1001 Spikes is a retro-inspired platformer from Nicalis, the firm of Cave Story fame. It’s a remake of Aban Hawkins and the 1000 Spikes – an Xbox Live Arcade indie game from way back in 2011 – and is an 8-bit side scrolling adventure that, on first appearances, is somewhat similar to the throng of other two-dimensional adventures on their way to the PlayStation 4. The thing that sets this release apart, however, is that it’s brutal.

The title’s built upon a single fascinating premise, which sees you attempting to complete the 100-level escapade without exhausting your 1,001 lives. If that doesn’t sound like a particularly tough challenge, then the title will soon beat any arrogance out of you, as you will die – a lot. Seriously, this is no pushover, and it’s entirely possible that that underlying difficulty will scare away more casual players after just a few minutes.

But persevere, and you’ll find a game that’s never unfair; the controls are very tight and work marvellously, meaning that you’ll be at fault when you inevitably die. There are a few scenarios where you’ll need superhuman skills to progress, but mostly, the game will prove more than a match for your DualShock 4 skills. If you do get stuck, you’ll be able to skip a stage, which is a nice touch – though you may have to refrain from skipping through the entire game.

There’s some story for you to digest while you’re banging your head against the wall, too, as you play as a treasure hunter named Aban Hawkins – duh! – following in the footsteps of his father. After his Dad goes missing in Antarctica, it’s up to you to go and rescue him. The story is told almost entirely through retro-style cut-scenes of sort – or changing pictures with text underneath – but it fits the tone of the game, and even boasts a bit of broken English to hammer things home. It’s not over when you reach the credits either, as unlockable skins, characters, and more will likely tempt you back for another run – especially if you’re a masochist.

If that’s not enough replayability for you, there are also a couple of other modes for you to enjoy. A surprisingly entertaining four-player arena option gives you something to do with friends, and challenges you to collect the most coins while taking out the competition with various traps. There are a large collection of environments to do battle on here, so, once again, you won’t tire of it quickly.
Given the difficulty, the performance is spot on, too, with the framerate and controls remaining slick regardless of what’s happening on the screen. We didn’t encounter any bugs or broken enemies either, which, in this age of post-release patches, is always nice to see.

Sadly, the game’s only major downfall is that the loops of audio get somewhat obnoxious. It’s a shame because the melodies are fantastic, but there’s not enough of it, and hearing the same tunes over and over will frustrate you – especially when you’ve kicked the bucket multiple times.

Conclusion

While 1001 Spikes’ extreme difficulty may pose a barrier to some, masochists will enjoy every minute of this punishing platformer. Tight controls and massive replay value make this a brilliantly brutal experience – and one of the PS4’s better side-scrollers to date.