Upon booting up 1001 Spikes, one of the first things you’ll notice is that you actually have 1,001 lives. 1,001 lives? How excessive, I initially thought to myself. That was the first of many, many mistakes I made while dying, er, playing this game. 1001 Spikes is a throwback to NES platformers, complete with grueling difficulty and suffering well beyond what you may think is humanly possible while playing a video game. Take heed, this is not a game for the faint of heart. Frustration and despair go hand in hand while attempting to complete the game, but if you can get past that or enjoy a healthy challenge, the end may justify the heartache.
As Aban Hawkins, you’ll discover the lost treasures of Ukampa while trying to locate your father. The ruins you explore are packed to the brim with traps and your ultimate goal in each level is to locate a key and use it to unlock the door at the end. It sounds easy enough, but 1001 Spikes never fails to remind you just how difficult a task that is.
Death is swift and frequent, and the game will often lure you into a false sense of security, only to punish you with yet another lost life. It isn’t at all unordinary to reach the end of a level, the exit mere steps away, only to be ambushed by dart-hurling statues or collapsible platforms. In essence, clearing one string of traps merely puts you right in the middle of another one. It is this very concept that makes one of the game’s weaknesses apparent: it can be absolutely infuriating.
What makes some parts of 1001 Spikes so maddening isn’t even the fact that you die excessively, it’s that there’s often a single part of a level so unreasonably difficult and if you fail it, guess what? You’re going through the entire level again just to get to that one portion. The process becomes a monotonous, almost robotic affair. But the euphoria felt after finally completing an exasperating stage is unparallelled. In fact, it’s so motivating, that even if you had originally planned on taking a break, your newfound vigor will coax you into completing another level.
Despite the few grievances I’ve aired about 1001 Spikes, it does difficulty correctly for the most part. What I mean is that your deaths can only be attributed to your own mistakes. While many of the surprises in each level can catch you off guard and kill you, you can react to all of them. Even if you die to traps, once you’re aware of their existence, whether you continue to perish or not rests solely on you. If worst comes to worst and a level puts you through the wringer, the game also offers the option of skipping it, if you so choose. The second part of the campaign, as well as the final portion of Ukampa will be off-limits until you complete any skipped levels normally though, so keep that in mind.
The game is actually quite masterful in how it escalates its difficulty. 1001 Spikes starts off slow with only a few things to worry about: spikes, statues flinging darts, and some scorpions. As you traverse through each zone, however, new obstacles are introduced, but not in a way that overwhelms you. In addition, the game’s levels are remarkably diverse, with old traps often being presented in new scenarios, providing a unique flavor of trials to overcome.
1001 Spikes also sports a surprising amount of content. Each stage in Ukampa has a skull, along with the key, and collecting the skulls unlocks other modes, characters, and color schemes for playable characters. Much to my delight, many of the characters you unlock are from other Indie titles. Tina (Aban’s sister), Thompson from Tempura of the Dead, Nyx from NyxQuest, and even Curly Brace from Cave Story are all playable and host unique attributes. I found myself almost compelled to collect every skull I could just to see what else the game had in store for me.
The other modes you unlock, such as The Golden Vase or the Tower of Nannar, provide a nice break from the hectic gameplay of Story Mode. Although you can participate in these extra modes alone, the real fun is playing with other people. In The Golden Vase, you each play as a character of your choosing and vie for dominance of the Golden Vase. Whoever possesses the vase gets a constant supply of coins being added to their score and it’s up to the other players to ensure whoever has the vase doesn’t keep it for long. Mix that with several of the contraptions present in Story Mode, and insanity ensues. Speaking of which, Story Mode may also be played in tandem with others, so that’s another facet of multiplayer one may explore.
1001 Spikes can be a harsh, unforgiving mistress if you allow it the opportunity. However, if you can make it past the frustration of countless deaths and the tediousness of treading through the same portion of a level again and again, you’ll find an immensely rewarding game. Despite the soul-crushing difficulty, 1001 Spikes accomplishes its purpose: it provides a healthy challenge that keeps the player coming back for more. Countless “one more life and then I’m done” or “I was so close!” moments will define your experience and the satisfaction of finally completing a difficult level is nearly indescribable. Its varied level design, gratifying gameplay, vast amount of content, and palpable tension make 1001 Spikes a must-play for people seeking a challenge.