(3DS eShop)

1001 Spikes (3DS eShop)

Game Review

1001 Spikes Review

USA USA Version

Posted by Philip J Reed

Exquisite torture

We'll get this out of the way right now: 1001 Spikes is hard. So hard, in fact, that it's deliberately unfair. Those of you turned off by that knowledge can save yourself a great deal of frustration by walking on by. Anyone up to the challenge, however, is in for one of the most satisfying platforming experiences in recent years.

Extreme difficulty is the defining characteristic of 1001 Spikes, but there's more to it than that. There's a massive amount of love and charm on display in every punishing room in the game, so much so that it's easy to take a deep breath and try again — even after you've died to that same trap for the 25th time.

1001 Spikes is the story of Aban Hawkin. Or, at least, it is at first. A copious amount of unlockable characters represent the first — but by no means the last — cache of hidden content in this game. Regardless, the adventure is kicked off when Aban receives a letter from his missing father, challenging him to explore the ruins of Ukampa Temple, collect the treasures within and escape with his life. (Spoiler: he won't.)

The design philosophy of 1001 Spikes prevents any player — even the most careful, observant, and luckiest player — from making it out alive. One hit from anything is the end of tenacious Aban, and there's often no telling which ceilings will collapse, which platforms will fall and which tiles will trigger the titular booby trap. As such the game isn't so much an exercise in forward planning as it is one in retrospective planning. Aban begins the game with 1001 lives, and he may well need all of them, because he can only learn by dying.

The traps reveal themselves when it's already too late. The odds are good that if you see something deadly, you're already dead. In other cases, obvious traps make themselves immediately apparent, causing you to get struck by something else while you were busy avoiding the obstacle you saw coming. 1001 Spikes is a masterpiece of misdirection, and one that elevates brutality to an artform.

Your first clue that precision is key is the fact that two different buttons make Aban jump. One maxes out at a one-block-high vertical, and the other maxes out at two blocks. Why not just use one button and release it sooner if you don't need to jump a full two blocks? Because the simple act of moving in this game is a puzzle. Jump too low and you may clip a patch of spikes. Just too high and you may hit your head and fall into a pit. Like Goldilocks, 1001 Spikes is a continuous search for something that's "just right," and you won't know which porridge is too hot or too cold until you catch yourself on fire or die of frostbite.

Offensively, Aban can hurl an endless stream of knives. That sounds pretty impressive, until you learn — and you will learn quickly — that there's relatively little that's vulnerable to knives. In fact, more often than not you'll be using them to uncover hidden items and hit switches. Additionally, the enemies that are vulnerable to knives are often easier to avoid than to fight. Remember what we said about misdirection?

Each level has one item that absolutely must be collected: the exit key. There's also an optional golden skull, which is not only harder to get, but can also sometimes trick you into making the exit key inaccessible. The skulls are not mandatory to progress, but you will need them in order to unlock the extra characters, items, and modes. This adds a lot of replayability, and it also means that you must sometimes devise two entirely different strategies to make it through the same level.

Playing 1001 Spikes requires you, as a player, to beat it at its own game. As physically taxing as these levels are for Aban, the true assault is psychological. Certain types of blocks trigger spike traps, so you learn to avoid those in favour of other blocks — which then trigger something even worse. Early on, a friendly rat advises you to take things slow and observe the patterns of platforms before you act. Good advice, until you take your time studying a later layout only to have your head crushed by a falling ceiling. One level even had us anticipating a difficult encounter with a blade-spitting statue. As we drew nearer, we were surprised to find that it didn't spit anything at all. That pleasant surprise, of course, was tempered by the fact that a much simpler trap killed us while we were obsessed over a red herring.

If it sounds frustrating, you're both right and wrong. The deaths are unexpected and rarely predictable, but they also play as punchlines. Of course there's a trap right before the exit. Of course that horizontal platform drops vertically when you step on it. Of course that key is out of reach because you didn't pay attention to the blocks you destroyed on your way to grab it. 1001 Spikes is a prankster, and while Aban might not be laughing, it's hard not to see some its more fiendish traps reveal themselves to be elaborate — and very clever — jokes.

