1001 Spikes

A game by 8bits Fanatics and Nicalis for PC, Mac, Linux, PS4, Vita, Wii U, Switch, and 3DS, originally released in 2014.
1001 Spikes is an abbreviation of Aban Hawkins & the 1001 Spikes. Including the subtitle, the full name is technically Aban Hawkins & the 1001 Spikes: The Temple of the Dead Mourns the Living, if you aren’t into the whole brevity thing. The game acts a pseudo sequel and enhanced remake of Aban Hawkins & the 1000 Spikes originally released on Xbox Live Indie Games in 2011 by 8bits Fanatics. For 1001 Spikes, Nicalis revisited the game and fleshed out the overall experience, adding a bit more than a single spike with a new storyline and cutscenes, a new introductory tutorial area, several multiplayer modes, enhanced visuals, and some extra tough single player challenges following the completion of the main game, making this the definitive version of the Aban Hawkins adventure.

The new story tells the tale of Aban Hawkins whose father, the famous archaeologist Jim Hawkins, recently disappeared while exploring the Antarctic. Years before, Jim Hawkins decided to leave his entire fortune to Aban’s sister Tina, leaving the impetuous Aban with nothing… in the hopes that he would become a “real man” and earn a fortune of his own.

Viewing his father as selfish and stupid, Aban doesn’t much care that the man has gone missing. However, his father did leave behind a map and a letter telling of great treasures hidden in the Ukampa ruins in South America, warning Aban that the ruins are filled with deadly traps. Aban shrugs of these dangers and heads out to seek his own fortune and glory.

The core of the experience is a level-by-level recreation of the original game, with a few tweaks here and there, as well as a number of graphical enhancements. As in the original, Aban has two different types of jumps. One is a low 1x jump that is great for covering distance horizontally while avoiding dangers above, while the higher 2x jump gives Aban more air time and allows him to reach higher platforms. The player has full midair directional control, offering the high degree of precision required to deal with numerous complex platforming challenges. Aban can also duck to avoid dangers, but cannot move while ducking.

Aban has an infinite supply of throwing knives that can be tossed across the screen to the left or right. This allows him to deal with enemies, as well as knock the occasional poison dart out of the air with a precisely timed toss. The original game only allowed two knives onscreen at a time, while 1001 Spikes allows for three, making it easier to take down the 3-hit poisonous scorpions that patrol many of the levels. Knives can also be used to reverse the direction of spinning saw blades, allowing you to push them away while you make your way safely past.

As the title suggests, this game features a whole lotta spikes, with some levels positively packed with these pesky protrusions. Spikes come in three varieties: Stationary spikes are in place to prevent you from moving in a given direction, killing you instantly if you touch them. Jutting spikes are imbedded in blocks and they move in and out at regular intervals, requiring that the player to pay attention and get the proper timing before moving forward. Lastly, and most dangerously, there are spike traps that spring up a moment after you step on a block… and these are the ones that are most likely to catch you by surprise.

Fortunately, you have 1001 lives with which to complete the game. While that number may seem absurdly high, you will find yourself going through your stock of lives quickly, as even the earliest levels are quite challenging. Much of the player’s initial progress is made through trial and error… getting killed by a trap, replaying the level and making it past that trap, only to die a few seconds later in a new trap that you didn’t see coming because you were busy running like a madman in an attempt to avoid a bevy of dangerous obstacles. It’s not uncommon to blow a dozen or two lives attempting to find the best route through a given level, but once you figure it out – and summon the skills for a perfect run – most levels are only 30-60 seconds in length.

This is all part of the game’s charm. It’s not padding out shoddy design by offering a 4-digit stock of lives; rather, the game is built around surprising the player with unexpected deaths, punishing him for even the smallest amount of impatience or panic, and giving him the fast and responsive controls needed achieve victory… eventually.

One of the developer’s favorite tricks is to snatch victory from the player at the last moment… After you’ve overcome all of the level’s challenges, grabbed the key, and made a run for the door, there’s usually one last trap waiting for you that will undo all of your hard work, and possibly make you laugh in the process… assuming you aren’t easily frustrated by tough platforming. Either way, the game is best enjoyed in short bursts to fully appreciate your own incompetence.

