1001 Spikes is a game that is very easy to loathe due to its difficulty, but also love due to its ingenuity. The 1001 spikes referred to in the title shares its name with a particular level in the game (which contains an ungodly amount of spike traps, go figure), but it also refers to how many lives you start off with. That number might as well be an infinity symbol, though, because you gain a life when you collect a level’s (usually hidden) Golden Skull, and get a whole bunch when you collect an artifact at a world’s end. It’s a clever move on developer Nicalis’ part because the numerous deaths you accumulate within each stage aren’t there to make you fear that you will run out of lives. No, the deaths are there to make you, the player, practice a stage over and over until you get it right, to make you realize that the most impossible looking traps can be overcome, and to let you know that no platform is ever safe to stand on for long periods of time.
Let's play find the safe zone! The answer: there are none
1001 Spikes has a very simple setup: attack button to shoot knives, short jump button and high jump button. The titular Aban can shoot scorpions and even reverse saw trajectories with his knives, and the difference in the height of his jumps may as well be the difference between life and death; gamers don’t want to overjump small obstacles and don’t want to come up too short, either. Every level has surprise traps: no wall is safe or block free to stay on for too long because there will always be a spike trap triggered when Aban walks over it, sometimes in a section where it looks like it could be the only safe zone (don’t trust anything in this game). If you get frustrated on a particular level, you can always skip it, but you will unlock fewer collectibles if you do, so think carefully.
Here's Aban wondering what the hell to do in this particular situation
Graphics-wise, 1001 Spikes looks like a NES game, and even has Ninja Gaiden-like 8-bit cutscenes that tell the story. As the story goes, Aban is searching a deadly temple for treasure. His reasoning? His dad called him a buffoon and likes his sister better and thinks he can’t do anything. That’s the best plot ever. Music-wise, 1001 Spikes is very retro, with bleeps and bloops and a quickening pace when you collect each stage’s Key, which unlocks the exit door. The best screens in the game are the YOU ARE DEAD! one that pops up when you die (which you will see quite often) and the world map, which is HEAVILY influenced by the one in Ghosts ‘n Goblins.
These mice offer good advice and tips, and are the only things in the game that WON'T kill you
Speaking of Ghosts ‘n Goblins, there is a Knight Aban in two of the title’s Arcade Modes. Not only that, but there are also Mr. Video Game Aban (Mario) and Slayer Aban (Simon Belmont). Each one of these characters represents a classic videogame character, and when you play as them in the game’s Lost Levels Mode, they have their own music that is reminiscent of the games they are from. Also, each character has their own set of moves: Mr. Video Game can jump on enemies, shoot fireballs, and swing a hammer up close, Slayer can use a whip and throw knives, and Knight can shoot lances and take an extra hit that strips him down to his underwear. The Lost Levels Mode contains more extended levels than the ones found in the Story Mode, but you only have 101 lives to complete it. The other arcade mode, Tower of Nannar, has its own story where you scale a tower to rescue a girl from cultists. These levels are vertical and, like Contra, scroll upwards, so the bottom will always be where death awaits you.
1001 Spikes is packed full of content, characters, and death
Every mode in 1001 Spikes can be played with up to three friends, provided you have the console versions and have friends with a lot of patience dying a lot. If you are a fan of indies, there are a bunch of unlockable characters in the game, including Curly Brace from Cave Story, Commander Video from Bit. Trip Runner 2, and Sugimoto from Tempura of the Dead (he even has his own intro cinematic!). These characters collect coins in the Story Mode stages instead of Golden Skulls, which you can use to buy more costumes for Aban (though it is better to collect coins in the title’s Arcade Modes). Sadly, every character you unlock must start from the beginning of the game, and if you collect a stage’s coin with one character, it won’t be there for another to take.
1001 Spikes' Battle Mode, exclusive to the console versions of the game
Unfortunately, a few things hold back 1001 Spikes from being the best it can be. The 3DS version, along with the Wii U version, have been known to crash at times, though a patch will be out soon to fix it. The lack of multiplayer on the handhelds (Vita and 3DS) is also a bummer, as well as the Battle Mode associated with it. Also, depending on the type of person you are, 1001 Spikes might not be for you. If you don’t get frustrated dying a lot to learn how to adjust to the platforming in the game, 1001 Spikes will be a source of great entertainment for you. If you hate games like that and feel that 1001 Spikes is unfair in the numerous traps it throws your way, then you will hate it. Regardless, due to its style, grace, abundance of content, and spirit, 1001 Spikes is easy to recommend to the retro gamer at heart.
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