1001 Spikes and the masocore thrill of a thousand deaths

There's an attractive cruelty to 1001 Spikes, 8bits Fanatics' retro-styled side-scrolling platformer. Every step you take forward as protagonist Aban Hawkins is a step closer to death — death by spike, by scorpion, by poisonous blowdart, by collapsing platform, by fireball. Hawkins dies over and over and over again, which is both the most masochistically fun and frustrating part of 1001 Spikes.

Nicalis says the game draws inspiration from 8-bit games Spelunker and Challenger, influences apparent in 1001 Spikes' difficulty and retro aesthetic.

At E3 last week, we played 1001 Spikes on a PlayStation Vita. (The game is also coming to other PlayStation and Nintendo platforms, via Nicalis.) It's controls are simple. Two jump buttons, one high and one low, are mapped to the Vita's triangle and cross buttons. Hawkins' ability to throw daggers is mapped to square and circle.

The trick is knowing when to perform a full jump and when to perform a half-jump, preferably over a cluster of bloody spikes or an instant-kill projectile. Hawkins' goal is to navigate a series of traps, deadly animals and bottomless pits to reach a key and an exit door.

Reaching that exit is deviously hard, on par with demanding platformers like Spelunky and Mega Man 9. 1001 Spikes is cruel, but generally fair, telegraphing imminent threats to the player and requiring a bit of level memorization in order to overcome each and every trap. The bigger challenge is filtering all that information. Leaping over a poisonous scorpion and sticking the landing on a platforming is the easy part; remembering that landing spot contains a spike trap is where things get tougher.

In our hands-on session at E3, just clearing the first two levels exhausted some 50 lives of the 1,001 the player is allotted. A Ghosts 'n Goblins-style world map showed those first two levels and the pile of Hawkins corpses barely scratch the surface of 1001 Spikes' scope.

Nicalis promises cooperative and multiplayer modes for 1001 Spikes, something we weren't able to test at E3 2013, The game's single-player challenge appears capable enough of standing on its own, providing old school replayability and a devious challenge for Vita owners brave enough to play.

1001 Spikes is slated to hit Vita — as well as Wii U and Nintendo 3DS — sometime this year.

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