Aban Hawkins & the 1000 Spikes
July 2, 2011 3 Comments
Aban Hawkins doesn’t like me very much. Over the past five hours he died hundreds of times at my hands. He fell to his death, was impaled on spikes, shot by poison darts, stung by scorpions, crushed by boulders, burned by flame throwers, burned by fireballs, burned by lava, crushed by falling blocks, and smashed by a giant statue monster thingy. Needless to say I’m not on his Christmas card list.
Aban Hawkins & the 1000 Spikes is part of the emerging sub-genre of “punishment platformers” that are apparently all over the Indie market. The idea is not to make a well balanced game with a decent learning curve. Games like 1000 Spikes throw you into the deep end of the pool and watch you drown while laughing and pointing at you.
My childhood was spent being weened on consoles ranging from the SNES to the Playstation 2 so I pretty much missed the 8-bit era. I know everyone has a nostalgic hard-on for the Nintendo Entertainment System, but personally I don’t see the big deal. If you’re one of those types who can only deal with one channel of sound and boxy looking human-creature things who get killed by every single animated object you bump into, you’ll feel right at home with 1000 Spikes. Or maybe not, as I don’t remember hearing of any games from that era that start you off with a thousand lives.
I will give the graphics this: they look really good. Considering how many games on XBLIG look like hastily done knock-offs of South Park on a fraction of the budget, it’s nice to see a game that actually looks the way the designers meant it to be. Every object is distinguishable from everything else and the animation is 8-bitty without the slowdown, so rock on. Meanwhile, the controls are mostly solid. The jumping physics are well done and intuitive. Press A for a regular jump, and press Y for a high jump. Jumping isn’t floaty, landing isn’t slippery. Can’t ask for anything more.
The actual gameplay is fun, if completely aggravating. You’ll die a lot. You’ll die seconds into each level. You’ll die LESS than a second into some levels. This is trial and error gaming without apology, and so if you lack the ability to memorize patterns, don’t even bother. 1000 Spikes doesn’t ease you in, either. I died 27 times completing the first level, 57 times completing the second, and 46 times completing the third. Then on level 1-4 I thought I reached some kind of gaming zen when I was able to finish the board on only two lives. I felt like dancing around the room naked while furiously rubbing my nipples. Alas, the next board I died another 51 times.
There’s no check points in Spikes. In fact, the game makes a point of this during the tutorial. So if you die at any point in a level, it’s back to the beginning of it. Frustrating as this is, it does mean that when you finally reach an exit, the sense of accomplishment you feel is very satisfying, and beating the game felt like a major achievement. You can skip levels but that’s for sissies. Real men (or sadomasochistic girls) play through to the end and do so with a smile in their face and tears in their eyes. 1000 Spikes did seem to hate me, but I totally loved it, and conquering it in a way felt like a painful divorce.
And yet I’m not going to send a dozen roses to the offices of 8-Bit Fanatics just yet because one of the many voices in my head is reminding me that anyone with a ROM editor can make a game that’s out to punish you. No, a truly great game isn’t one that makes you suffer for giggles, but one that gives a balanced challenge. Aban Hawkins & the 1000 Spikes is a well designed game and a great value at 80 Microsoft Points, but I question whether or not the designers of it are capable of showing discretion and maybe even a little TLC. Who knows, they might turn out a masterpiece.
80 Microsoft Points were harmed in the making of this review.