Deep Breathing: A Review of 1001 Spikes


There’s something immensely comforting about 8bit Fanatics’ 1001 Spikes.

For all its seemingly arbitrary ‘masocore’ trappings – a genre built on broken controllers and unvarnished obscenities, popularized by stuff like Super Meat Boy and deepcut I Want To Be The Guy – it’s actually an impossibly fair game. Everything works according to a set a very simple rules, rules that are communicated not through blocky white text or cute little mice, but instead through blood, sweat and tears.

Sure, the first time you clear that series of vanishing Heat Man-esque platforms only to land on a spike trap that you couldn’t have predicted, you might want to snap your controller in half like a very expensive Kit-Kat bar. But that’s the beauty of it – next time you’ll remember what those fucking asshole designer dickbags (you might shout if you’re me) have in store for you.

You’ll land, hear that tell-tale click, and leap out of danger…into another spike trap. But that trap? One square closer to the exit. You’re making progress.

I love it. It’s not often that we get to experience the sheer beauty of a system that is governed by absolute rules. Our social structures, both professional and personal, are filled with grey areas and knee-deep pitfalls that can sometimes seem impossible to negotiate. Everything can radically change in a moment’s notice, all the work and preparation you’ve put into a thing washed away in the blink of an eye.

Sometimes it’s exciting – like when you get a new job or fall in love – and other times it can feel like a nightmare where the car has no brakes and you’re careening into oncoming traffic.

That heady rush is a perilous counterpoint to the cold certainty of 1001 Spikes, emphasized with its stark black backgrounds and repetitive chiptune soundtrack. Everything about it harkens back to a time when actually beating a game was tangential to the experience, before terms like ‘roller coaster, ‘theme park,’ and shit, even ‘narrative’ were applied to electronic entertainment.

No, 1001 Spikes isn’t a game about having fun, it’s about dying, dying, and dying one more time. It’s about spending hours clawing across a scant few screens only to have a fireball slam into your face right as you get to the exit door…then starting over from the beginning and trying to figure out how to not get set on fire this time.

It’s a game about learning.

Those spikes will always be in the same place, that dagger will always fly out at the same time. There are no complex AI routines to manipulate or emotional minefields to navigate. There’s just you, the traps, and eternity. There’s a way to beat the stage, you just don’t know it yet.

I can’t help but be comforted by that simple knowledge that every puzzle has a solution, that while there are many, many wrong answers there’s also a single right one and that, with enough time and practice, I will be able to find it.

It’s why after a long day at work, I can cuddle up with something like 1001 Spikes or Super Meat Boy and unwind, even if it makes my living room sound like a biker bar right after they stop serving.

For once I’m able to just play by the rules.