying to say the least.
However, the artstyle is another one of the game’s downfalls. Nicalis decided to go for a retro pixel art look which comes off as flat and uninteresting. For these type of games the look of them need to be unique or charming to distract you from the fact that you are constantly dying. You have a forest area, a waterfall area, a lava area and a cave are before you get to Pingping, the final area. None of the locales look very interesting and toward the end of them game, it is somewhat tedious to look at.
Luckily there is some replayability here. The entire story mode can be played with a friend through drop in co-op as well as several arcade modes which are multiplayer focused with up to four players total. Each person plays a different character with different abilities. For example there is the normal Aban Hawkins with the throwing knives, Space Marine (a.k.a. it’s a legitimate 8-bit Master Chief) with a rapid fire rifle (most likely a console exclusive), Slayer Aban who has a whip (ala Castlevania) and Knight Aban which plays like Ghouls and Ghosts where being hit once knocks off your armor and a second time kills you. There are other modes and characters that you will unlock which I won’t spoil but having an extra person can alleviate some of the frustrations.
Lastly the music is solid. The songs are your classic midi tracks and while there is not a whole lot of variety, what is there is good. Whatever the song is that starts when you obtain the key to exit each level, though, is fantastic and I want to add it to my video game soundtrack rotation.
While much of this review is negative, 1001 Spikes is a serviceable game. In these type of games the tightness of the controls are everything and they are tight and responsive here. The additional multiplayer modes add some chaotic fun, but unfortunately the look of the game and several design choices hold back this game from being something truly great. This recent revival of very difficult games to hearken back to the early days of gaming is fine and definitely has a place in the industry. However, there is a line between difficult and overly frustrating and 1001 Spikes oftentimes falls into the latter category. If you adore these type of games then it’s worth a look, but anyone else might want to steer clear.