1001 Spikes Review

1001 ways to die.

Whether it's entirely true or not, classic games from the NES era are remembered as being far more difficult than the average game today. 1001 Spikes goes all out when attempting to re-create that sense of intense challenge, making a game that not only looks and sounds like one from the 8-bit era, but plays like it as well. But it's not for those who simply want nostalgia. You also need to have patience, perseverance, and a desire for the sweet taste of conquest that comes from every victory.

For the most part, 1001 Spikes plays with all the simplicity of an NES platformer. You can run, you can jump, and you can attack. To jump, however, you have two different buttons: a high jump and a low jump. Jumping low can give you a bit more distance and also gets you back on the ground faster, while jumping high lets you reach more areas and dodge more obstacles. Both types of jumps are essential in different areas, and mastering the ability to use the right jump at the right time is one of 1001 Spikes' earliest and most important challenges. If you get into the habit of using only one type of jump, you will fail.

Let's see, that's one, two, three... Yep, I'm gonna say 1001 spikes. Checks out.
Let's see, that's one, two, three... Yep, I'm gonna say 1001 spikes. Checks out.

The goal in 1001 Spikes is simple: collect a key and reach the exit, stopping to pick up a golden skull collectible if you can. While there are occasionally enemies in your way, your toughest opponent is always the environment itself. True to the game's title, spikes are everywhere and often pop out of floors, walls, and ceilings when you don't expect them to. Blocks fall out from under you, arrow traps trigger and kill you, and platforms move and confuse you. The level is your enemy, and it laughs in your face.

But while the stages are antagonistic, they are also fair. Every monster is on a pattern, every trap obeys strict rules, and every movement is precise. When you die, the claim "luck wasn't on my side" is never enough, because there is no element of random chance at play here. You may have gone one pixel too far and died, but that was your fault, not the game's.

Yeah, I don't know how we're going to survive this one either, dude.
Yeah, I don't know how we're going to survive this one either, dude.

This is not to say there is no element of trial and error. It's often the case that you won't know how to finish a stage until you die several (dozen?) times. There may be a block that crumbles the second you stand on it, with no visual cues to warn you that would be the case. Even if you have split-second reaction times, you will probably have to poke and prod at a level before you unlock its secrets. Not only do you need perfect timing and quick reflexes, but you also need the will to fight on until you understand what the level requires.

Of course, dying isn't always fun. Sometimes it's frustrating running through the same areas over and over again. Granted, each level is short (many if not most can be finished in under a minute if you're skilled enough), but beating your head against a wall can grow tiring. Fortunately, there is a level skip option if you simply want to move on, but it can get you only so far. Without completing every stage, you cannot finish the game or unlock the series of even more challenging stages that lie beyond the game's credits.

Blocks fall out from under you, arrow traps trigger and kill you, and platforms move and confuse you. The level is your enemy, and it laughs in your face.

And there's something to be said for perseverance, even when you want to throw your controller out of frustration. After dying more than 50 times in one particular level, I finally got the key and reached the door. But just as the door was opening and I was about to breathe a sigh of relief, a set of spikes came up from the floor and killed me. It would take another couple of dozen tries before I was able to make it to the end and figure out the trick to surviving long enough to successfully exit. It was frustrating, especially since I couldn't merely experiment with the part that was giving me trouble--I had to retry from the beginning.

But with each death, I learned. While at first I was unable to survive more than a couple of seconds on the level in question (and I do mean that literally), I soon found myself expertly navigating through early traps. Even the most daunting obstacles eventually became not only doable, but almost routine. I still died--a lot--but I was making noticeable improvements as I went. The experience was brutal, unforgiving, and frustrating, but it was only beating me because I wasn't good enough. And when I finally bested the level, the exhilaration I felt was something that's not often matched in games.

There are a few environments that aren't so dreary, but they're still dangerous.
There are a few environments that aren't so dreary, but they're still dangerous.

Though the main story mode will take you many hours to inch your way through, 1001 Spikes comes packed with alternative ways to play. There is a sizable collection of unlockable characters, most coming from other games (such as Bit.Trip Runner and Cave Story) and each with its own unique attributes and abilities. They also have their own stories, though some are far more involved than others.