The world is divided into six areas with five levels each, and transitions are shown on a Ghosts ‘n Goblins-style world map. The first area is designated as a tutorial, a new addition to the game that gives the player a few basic challenges to allow him to grow accustomed to the controls before tossing him headlong into the fray.

From here, each area has five tough levels followed by a calm transition area where you grab an artifact (which rewards you with a substantial increase in your stock of lives) and move into the next themed region. If you do manage to make it through the main campaign, a new set of levels awaits you in Antarctica, filled with challenges that make many of the preceding levels seen downright breezy.

Throughout the experience, the player must remain constantly aware of the dangers surrounding him and how various objects operate. For one, the game features pushable blocks, appearing in stone and wood forms. Both block types can be pushed over ledges to crush enemies and also used as platforms, while wooden blocks can be destroyed with two hits from your throwing knives. Wooden boxes can also be pushed down onto spikes, giving you a quick second to hop on them safely before they are destroyed.

The game features a variety of platforms, some of which move back and forth, some shake and shatter soon after you jump on them, and still others slide slowly downward, resulting in complex sequences where you must manipulate the environment to complete a platforming challenge. This may mean riding a section of the level down and jumping away at the last moment, or dashing forward to grab a key, and then running back across before the platforms slide off the bottom of the screen.

Many levels feature switches as well, some of which you can jump on to cause various changes in the environment, and others can be activated by tossing your throwing knives to initiate temporary changes, creating short time-based challenges within the level.

If you get stuck, you may purchase an item from the shop (once you unlock it) that allows you to skip ahead to the next level. This helps to alleviate some frustration for players who might find themselves repeatedly attempting the same challenge. However, you’ll need to complete all of the levels in order to access the game’s proper ending sequence.

Each level also holds a golden skull, and reaching these skulls provides an extra challenge, as they’re typically hidden behind a breakable block or placed well out of the player’s reach, requiring advanced platforming techniques or the use of alternate hidden paths. In addition, the world map shows which levels you completed with a golden skull in your possession, and you are free to return to previous levels at any point for a dedicated skull run. Grabbing a golden skull grants the player with a 1UP, which is not a terribly valuable pickup given the player’s 1001 starting life count, but finding these skulls is also the key to opening many of the game’s unlockables.

New to 1001 Spikes are a number of unlockable characters and alternate costumes that can be used in a second playthrough of the campaign or in the arcade modes. Among these unlockable characters are Aban’s sister and father, both of whom are introduced via the new introductory cutscenes. Platform-exclusive costumes include a Super Mario Bros.-style outfit exclusive to Nintendo platforms, a Nathan Drake-style outfit exclusive to Sony platforms, and a Master Chief-style outfit for Xbox and Steam platforms.

Additional characters are inspired by Simon Belmont from Castlevania, King Arthur from Ghosts ‘n Goblins, and Ryu Hayabusa from Ninja Gaiden, among others. Guest character unlocks include Commander Video from the Bit.Trip series, Juni from the Knytt series, Nyx from NyxQuest, Curly Brace from Cave Story, and Sugimoto, Preident Thompson, and a zombie, all from 8bits Fanatics’ previous action title The Tempura of the Dead.

Each of these characters has different abilities, which can drastically impact the way in which the player navigates the environment, adding such skills as grabbing ledges, double jumping, wall jumping, air dashing, and unleashing faster or more powerful projectiles. On the other hand, the levels were originally crafted with Aban in mind, so the player must be mindful that these additional abilities still present their own set of challenges.

The main campaign features drop-in drop-out local multiplayer supporting 2P-4P cooperative play, which is new to this version of the game, although multiplayer is not available on the 3DS or Vita systems. While it’s not possible for players to hurt each other directly in multiplayer, tossing a knife at another player will temporarily stun him, potentially causing him to fall victim to one of the game’s many traps, and therefore opening up the possibility for some serious griefing. When playing the campaign with others, only one player needs to reach the exit in order for the entire group to advance.

