1001 Spikes Review (Wii U eShop)

Aban Hawkins & the 1001 Spikes: The Temple of the Dead Mourns the Living follows the recent trend of retro-styled platformers that positively bleed with challenge. Its cutesy 8-bit aesthetic may seem welcoming and reminiscent of your all-time NES favorites, but make no mistake: 1001 Spikes wants you dead.

Grizzled adventurer Aban Hawkins’ journey into the depths of the Ukampa Ruins (and beyond) is a punishing one laced with deadly traps around every bend. Spikes, arrows, scorpions–you name it, they’re here and in abundance. The only means of avoiding an untimely fate lie with Hawkins’ paltry throwing daggers and two fixed jumps of varying height. Floaty high jumps are primarily used when platforming between large gaps while short hops are utilized when narrowly evading constant barrages of hazards. Though it might seem a bit strange to map jumping to two separate buttons, this implementation ultimately makes the most sense when considering the pinpoint precision demanded by later stages whereas a Mega Man-esque jump would only make maneuvering all the more grueling.

Ironically, levels are only about a minute long, though mastering them will almost assuredly take hours. Don’t be surprised when you’re sacrificing handfuls of your 1000 precious lives to the most basic of obstacles. Timed spikes here, rolling boulders there–they’ll get the best of you inevitably, but, surprisingly, these deaths never feel cheap. Frustrating perhaps, but not cheap since 1001 Spikes warrants all its traps with blatant visual cues. Once triggered, hazards offer a brief visual quirk to signal oncoming pain. Take Aztec statues for example: they only fire darts when their mouths drop, which indicates that the player should jump as soon as these stony gazes alter.

Falling prey to these imposing structures over and over again, or any threat for that matter, means one thing: operator error. You aren’t reading the signals. Carelessly waltzing into the pits of Ukampa will result in quick and repeated deaths. I would know–I tried. 1001 Spikes, instead, requires finesse and cunning, begging players to analyze its trap-infested environments before even taking their first step. Navigate obstacles with a purpose. Designate impending dangers before they happen. Don’t just fight the game, allow it to condition you into a rigorous spelunker. Only when players finally become observant students of the game will 1001 Spikes begin to make a lick of sense.

After toppling this seemingly insurmountable hurdle, you begin to realize that 1001 Spikes respects your courageous tenacity and aptitude. Those horrid hours of countless tragedies will ultimately award players with an overwhelming sense of validation for their tireless efforts and, in most cases, a satisfyingly slim level completion time to boot. This is an empowering feeling, one that provides an intrinsic drive to continue forging ahead despite grim odds because conquering 1001 Spikes means to conquer death itself. Well, sort of anyways, but, nonetheless, the payoff is real and that’s about as much as you can ask from a video game.

And that’s the other thing that’s great about 1001 Spikes. It is a video game in every sense as it champions all the quintessential hallmarks of what popularized video games as a form of entertainment in the first place. Intuitive controls, expressive sprite work, memorable anthems, a clear and obvious objective, all spectacular things that make a video game fun. 1001 Spikes also weaves a deliciously pastiche narrative that’s totally not trying to be an Indiana Jones entry (*spoilers* it is) complete with beautifully pixelated cut-scenes that are clearly the work of studio 8Bits Fanatics. Trust me, it’s always a enjoyable ride when these guys are behind the wheel and 1001 Spikes is certainly no exception.

Once upon a time, 1001 Spikes began life as the XBLA title Aban Hawkins & the 1000 Spikes until publisher Nicalis transformed the game into a behemoth of an enhanced remake all by adding just one spike. Armed to the teeth with new modes and unlockables, 1001 Spikes sports both local co-op and competitive multiplayer modes including the Mario Bros.-inspired The Golden Vase mini-game where up to four players frantically fight over the titular object in a desperate attempt to gather the most coins before time runs out. Tired of looking at Aban’s ugly mug all the time? Fear not, dear readers, as there are ten other death-defying characters each with their own unique abilities and play styles. Be on the look out for some neat playable cameos from an all-star cast of indie game characters because there’s more than just a few. And though a massively skilled player could triumph over the main campaign in less than an hour, there’s literally dozens of hours’ worth of content here what with all the plucky modes, hidden secrets, and of course the ever-present challenge that the game offers.

Tough as nails and can spit you out faster than you can say, “it had to be snakes,” 1001 Spikes definitely isn’t going to be everyone’s jam. Underneath that sadistic exterior, though, beats the heart of a true classic and its a shame that most folks won’t spend enough time playing it to realize that. Don’t be one of those people. Learn the game’s intricacies and soon you’ll come to master it, and mastering 1001 Spikes is to adore 1001 Spikes. Just be careful because getting too touchy feely with it could result in your imminent demise. But hey, at least it was fun while it lasted, right?

(Sources: 1)

Drunken Text: 1001 Spikes, babe, I luv u n all, but wut up wit no off-screen GamePad play, huh? yo, tha Wii U was MADE wit stuff liek dat in mind. don’t be hatin’, gurrrl. fo realz, git on dat wit a patch or sumfink, ya hear? word. xoxo. – ya boi, T

1001 Spikes Review (Wii U eShop)
Gameplay9.3
Graphics9.2
Music8.9
Replay Value9.3
Not Indiana Jones10
Pros
  • Healthy challenge
  • Incredibly rewarding; unlockables
  • Great sprites/music
Cons
  • Steep learning curve
  • No off-screen mode
9Overall Score
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About The Author

Former Co-Editor

Trace Wysaske lives somewhere in Washington, and when he isn't compulsively hunting Green Stars or felling the Lagiacrus, he's writing about everything from forlorn Japanese teachers to well-mannered crows. He still needs to play Ghost Trick.