My local arcade, Yestercades ( yestercades.com ) was nice enough to let me use their wifi for my Wii U yesterday so I could finally get some DLC and Virtual Console games. The DLC included some Mercedes Benz crap for Mario Kart 8, as well as a pre-order of the future bundles (I was honestly hoping I could just download the tracks and not the racers, but no such luck) and a long overdue unlocking of the complimentary code-activated alternate Barbara outfit for Rayman Legends. But the real download that mattered was my first VC game download. My list of desired VC games has been growing rapidly over the last couple of years (AVGN Adventures was my first go to game, but it has yet to be released on Wii U), the list containing a handful of games such as Guacamelee, Mighty Switch Force, Child of Light, and many more. But the second game I was dying to play was 1001 Spikes, a tough-as-nails platformer styled after the NES days of gaming. Being that money was tight, I was only willing to buy one game at the time. Maybe in a month I'll grab another. Well, anyway, let me get into it about this game.
Everything between the title screen, the gameplay, and the Ninja Gaiden inspired cut scenes, bursts with nostalgia for anyone such as myself who grew up playing the NES. When the game starts, you are thrown right into the action. The first world is much easier than the rest of the game, with talking rats teaching you the basics, though the game does not hold your hand through any other world. The tutorial rats quickly disappear from the game, letting the gameplay and difficulty progress without slowing it down or dumbing it down. It's after you complete the first world that you are given the intro story cut scene. This setup perfectly suits the fast action-oriented design of the game and helps the player get into the game right away, rather than be bored by a tedious amount of introductory footage. While the cut scene is rather long, it is the only one I have encountered after getting four worlds deep in the game. It tells us all we need to know about the story - Aban Hawkins, the Indiana Jones inspired protagonist, goes to a South American ruin to discover a treasure his father could not.
While the gameplay style is extremely enjoyable for me, being a retro-style, side-scrolling platformer while unforgiving difficulty, much like many of my beloved NES classics, it can often cross the line between challenging and completely unfair. Many of the hazards are beginner's traps, such as spikes that pop out of floor with no indication at all. Some stages, such as 4-3 (Dangerous Exit) have such an abundance of cheap blows such as this. This stage has a couple moments that are random and uncontrollable, such as the the moving platform matching up with the stomping pillars perfectly for you to get through (sometimes they just don't), and on top of that is full of surprise hits you can only avoid by dying once and remembering them the next time. As the name of the stage implies, the exit area is extremely littered with unfair traps, and you are given about a second to figure it all out. That being said, each stage is extremely short, spanning only about 2 1/2 screens worth of distance, and you are given 1,001 lives. After completing each world, Aban is also granted a bountiful helping of 1ups (50, 100 or more) and in each stage is a hidden golden skull to find which gives you a 1up each time, making it so that if you can grab it before dying each time, you virtually lose no lives (although 1,001 lives sounds like a lot, you'll be surprised how quickly you'll reach 800). However, the unfair blows and indeterminable traps still can hinder the quality of the game experience. The game is extremely fun, and a great challenge, but unfair deaths, 1,001 lives or not, just bring down the value of the experience. I would have rather had very limited tries to get through a short series of levels, sending you back to the start of them if you lose 3 or 5 lives, with more fair difficulty, rather than have practically unlimited tries at one level which will likely have some unfair traps. This unlimited lives style with constant check points used in other popular modern platformers such as Rayman Legends may seem more fair than NES games like Castlevania III that would send you back to the start of the (often ruthlessly difficult and long) area after losing a set number of lives, but it ultimately kills most of the drive and challenge. The challenge in old games wasn't usually based on getting past each trap individually, it was being able to get past a long series of traps on limited tries, so that when a check point arrived, the player felt all the more accomplished and rewarded. Saving every other second and being given (practically) unlimited tries makes dying seem like not much at all. The thrill of ruthless NES titles like Ninja Gaiden, Mega Man, Batman and Contra was getting through traps while holding on to as many lives as possible. Now, lives are not a worry, making the game seem a lot less intense. But, on the contrary to all the above, the difficulty is very satisfying, and the insane reflexes and memorization the game demands makes for a great challenge. When you beat a level in this game, you do feel accomplished. The controls are also great. They are extremely tight and the two variant jumps really come in handy and can make or break your game completely in certain situations. The player has great control over Aban in the air and on land. The only slight control complain I can think of is that Aban's hitboxes are a bit off, and most of his vulnerability seems to be near the front of the sprite, which is mostly just the rim of his hat, while the back, which is mostly his body, seems to be slightly more invulnerable. After you get the physics down, though, it shouldn't be much of a problem. All in all, there may be a handful of unfair tricks, but the abundance of lives and check points make such things matter less (but take a bit away from the excitement), but the game is still a great challenge with much bigger balls than most other modern platformers, and the controls are perfect.
As for the graphics and music, they may not be much to young gamers, but I love them. The look and sound of the game perfectly represent the old days of gaming, and at times I even forget I am playing a new game. It really feels like you found an NES game you just never knew about as a kid, and to pull that off perfectly is truly art. While NES games may not have been known for good graphics, the tile/sprite stile of 8-bit and 16-bit consoles has actually aged quite well. They may not be cutting edge, but they remain neat, well-done, and physically pleasing. The same can't really be said for the early 3D/Polygonal games.
So, 1001 Spikes is a great game. I was not disappointed with this download, and for a mere $15 it was well worth it. Most of the games I've bought for $50 or $60 for this console have not been as good as this, so it's a bargain for damn sure. I would recommend this game to almost anybody, with the exception of those who are not platformers. If you don't play platformers, mostly old school ones, this game will likely seem too hard to you and will just be a turn-off. Everybody else, though, go check it out. Just be warned that you will die A LOT. The death screen is priceless, too.