Also new to this version of the game are several standalone arcade modes, each of which has its own separate title screen, and a couple of them even have their own introductory cutscenes. The first of these is a competitive mode called The Golden Vase where players compete for coins by grabbing a vase that spits out coins as long as the player holds it. These levels are timed, and the vase spits out coins more quickly as time wears down. The vase can also be thrown at enemies and other players, and it will spit out more coins (or sometimes bombs) when it hits a solid object. When the timer reaches zero, the vase explodes, killing any players nearby while also dropping a final blast of coins, allowing for a last mad dash at the end of each level. There are 19 single-screen wraparound arenas in total, each containing environment-specific enemies and traps.

The other two arcade modes are unlocked as you collect golden skulls in the main campaign. The Tower of Nannar is a vertically ascending platformer where players move ever upward through a pair of towers, each of which has a boss at the top. Players begin each section of the tower with nine lives, and they must dodge traps and kill enemies while moving ever higher. Treasure chests line the path as well, containing greater values in later levels. This mode is enjoyable as a single player experience as well as multiplayer, as the challenge is built around more traditional vertical platforming rather than abundant spike traps, giving this mode more of a Kid Icarus feel, but with a faster pace.

Lastly, The Lost Levels feature a remixed set of shorter levels using the enemies, traps, and themes from the main game, but with fewer levels in total. The challenges are built more around speed than caution, supporting a faster-paced multiplayer focus, but you only have 101 lives to compete all the levels.

Aban Hawkins & the 1000 Spikes was originally developed by 8bits Fanatics, released on the Xbox Live Indie Games channel in 2011.

Nicalis revisited the game and released 1001 Spikes as an enhanced version of the original, not unlike their treatment of Studio Pixel’s Cave Story+. Nicalis also has also published a number of other neo-retro titles, including VVVVVV, La-Mulana, Castle in the Darkness, and Save me Mr Tako: Tasukete Tako-San.

Prior to Aban Hawkins & the 1000 Spikes, 8bits Fanatics released The Tempura of the Dead to the Xbox Live Indie Games channel. In this game, you have the ability to switch back and forth between two characters, a machine gun-wielding President Thompson (modeled after President Obama), and a sword-wielding samurai named Sugimoto, as you wage war against an army of zombies. But you don't just kill them, you must use the “Tempura-Ryu Samurai Arts”. Basically, if you decapitate a zombie, and then juggle its head long enough, the head will turn into tempura and the zombie’s soul will be freed. Obviously, this is a game that does not take itself at all seriously.

Each of the characters has different movement and attack abilities, and their stats can be upgraded during the course of your adventure. The goal is to chain zombie tempura attacks together until you enter “Tempura Fever”, which allows you to instantly tempura-ize any zombie head with just a single hit. Ultimately, you're out to clear each of the levels of several mutant creatures known as Germs of Calamity.

Prior to The Tempura of the Dead, the 8bits Fanatics game that was best known among English-speaking audiences (because it received an English translation) was a freeware PC game known as Challenge from Kiyoshi (a.k.a. Takeshi no Chosenjo). This is an extremely challenging and unforgiving 2D platformer that will try the patience/sanity of even the most hardcore game fans.

The game also appears to have been the basis for Aban Hawkins & the 1000 Spikes, as evidenced by its difficulty, falling rock traps, fireball-spewing lava, and of course, its numerous blood-tipped spikes. The game is chock full of trial-and-error gameplay and numerous insta-kill traps. Oh, and the game also gives the player 2 different jump heights and a starting cache of 1,000 lives, further proving its ancestral nature.

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And finally, there is Christmadius, which seems to have gained its name as a combination of the words Christmas and Gradius. In this game, you take control of Santa on his sleigh as Rudolph pulls him through the skies, and he hurls presents and candy canes at hapless little boys and girls. Then he collects their love, which appears in the form of floating hearts. This is a casual sidescrolling arcade-style game with very mild shmup elements.