These characters can also be used in a couple of side games that take the same mechanics and twist the gameplay slightly. The Tower of Nanner mode, for example, has you climbing a series of (mostly) vertically scrolling levels, but lets you continue from where you left off if you die (until you run out of lives). On consoles, these unlockable modes can be played cooperatively as well, which can be frantic and fun, but you're not missing out on too much if you opt for the single-player-only experience on portable systems.

One of the few areas in which 1001 Spikes is lacking is in comparing your performances with other players. The game puts an emphasis on your best times, and even has the option of using a speedrun clock if you so choose, yet there are no online leaderboards with which to compare scores with friends and strangers. That's too bad, because self-imposed misery loves company, and 1001 Spikes is best for the kind of person who can take punishment and enjoy it. It can be soul crushing for the same reason it's inspiring.

The Good

  • Tight controls that put success and failure in your hands
  • Extra content gives good reasons to go back
  • Smart level design

The Bad

  • No leaderboards or score sharing
  • Occasional level segments that are more frustrating than fun

About the Author

Britton Peele enjoys a challenge and thought he was a hotshot for beating Super Meat Boy until he realized that he would never able to finish every dark world stage. He completed the main game in 1001 Spikes, found 24 of the golden skulls, and completed the Tower of Nanner twice before writing this review. He woke up his wife only once by shouting at his Vita upon dying during a level.
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Bond_Villain

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I bet the console'y graphics looks way better on the PC version!

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00black

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Edited By 00black

Good thing we've got next gen processing power for these 2D "Retro Indie" games...

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zyxahn

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@00black yeah I don't know why things are going all Minecraft on us. Game would have been just as good if the graphics were better.

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pjosephson

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Edited By pjosephson

When are we going to see a graphic comparison of this game between the PS4 and Xbox One version? Come on bring on one of those frame by frame shootouts you love to do so much. Can't wait to see how each system handles the complexity of this 8bit game :)



By the way, just started playing. It is pretty fun. Not great. I would have given it 7 but, overall it is still worth the price of admission.

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berserker66666

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Edited By berserker66666

This game is awsm. Hard sure but it brings back the classic 90's era vibe back which is rare these days. Soundtrack is fantastic. It's good to see some challenging games in the era of easy mode games.

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sakaiXx

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sakaiXx  Online

I may be buying it, I always buy these kind of games on steam (steam sales ftw) no reason to stop doing it on console.

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Fluxation

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8 bit game, here we go again.

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Ladiesman17

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I'm so sick with 8-16 bit games.

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TehUndeadHorror

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@Ladiesman17 Would love to see more games with inspired art styles like Bastion and Transistor.

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Ahiru-San

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Edited By Ahiru-San

@Ladiesman17 I'm gonna rephrase that, I'm so sick with 8-16bit retro games that like to push difficult way too far to call themselves a cult to classics and whatnot trying to become an instant contemporary classic.


but I'd love more 8-16bit games that have a nice vibe like Fez or something like regular Mario/Sonic… even the new Megaman 9-10 were cool...

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spacecadet25

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Another game on PSN with no demo. Oh well, that just means I'll wait until it's free to try it, and if it never goes free then I will never try it.

Demos really are expensive to the developers, just not in ways they understand.

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hochstreck

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Finally!

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DinoBuster

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I'm personally tired of the retro graphics and hard as nails difficulty painted up as "nostalgia". I"d rather play Spelunky, which 1001 Spikes seems to share an awful lot in common with.


Nice review, and it sounds like a good time for the right gamer.

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hochstreck

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@DinoBuster

The Stage-Designs are actually quite witty and varied and befit the harsh difficulty quite well.

You are an adventurer, having to dodge all sorts of tricky traps, which play literally mind-games on you.

In other words: There is a crude charm to this game, which goes far beyond simple nostalgia.

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wEEman33

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Great game! Get it on whatever platform you have!

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1001 Spikes

First Released Jun 3, 2014
released
  • 3DS
  • Linux
  • Macintosh
  • Nintendo Switch
  • PC
  • PlayStation 4
  • PlayStation Vita
  • Wii U
  • Xbox One

1001 Spikes is a 2D platformer where you have 1,001 lives to beat the game. Discover the lost treasures of Ukampa in South America as Aban Hawkins searches for his estranged father, world-famous archaeologist Jim Hawkins.

8
Great

Average Rating

3 Rating(s)

7.3

Developed by:

Content is generally suitable for ages 13 and up. May contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling and/or infrequent use of strong language.
Teen
Blood, Fantasy Violence