I love the Indiana Jones films. I’ve probably seen Raiders of the Lost Ark over 200 times, and if you have a couple spare hours, there’s a good chance I could recite the entire movie back to you. Temple of Doom gets a bad rap, perhaps for its lack of locales, Kate Capshaw’s often over-the-top performance, and a violently dark story. Last Crusade is like a love letter to fans, and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull? Let’s just say that film’s like drinking the blood of Kali. I’m still trying to wake up from that nightmare.
Anyway, Atari’s own Temple of Doom arcade game from 1985 was also a favorite of mine. Remember the nice cabinets for machines like this, Star Wars, and Road Runner? Oh, I loved them. Atari arcade games were among my favorites, and there were just so many! A quick look on Wikipedia shows how prolific they were. 8-bit consoles like the NES were brand-spanking new, and with most folks still playing on aging Ataris, Commodores, and Apples, arcades were simply unbeatable.
And now, nearly 30 years later, it’s interesting to me that the game I’m reviewing today is not only inspired by one of my favorite movie franchises, but is also a throwback to 8-bit home console games of that era. There are a lot of games like this nowadays, most notably the recent Kickstarter success story Shovel Knight, which like 1001 Spikes, taps into the collective nostalgia of the ’80s, and delivers a gaming experience that is as good as — if not better than — the titles that influenced them.
1001 Spikes began as the Xbox Live indie game 1000 Spikes back in 2011. I’ve admittedly never played that version, and I didn’t even know of its existence before 1001 Spikes was announced. Developed by 8bits Fanatics, I’m glad it has now received a wider release via Nicalis, who has become one of my favorite publishers in recent years.
For those who don’t know anything about this game, in a nutshell, it’s a puzzle-platformer, where you guide your character through short stages full of traps, enemies, and other environmental hazards. You can jump either 1 or 2 blocks high using two separate buttons, and you can throw or slice with your knife. That’s it. The dual-jumping mechanic sounds bizarre on paper, but it’s a great idea that works beautifully during play.
In screenshots, 1001 Spikes doesn’t look like anything special, but I found it to be quite beautiful in motion. Animation is smooth, there is a a good deal of parallax scrolling, and background/foreground separation is very clear. Characters and enemies are comprised of very few pixels, but they possess a ton of character, with funny idle animations that further the game’s charm.
Music is also very good, but the Wii U version that I played is chock-full of annoying audio glitches. Sometimes the soundtrack will exhibit intermittent popping, and at others it will skip like a badly scratched CD (which you can hear at the 3:06 mark in the video below). A few times, the music stopped completely altogether! It’s very buggy audio code that really detracts from the overall polish of the game, and I’m surprised it was released in this bad a shape.
Thankfully, 1001 Spikes really shines in the gameplay department. Controls are ultra-smooth and responsive, and there was rarely — if ever — a point during my playthrough where I felt the controls failed me.
While I would sit there and curse the game at how cheap I thought it was at times, it always came down to me making a mistake or failing to remember the location of a particularly well-placed trap. You have very little time to react to most of them, so while I thought that 1001 Spikes had a tendency to rely on memorization more than pure skill as I went through it, it turned out to be a rewarding trial & error system in hindsight. One that I really appreciated the more I thought about it.
However, it can’t be stated enough: You will die. A lot. More than you’d like, perhaps! It’s funny that they give you 1001 lives to start, but you’ll come to appreciate them as you lose your first hundred, and then your second, and so on and so forth.
Fear not, though, as you are given 100-256 extra lives at the end of each set of levels, so you should be OK. Again, the game is rewarding in the same way that other tough games are. Think of the temples in Donkey Kong Country Returns, or the I Wanna Be The Guy levels from Super Meat Boy. They take many tries to get right, and the rush you feel once you get through them is hard to put into words. It’s highly rewarding, and will keep you coming back for more.
There are also a slew of unlockable characters, each with their own particular attributes and skills. They really change up the way each level is played, and as a result, they’re very distinctive and unique.
Like many indie games, there is cross-pollination going on here, and you’ll find all sorts of familiar faces from other titles. I won’t spoil the surprise for those who haven’t played this yet, but they bring with them their own stories, which adds a lot of incentive to play through the game multiple times.
Additional unlockables, including single and multiplayer modes beyond the main campaign also add a ton of value to what’s an already inexpensive $15 package.
These are a lot of fun, and feel easier than the main campaign, so they provide a nice break between some of the intense challenges that await in the game world of Ukampa and beyond.
Like many retro-styled games of this type, there is a speedrunning element — including an in-game displayable clock — so you can go for the lowest times possible for each level. Curiously, though, there are no leaderboards to be found and zero Miiverse integration, so you have to manually scour the internet to see how good you’re doing. The best you can do is post screenshots and your times, but a built-in system would have been much better.
While we’re on the topic of oddly missing features, 1001 Spikes cannot be enjoyed via off-TV play on the Wii U. The GamePad only displays the world map during gameplay and remains completely black when you’re in menus. This is the sort of bite-sized game that is perfect for the GamePad, so its omission is surprising. Nicalis has said that a patch is forthcoming that will address numerous bugs and add this feature in, but as of this writing (over two months post-release), there has been no update.
In closing, Aban Hawkins & the 1001 Spikes is a very fun game, with surprisingly good presentation, multiple endings, and lots of different modes to play. Although some of it feels half-baked at this point on the Wii U, it is still a robust game at its core that delivers a ton of bang for the buck, and is one of the most challenging titles I’ve played in 2014 so far. Recommended.
- Graphics & Presentation: B+
Fluidly animated 8-bit sprites, sharp backgrounds, parallax scrolling, and gorgeous cutscenes give 1001 Spikes a wonderfully nostalgic look. No off-TV play is a big miss, however, especially when the game doesn’t require any GamePad-specific functionality.
- Music & Sound Effects: B-
A solid chiptune soundtrack and good sound effects convey the protagonist’s dire situation. Unfortunately, the Wii U version is plagued by a myriad of sound bugs that really hurt the audio presentation.
- Gameplay & Controls: A
Responsive, perfect controls make this a joy to play, with tons of different game modes, unlockables, and secrets. Ultra-challenging platforming with a focus on puzzle-solving is a nice change from many modern action games.
- Value: A
It took me about 15 hours to get through just the main campaign, and with a wide range of unique characters and storylines to experience, plus discrete arcade modes to play, 1001 Spikes represents an excellent value.
For more impressions of 1001 Spikes, please check out my YouTube channel HERE.