If Dark Souls had a younger, cuter cousin; it would be Aban Hawkins and the 1001 Spikes. It's cute, 8-bit exterior seems to exist simply to mock you while you fail miserably and suffer under the weight of it's excruciatingly intolerant difficulty. The impatient are likely to give up long before they ever see the rewards of conquering the game, but even then the payoff rarely feels as rewarding as similar games. There's still a lot to love about 1001 Spikes, you just have to be willing to sit through a lot to get to it.
So just how difficult is 1001 Spikes really, so difficult that you're likely to call it cheap. This is a game that uses literally every old-school trick in the book simply to get you to die. Randomly falling blocks? They're here. Obstacles that seemingly come out of nowhere when you think you've finally made it to the end of a section? Oh yeah, you bet. 1001 Spikes makes a habit of dangling the carrot in front of you and then moving it away ever so quickly with the sudden jerk of a cheaply placed trap that you never saw coming. The whole experience leaves you thinking "I know I can do this, I know I can do this...why the hell can't I do this?" All of this as you try to resist trying to smash your controller to the ground.
1001 Spikes ups the ante by being incredibly unforgiving with its save and checkpoint system...meaning that there are none. Die in a level and you're going to back to the beginning, regardless of how close you were (or you thought you were) to the exit. You also have only 1001 lives and while that seems like a lot, those 1001 lives go quick and they have to have to last you through all of the booby traps and cheap stunts that the game pulls; run out of lives and you're not just going back to your last checkpoint, you're going back to the beginning of the game. The key is that when you finish these levels, and if you're a masochist enough, the entire game - the level of reward is the ultimate payoff.
Except, in most cases I never really felt like the payoff of finishing a level was worth the pain and suffering of playing through some of the tougher sections of the game. When I finished a level in a game like Super Meat Boy, I sat back and watched the replay; proud of my accomplishments but in 1001 Spikes, I was just relieved that I didn't have to do the section again. Don't get me wrong, there were sections of the game where the rewarding feeling was remarkable, but I rarely felt that it was worth the amount of crap I had to go through to get it. This is sure to turn a lot of people off from the experience, and unfortunately even some of those it's looking to appeal to.
Visually, 1001 Spikes features the 8-bit retro look that seems to be all the rage with indie games these days. In that aspect, it looks the part; it looks like it came straight from the original 8-bit era. It's nothing we haven't seen before, but it does what it does and it does it well. The difference between 1001 Spikes and other retro style games is the superb soundtrack. Not only does the music sound like it's from the era, it's some of the best bit tune music I've ever heard.
With 1001 Spikes, Nicalis knows what it has, a retro throwback that is excruciatingly difficult and feels like an honor to finish. Unfortunately, the payoff rarely feels like it's been worth your time; at least as much as it does in other, similar games. 1001 Spikes is made for a specific audience, and they'll appreciate it, but others will find it a somewhat fun game that's ultimately not worth their time.