Difficult, retro-style gaming is more popular than ever, but be warned; 1001 Spikes is amongst the most brutally unforgiving examples of this retro revival and, despite being a fantastically made game and a great tribute to the hardcore 8-bit offerings of yore, 1001 Spikes can, and probably will, send you up the bloody wall.
Amidst the array of retro re-imaginings, 1001 Spikes stands as one of the rare, true throwbacks. Many of today’s 8-bit style releases are just that, ‘8-bit style’. They capture the essence, the look and feel of the time, but often make additions and amendments to cater for more modern tastes, playing up to our nostalgia while still providing some of the comforts of modern game design. There are no such concessions to be found here.
1001 Spikes is 8-bit to the core, revelling in both the simplicity of its mechanics and its visual design. This truly does look and feel like an old NES game. Whether 8-bit NES era gaming was ever this hard is up to debate, but 1001 Spikes nonetheless delivers a fiendishly challenging, but perhaps more importantly, totally fair experience. Difficulty is something that needs to be defined in games of this ilk, and the reason that this game works so well and proves so compelling despite its often outrageously high difficulty level, is the fact that the fault always lies with you. A lot of the hardest NES era games on the other hand were hard because they were unfair.
Take the notoriously difficult, Battletoads on NES for instance. I’m sure some will tell you otherwise (they are lying by the way), but a great deal of Battletoads’ ‘challenge’ comes from the simple fact that the games’ design was unfair. That’s not the case here. Like the Dark Souls of this world, if you die in 1001 Spikes, it’s usually because you’re not good enough……yet. There is still a great deal of trial and error involved (and that will put many off), but that has been built purposefully into the experience, and everything else? Well, that’s just a matter of skill.
Despite only having a basic attack and jumping capabilities, it’s amazing what the addition of a unique second jump button has on the experience. With one button for high lofty jumps and another for lower but ultimately longer jumps, using the correct jump at the correct time becomes absolutely essential to any chance of success and despite sounding like a simplistic addition on paper, in practice, makes a fundamental change to the way that you play the game. Beyond the collection of falling platforms, roaming enemies and, yes, spikes (they really are everywhere), the ability to choose the right jump at the right time becomes a major challenge unto itself, and for me at least, is something that I had to train my brain to successfully incorporate.
With its slick, simplistic core mechanics married successfully to its stripped back progression (get the key, get out), 1001 Spikes represents a largely skill based game that will punish the slightest mistake, but ultimately, provide a huge sense of accomplishment for those who persevere.
As fair as the core gameplay is however, and as well designed as the stages might be, it really shouldn’t be underestimated just how horrifying frustrating this games can be. Yes, a challenge can be fun, and yes, it can be rewarding, but when it’s as hard as it is here, it really does take a certain type of gamer to get the most out of the experience.
There is plenty of content for those willing to go the distance with an even harder selection of levels unlocked once you complete the game and a collection of additional modes that deliver slight twists to the standard mechanics, but more often than not, you’ll find yourself stuck on a loop replaying the same stage over and over again.
The stages are mercifully short, but the trial and error inherent to the design does ensure that you’ll spend more time on some stages than any sane person would ever wish to. The sense of progression and of gradual improvement will probably keep you going, but dying at the end of an otherwise perfect run due to a set of surprise spikes or a crumbling platform can be utterly soul destroying.
So, not for everyone then, and certainly not for those brought up on the relative hand holding of modern game design, but for gamers looking for a true challenge and a genuine throwback to 8-bit game design, 1001 Spikes delivers a brutal but extremely rewarding reminder of what the best games of the era could deliver. Frustrating? Yes. Compelling? Certainly. Brilliant? Without question.
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