Aban Hawkins & the 1001 Spikes (PS4) Review
Ben Sheene / Jul 2nd, 2014 No Comments
If you have 1,001 lives, a few hundred deaths every few levels doesn’t seem that terrible. But after I was on the hundredth or so death in a level on the fourth world, I was starting to give up hope–hope that I would lead Aban to the deepest secrets hidden in Ukampa; or that I would at least figure out why his dad was kind of a jerk. Hundreds of deaths and several bouts of frustration later, I couldn’t stop playing.
Aban Hawkins & the 1001 Spikes (1001 Spikes) is a cruel game. Yet threaded through those bloodstained spikes is smart level design and satisfying platforming.
Sweet, Agonizing Death
By now, players should be familiar with games that use frequent deaths as a part of gameplay. Titles such as Dark Souls and Spelunky teach players a lesson with each death. Your strategy didn’t work, looks like you’re dead but you will know better next life. Deaths create building blocks for players to memorize, gain experience and ultimately succeed. 1001 Spikes does not stray from this formula and it results in those glorious, rage-inducing deaths players have grown to love.
Aban Hawkins is on the hunt for his father. The two have a very volatile relationship, but Aban hopes to prove his worth to his treasure hunting father by finding the treasures hidden in the deadly temple of Ukampa. Think Indiana Jones except Indiana dies after almost every trap he triggers. Thematically, 1001 Spikes is mildly similar to Spelunky or La Mulana–games that also feature guys in hats in deadly temples and caves.
Unlike those games, 1001 Spikes strips gameplay down to the basics. There are no items and no special moves to layer strategies on top of each other. Players are able to move, throw knives, and do a short jump or high jump. If you’re lucky enough to get close to an enemy while their back is turned, there’s a backstab. The moveset is so simple you could almost play it on an NES controller.
Due to the simplicity, 1001 Spikes is a breeze to plunge into. There’s never any question of what the short and high jumps can’t achieve and no mechanics to fidget with. Opening levels begin generously and don’t throw too many opportunities for death at players. 1001 Spikes will litter the terrain, “pressure plates” will trigger pointed death, and a statue head will launch a deadly barb when you come into its view. These things are placed sparingly at the beginning so player will only die a few times while they learn how the game operates.
Level Design 1001
Big budget games go for incredible set pieces punctuated by action. Nathan Drake, a fellow treasure hunter, traveled the world in the expertly paced Uncharted series. But rather than jumping out of planes and fighting atop trains in a blizzard, Aban Hawkins does pacing a little different. As the levels come and go and a trail of lives is left behind, players will grow to appreciate Nicalis‘ sadistic level design. Sure, they’re going to hate it after 50-plus deaths but it’s hard to ignore the brilliance found here.
The best platformers should be able to deliver twitch gameplay asking players to not only dodge enemies but time last minute jumps. From the point where players must find the key unlocking the door at the end of the level to actually walking through the exit, they are going to be put through the wringer. Merely tossing a spike pit near a hard jump that is also next to another trap isn’t enough. Nothing feels thrown together. Every trap and every trigger is spaced out in a diaboloical plan.
No matter how many times you feel that one method of death has been encountered, there is a way to trick you again. The amount of care gone into crafting perfect, bite-sized levels is mind boggling.
As gamers, we know that deaths can feel like punishments rather than rewards. 1001 Spikes will punish those who aren’t laser focused. As annoying and frustrating as those deaths are, there are levels in the game that are just obscenely tough. It’s important to note that the game is never unfair, but that doesn’t change the fact that a handful of levels are just excessively brutal. Sometimes either length or a particularly mean section can suck away the fun and feel more like hopeless repetition. There are a few times where the death toll will climb past 100. It’s a heartbreaking number, but the satisfaction of crossing that door is indescribable.
Homage to the Past
From the 8-bit graphics to the chiptune soundtrack, 1001 Spikes takes players on a journey to the past. Not only is the challenge old school but so is the feeling. Retro enthusiasts will drown in a sea of joy at the pixel-perfect animations and level of detail. Don’t be fooled, this is not a game that could have been made 30 years ago.
[adsense250itp]When Aban brushes past vines or bushes, they move. Rather than a wash of one solid color, backgrounds are incredibly detailed. There’s absolutely no lag and the game is simply brisk at how well it runs. Though environments look great, the world becomes all too familiar in a wash of blue and white. It’s a shame that the intense difficulty isn’t accompanied by a more varied look.
The soundtrack completes the package in an incredible way. Even with only one song playinh throughout each bundle of levels, it breathes life into them. Collecting the door key causes the songs to speed up, adding a second touch to the soundtrack.
A Complete Package
Concise is the name of the game with 1001 Spikes–concise platforming with a deep and satisfying challenge. Despite frequent deaths buffering the playtime, the game has a surprising amount of content that will have players further pushing themselves. Over a dozen characters can be unlocked over the course of the game, each with a unique weapon and ability. Even better, they all have their own set of animations, making them more than just a costume change.
A few different modes to provide players with an extra challenge. The Lost Levels are quite similar to the base game and will obviously provide a new way to test players’ patience. The Tower of Nannar focuses on verticality and can be played with friends. Players must rescue maidens captured by bosses and will fight to the top of some surprisingly difficult sections to reach the end. The Golden Vase is a chaotic twist on deathmatch and capture the flag. The only sore spot about the multiplayer component is that it is local only.
Aban Hawkins & the 1001 Spikes is a difficult game to ignore. From the time we played it at E3 last year to now, very little has changed. Though the wait seemed like forever, it makes sense given the incredible execution in development. Nicalis’ investment in this small title has yielded a tough game for players who think they are worthy of s challenge. More importantly, the impeccably designed levels speak to the heart of any gamer that grew up with the kind of experiences 1001 Spikes pays homage to.
tags: 1001 Spikes , 1001 Spikes Review , Nicalis , ps4 , review