Aban Hawkins & the 1001 Spikes is a retro-style masochistic platformer that will not only test your skills, but also your patience. It prides itself on being insanely difficult and doesn’t really care if you hate your life in the process, so if you’re not prepared to die more than you’ve ever died before, I’ll go ahead and show you the way out.
After an uninteresting introduction where our hero Aban receives a map from his seemingly prick-ish father, you’re thrown in to a mini-tutorial that will give you a tiny slice of what you can expect for the rest of the game. And by tiny slice, I mean not even close. Every single level is expertly designed to rip your face off, and while I typically enjoy a challenging game, I found myself growing tired of the concept very quickly.
Featuring a simple-yet-effective control scheme, 1001 Spikes only uses three action buttons — jump, jump higher and attack. You’ll be using all of them as you navigate seemingly impossible odds just getting from point A to B, no doubt dying 30-40 times per level. And that’s being generous. Each 2D level does vary in variety, so level design is definitely its strong suit, but be prepared to dodge their share of pitfalls, poisonous darts, scorpions, lava pools and, of course, the titular spikes.
Unlike many modern challenging platformers, 1001 Spikes is not procedurally generated and relies heavily on memorization and trial by dying. You will basically be dying for whatever reason, remembering how you died on the next go round, and then dying to something else 3 or 4 steps later. You’ll continue to do this as you memorize the entire level and finally make it to the end. If you like brutally difficult games, especially platformers, you’ll find the gates to heaven in 1001 Spikes, but I completely loathed its trial and error gameplay.
Some levels may require you to speed through to avoid hazards, but the game does tend to mix it up just as you get in your comfort zone. I don’t feel that 1001 Spikes is poorly designed — quite the opposite, actually — I just really disliked its concept after about an hour. I’m not the type of person to beat my head against a wall for hours on end, but finally completing a level did feel satisfying. I just felt the concept lost its luster very early on. You will die a lot as you figure out what to avoid, advance to the next level and then do it all over again until the end of the game. The levels never felt repetitive, just the concept itself.
If you enjoy 1001 Spikes enough to see it through to the end — and, by the way, I did not — there are a ton of unlockables, like additional characters, costumes and multi-player modes. It offers a good amount of content for your hard earned dollar, but it’s such a niche experience that I really don’t see a lot of folks sticking with it after an hour or two of slamming their genitalia in a door. It’s not an accessible game by any means, and that’s in no way a bad thing, but if you’re like me and don’t enjoy the concept of trial by dying, it’s not the game for you.
I do enjoy challenging games when I feel like I can proceed with caution or at my own pace, and I didn’t get that out of this one. Every death in 1001 Spikes was always my fault, so the game was always fair in its own way, but there is really no way to progress in each level without an absurd amount of dying. I’ve seen it referred to as the Dark Souls of platformers, but that’s not very accurate. Sure, in Dark Souls you’ll die a lot, but you can always proceed at your own pace, grind a little bit to level up, acquire new gear and follow a story, but in 1001 Spikes you’re really just dying a lot for the sole purpose of learning the level’s layout. And then you do that again, and again. It takes the challenge of games like Stealth, Inc., Spelunky and Super Meat Boy, removes the fun and replaces it with more error than trial.
With 1001 Spikes basing its entire experience off of its masochistic difficulty, I’m puzzled by the addition of a level skip option. Sure, you can opt to proceed to the next level if you’re having too much trouble, but you’re only punished by not receiving an ending. With the plot being as campy as it is, I don’t really see that as missing out on much. You can always go back and finish the levels that you’ve skipped, but that’s like playing a survival horror game in broad daylight. You’re really just missing out on the entire backbone of the game.
Overall, I completely loathed the time I spent with 1001 Spikes, but I can appreciate its expertly crafted level design, responsive controls, fantastic soundtrack and healthy portions of replay value. It’s not a game for everyone, and I am definitely not one of those people. It’s a solid platformer that will have you ripping your flesh off and bathing in salt water, and that’s exactly what it wants you to do. It succeeds in everything it set out to accomplish, and I can’t help but admire that, but man.. I really, really hated this game. That’s just my opinion though, so if you find games like this appealing, give it a whirl and let us know what you think in the comments.
Recommended for fans of: Super Meat Boy, 1000 Spikes, I Wanna Be The Guy, VVVVVV, Cloudberry Kingdom
*This review is based on the PC version of 1001 Spikes. The game is also available on Wii U, 3DS, PS Vita and PS4, and will soon release for Xbox One on June 10th. Unless we find significant differences in each version, consider this our definitive review.
Bradley Keene is an avid gamer & aspiring writer from Baltimore, MD that handles news, reviews and editing here at What’s Your Tag?. If he’s not writing or knee-deep in an MMO, he’s usually watching low-budget horror films or following Orioles baseball. If you have questions, or would like to contact him for PR purposes, you can do so by e-mail. Love gaming? Join TEAM XBRO today!