1001 Spikes is humiliating. It makes you look foolish as you traverse its lands, running straight into a spinning wheel of death that you had every chance to avoid. Nicalis’ deathcore platformer inspires feelings of inadequacy as you trip the same pressure plate for the fourth time, shooting spikes up through your body. Oddly enough you paid for this honour, to be stripped naked in front of your peers and revealed to not be the “hardcore” gamer you’ve long professed.
But I keep coming back. Over and again, I accept my death and take another crack at making an inch of progress in this treasure-laden death trap.
I love this game.
And I say that as I bang my head against the wall, making my 54th attempt at Stage 5-1. 1001 Spikes is a test of patience, for as often as these deaths are “your” fault, there’s a hint of cheese to each one lost. Sure, I could have seen collapsible block had I looked, but I was worried about the flying shuriken chasing after me. Regardless, it’s a lesson learned, and life begins anew quite quickly.
As Aban Hawkins, players crisscross a cavern that is hell bent on destroying you, with nothing more than a tiny projectile and the two legs beneath you. The first goal is to obtain a key, then it’s time to tempt fate and exit such a hostile environment. What makes the design of all this so genius is the story these stages tell. Blood on the spikes display the pain they enforce, while seemingly random skeletons tell of hidden traps beneath the floors. If afforded the chance, I’d study the level, looking over every nook, inspecting each cranny. But as I said, I relied on the game providing me the opportunity. Sometimes you’re not so lucky, as the stage can open with a nosedive towards a bottomless pit.
What makes 1001 Spikes so addictive is that insane mix of speed and reflexes. You want to get in and out of these bite-sized nightmares are quickly as possible, but going full tilt only yields another death. But being slow isn’t much help either, as there’s times where progress is halted if you’re not moving quickly enough. Suddenly you’re relying on reflexes you’ve never had to rely on before, finding solutions before death stops knocking and just barges on in. There’s no being defensive here, it’s all about making the next move, pushing forward.
And even in death you’ll find laughter, chuckling to yourself as you miss the obvious and pass on. Hundreds of times I’ve progressed far into a stage, only to forget the life-saving parts of the earliest section and falling victim to it. I laughed at myself for these moments of forgetfulness, knowing I had goofed so badly in my “rush rush RUSH” mindset.
Surprisingly, your adventure isn’t over upon the completion of the main story. There’s golden skulls to collect to unlock new characters (many drawn from a pool of your favourite indie darlings), and other more heinous stages to enjoy. The Tower of Nannar is a vertical adventure, but feels out of place with its use of a more traditional “lives” system. Not as brutal as the main campaign, sure, but also less interesting. I’m sure the multiplayer found in the home console versions adds to the experience, but for us portable-heads it’s strictly solo. The other additional mode is The Lost Levels, a harder (yes, harder) take on the main campaign. It’s a fun diversion, but not something I spend much time in considering how difficult I find the regular adventure to be.
If you think you’ve got what it takes, go on, take the plunge and test your mettle. But even if you’re like me, someone who doesn’t fancy themselves as “skilled”, take a chance. As hard as it can be, it’s always super fun. Maybe I won’t ever beat it, but the hours I put into it aren’t for nothing. I’ve got more joy from these deaths than I could have imagined, and I think everyone will feel the same.