The presentation itself helps soften the blow, as well. With some genuinely great music in every single stage — as well as a few tracks inspired by the unlockable cameo protagonists — and a surprisingly vibrant series of backdrops, these unforgiving gauntlets are actually quite pleasant to spend time with. There's also a scene of satisfying fanfare when you do make it out of a room with all of your organs, as well as a Ghosts 'N Goblins-style map on the touch screen to remind you both of how much progress you've made and how reachable your next goal seems to be. It's a tease, but it's an effective one, and the most difficult levels kept us coming back in ways that felt entirely removed from any concern we might have had for our own sanity.

Two major unlockable modes also feature, including one that's essentially a completely different game: The Tower of Nannar. While this mode shares a lot with the main game, it feels very different, with vertical movement replacing the horizontal, challenging boss fights, and an emphasis on constantly moving onward rather than puzzling out smaller traps in sequence. This too owes more than a little of its aesthetic to Ghosts 'N Goblins, but, funnily enough, is actually significantly easier than the main game.

There's also a Lost Levels mode, which functions as 1001 Spikes' own sequel. It's another trot through the game's worlds, with a completely different (though admittedly smaller) group of levels to master. These are both very generous additions, providing both a full second game and an expansion pack for the main game in the same basic package.

There are a few downsides, however, that seem to be exclusive to the 3DS version. For starters, objects and interactive tiles tend to "jiggle" as the screen scrolls. It's not impossible to get used to, but it can be a bit disorienting as you already struggle to master the devious treachery of the level design.

The "jiggle" problem occurs even with the 3D off, and switching it on reveals another problem: the 3D effect gives away hidden passages. Much like the eShop version of Cave Story, little care seems to have been given to which elements should be part of which layer. Background objects bizarrely clip in front of our hero, and "foreground" objects recess backward, revealing passages we weren't supposed to know about. 1001 Spikes is plenty challenging — and plenty good — even with these issues in mind, but that's a pretty disappointing oversight.

There's also the lack of multiplayer features, which the Wii U version does have. The importance of that capability will vary from person to person, but it's worth pointing out. Also worth pointing out, however, is that this version of the game is portable, which is a good fit for levels that should only take around a minute or so to complete, once you learn their quirks.

It's a shame that 1001 Spikes has these issues, but they're by no means dealbreakers. The core experience is magnificent, and graphical oddities and missing modes don't do much to diminish its charms. If you're up for a solid, playful challenge that will redefine the way you look at platformers — as well as, possibly, mortality itself — then 1001 Spikes will scratch that itch. It's not a perfect experience, but you'll have enough on your mind that you won't likely be distracted by rough edges.

Conclusion

A long adventure, two great unlockable modes, a slew of hidden characters, a great soundtrack and lovely spritework are all hallmarks of 1001 Spikes, which also happens to be tremendously difficult, and thoroughly challenging. The levels are often unfair, but they're unfair in such clever ways that it's hard to stay mad at the game, and all too easy to get roped into one more try. Having said that, the lack of multiplayer modes, the propensity of interactive objects to scroll at different speeds from the rest of the tiles and a 3D effect that gives away hiding places hold this one back from reaching its true potential. A great experience, but not one without its flaws — and absolutely not one for the faint of heart.

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User Comments (26)

Knux

#3

Knux said:

@Philip_J_Reed: Is it pretty glitchy? I would like to buy this, but I hate buying a broken port. I know there is supposed to be a patch for this, but Nicalis usually takes forever when it comes to those...

faint

#4

faint said:

@Knux dont know about the 3ds version but i have had zero problems with the wiiu version

Dodger

#5

Dodger said:

To be fair, the lack of a major feature that is in one version and could be in the other could still be an annoyance, even if you hear about it in advance. Like Mario Kart 7 not having free play when the DS and Wii versions did. Although the two games have little to do with each other. They should make 1,001 Spikes Kart.

Not a game for me though. The Donkey Kong Country series is about as hard as I like my platformers. Sounds like a fun game to watch someone else play.

Philip_J_ReedStaff

#6

Philip_J_Reed said:

@Knux I didn't encounter any truly problematic glitches. The jiggling probably qualifies as a glitch, but I was able to adjust to it. Certainly nothing that a patch can't solve (so I hope we get one soon), and aside from some disappointment it didn't interfere with my enjoyment of the game. :)

Mowzle

#8

Mowzle said:

@Philip_J_Reed: Brilliant revue, Chicken. Thanks for a thoroughly enjoyable read (pun not intended).
Makes me want to try it when it comes to Europe, but as I'm the world's worst at platformers I think I'd end up cutting my own throat early on.

maceng

#9

maceng said:

So which is harder, Dk Country Returns 3DS hard mode or 1001 spikes? I consider DKCR3D as far as I could go in terms of a difficult game (no Cloudberry Kingdom for me!!).

unrandomsam

#11

unrandomsam said:

It reminds me of I wanna be the guy which was totally impenetrable for me.

