Aban Hawkins, 1000 Spikes, and Me

Review of Aban Hawkins & the 1000 SPIKES on XBLIG: Buy
I now sing the Indiana Jones theme song to myself quite a bit.

Aban Hawkins & 1000 SPIKES looks like what an 8bit version of Indiana Jones should have looked like. The music runs along, happy and sounding slightly eerie, with the only pause being your seemingly endless deaths. You get 1000 lives to traverse 5 levels split up into five or six stages with the last one being a gimmie stage where you walk up and collect a golden key (with a different odd name each time) that gives you increasingly more lives.

This game is difficult. I can see myself beating it legitimately if given enough time to do so but it takes a Battletoads-esque level of memorization with Megaman’s pixel-precision and timing. Luckily there seems to be no penalty for skipping a stage (if you just want to see how intense the puzzles will get) although there is sort of a cheat counter on the pause menu that taunts me silently, accusingly. Telling me exactly how much I stink at this game. The skips are limited to 14, however, so chose which ones you truly cannot do rather than just trying to skip everything.

In each stage I jumped over spikes, crawled through tunnels, dodged falling or rolling boulders and pushed massive slabs of rock to grab the dungeon’s key then stabbed giant scorpions, leapt chasms, dodged streams of fire, broke boxes and repelled whizzing poison darts to reach the exit. Sounds bananas, right? Each time I died (There’s a reason you get 1000 lives to start… You die a LOT!) it didn’t feel like I was punished too much. Even when it was apparent that I’d died stupidly I never ceased to be amused by the “YOU ARE DEAD!” screen that popped up with barely what felt like an interruption to the music.

The music itself is that tinny, synthesized sound that I remember from the original NES but it feels right. The sound effects also fit in with the music. My only criticism of either of those is that you can’t in-game turn down music without turning down the sound effects as well. I like to hear the click of the trap-spikes BEFORE they kill me (go figure). It also did strike me as odd that turning the sound levels up or down was so conveniently located on the controller rather than in a menu as would be normative. I understand why it’s there though. I turned it down so people in the next room couldn’t tell exactly how many times I’d died.

The graphics are very good and if they’d been put on a cartridge back in 1985 everyone would laud it as perfect. There is clear distinction between background and foreground as well as visual clues to most of the traps in addition to the audio ones. Movement of background items like waterfalls look good without confusing the eye.

Very seldom did it ever feel like the controller didn’t respond as quickly as I’d pressed the button. The trick to keeping as many lives as possible from the start is to figure out how to beat a level (die a lot), reset your count by starting from the main screen in a brand-new effort (hopefully not dying this time) and then saving upon successful completion. Next try (and die some more) until you’ve mastered the next level, quit without saving to the main screen and then beat that level in as few tries as possible. Rinse and repeat.

For me, all of that combines to make a must-Buy whole. I understand that many might just write Aban Hawkins off as a hard-is-fun game but I implore everyone to give it an honest try. Watching someone else fail as many times as this game requires never gets old.

Leave a comment