1001 Spikes

360, 3DS, PC, PS4, Vita, Wii U, Xbox One


Pub­lisher/de­vel­oper Ni­calis For­mat 3DS (ver­sion tested), PC, PS4, Vita, Wii U, Xbox One Re­lease Out now

Re­trieve the key, reach the exit. A sim­ple enough task on pa­per, but just as your ob­jec­tive never changes through­out 1001 Spikes, de­vel­oper Ni­calis is un­wa­ver­ing in its ded­i­ca­tion to mak­ing it as dif­fi­cult as pos­si­ble. The sin­gle-mind­ed­ness of this sadis­tic plat­former is one of its great­est strengths: its traprid­den stages are de­signed to pun­ish the hasty and the over­cau­tious alike, and its abra­sive na­ture even ex­tends to the nar­ra­tive. It’s slight but ex­pertly judged, an eco­nom­i­cal setup es­tab­lish­ing not just its pro­tag­o­nist’s mo­ti­va­tion but your own. Aban Hawkins’ fa­ther is an ex­plorer who finds him­self trapped in the tem­ple of Ukampa – but not be­fore ridi­cul­ing his son’s fail­ures and cru­elly writ­ing him out of his will. This is, then, more than just a res­cue mis­sion: it’s about Hawkins’ de­ter­mi­na­tion to prove him­self to his fa­ther, re­flected in the player’s de­sire to con­quer the tem­ple.

Good luck. You have 1,001 lives, al­though that tally looks dis­tinctly un­gen­er­ous around the busi­ness end of World 4, by which time you’ll have been per­fo­rated by spikes on dozens of oc­ca­sions, struck by poi­son darts many times more, stung by scor­pi­ons, squashed by boul­ders and burned by lava. It’s hard, then – glee­fully so – and of­ten un­fair. You’ll pause briefly be­tween fall­ing stat­ues, only to trig­ger a spike trap on the one seem­ingly safe tile in the mid­dle. You’ll reach the plat­form on which the exit lies, the next step prompt­ing an ar­row from an unseen gar­goyle to thwart you mere feet from the fin­ish. You soon learn to ex­pect the worst, how­ever, and you’ll start to spot sub­tle clues that let you know when you’re in dan­ger. There’s a blackly comic tinge to each new death: you’ll pon­der the wis­dom of hav­ing two dif­fer­ent jump heights early on, un­til a high leap sees Hawkins’ ath­letic bravado in­stantly punc­tured.

It com­mits to its bru­tal con­ceit al­most en­tirely. The three-note st­ing ac­com­pa­ny­ing each death is fol­lowed by an au­tosave no­ti­fi­ca­tion, an oddly hu­mil­i­at­ing way to ac­cen­tu­ate fail­ure. There’s no prompt to retry; you’re thrown straight back into the fray, help­less to re­sist an­other run. You can give up at any time, but you have to ac­tively choose to do it. Rarely has quit­ting felt so much like cow­ardice. Only the pres­ence of a level skip un­der­cuts the chal­lenge. The fi­nal stages may be locked out to those who fail to sur­vive the rest, but oth­er­wise beat­ing or by­pass­ing a level earns you the same re­ward.

And while the level de­sign is metic­u­lous, as the chal­lenge steep­ens, so the process of rote mem­o­ri­sa­tion grows steadily more mo­not­o­nous, the sat­is­fac­tion of mas­ter­ing a stage long since sur­passed by a wave of relief that it’s over. The crafts­man­ship is easy to ad­mire, but 1001 Spikes can be a hard game to love.

In the­ory, new cos­tumes and char­ac­ters should en­cour­age re­play value, but you’ll have to start from World 1-1 when­ever you switch, and you’ll only earn coins with the first char­ac­ter you use to beat a stage

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