(But yet there is someone from Japan who managed to complete it on impossible which is using only one life).

AG_Awesome

#13

AG_Awesome said:

Any word on when the patch is coming out that will supposedly fix all these glitches?

Philip_J_ReedStaff

#14

Philip_J_Reed said:

Dk Country Returns 3DS hard mode or 1001 spikes?

They're pretty different types of difficulty, so it's hard to compare, but for me at least DK Country Returns on Hard Mode was harder. I couldn't even finish that!

...of course, that just means I need to go back and try some more, which I'm not complaining about. ;)

DKCR did have a few "frustrating" moments as opposed to addictively challenging. 1001 Spikes didn't really have many of those, in my opinion. (For what it's worth, Tropical Freeze also did a better job of keeping frustration low while the challenge was still more or less high.)

MJongo

#15

MJongo said:

The game completely freezes the system on both the Wii U and 3DS versions when entering the first temple (five levels in) as Bit Trip Runner, causing you to have to manually power down the systems and preventing further progress. How that got past playtesting is beyond me. Otherwise, the game is excellent.

Philip_J_ReedStaff

#16

Philip_J_Reed said:

Good to know, @MJongo. I did test out various permutations of characters, but I guess I didn't do that specifically. Thanks for the heads up. That's indeed a glitch that I hope is patched.

Klimbatize

#17

Klimbatize said:

Great review, and I almost completely agree. I like it enough to give it a 9 though. I'd put it up there with one of the top eShop games released. I love the nostalgic feel to the game; it feels like how I /remember/ NES games feeling.

I'm having a lot of fun with it, and have definitely laughed out loud a few times at my own stupidity, or general "unfairness" of some of the deaths.

Philip_J_ReedStaff

#18

Philip_J_Reed said:

it feels like how I /remember/ NES games feeling.

That one sentence said more than my entire review. :D Spot on.

ueI

#19

ueI said:

Impressive review. I bet this game's other reviews won't even be half as detailed.

Ashflow

#20

Ashflow said:

"Like Goldilocks, 1001 Spikes is a continuous search for something that's "just right," and you won't know which porridge is too hot or too cold until you catch yourself on fire or die of frostbite." Best line, hands down.

The IGN review mentioned choppy animation for the 3DS version, did you have any issues with that (I'm assuming they meant frame rate rather than the 'jiggling')?

Blizzaga

#21

Blizzaga said:

I wanted to correct something in the article:

"There are a few downsides, however, that seem to be exclusive to the 3DS version. For starters, objects and interactive tiles tend to "jiggle" as the screen scrolls."

It's not a problem exclusive to the 3DS version. I own the Wii U version and the interactive tiles jiggle when the screen scrolls.

Philip_J_ReedStaff

#22

Philip_J_Reed said:

The IGN review mentioned choppy animation for the 3DS version

No framerate issues that I was aware of, unless IGN and I are just using different terms for the same thing.

It's not a problem exclusive to the 3DS version.

Great, thank you. I don't have both versions so I couldn't compare directly.

StarDust4Ever

#23

StarDust4Ever said:

"So hard, in fact, that it's deliberately unfair. Those of you turned off by that knowledge can save yourself a great deal of frustration by walking on by."

That would be me, sadly... :p

Action51

#25

Action51 said:

Love the game.

Didn't notice the glitches, just the lack of gamepad-only mode.

Seriously, this game is a love letter to the 8-bit days of gaming, and it's TOUGH. There is a level of trial and error and you will yell "That's not fair!!!" at your TV...but if you stick with it, it's extremely rewarding and fun.

Not for the faint of heart or slow of reflex!

Haz

#26

Haz said:

I picked this up for the 3DS so that I could play it during lunch breaks and on the go, and I like it enough that I may eventually grab the Wii U version if its ever on sale. (but I certainly don't feel like paying another $10.01 for a second copy). I think that anyone who enjoyed Cloudberry Kindgom will also like this game, although this game lacks the obnoxiously deceptive hitboxes found in Cloudberry Kingdom and exchanges them for traps and pitfalls that can only be discovered through trial and error rather than simply keen observation and planning.

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