Aban Hawkins & The 1000 SPIKES Review
The year 2010 was packed with a number of outstanding indie titles, with some even becoming surprise hits outside of the indie game sphere. One of those games was Team Meat’s Super Meat Boy. The winning formula of Super Meat Boy was a combination of difficult but utterly addictive gameplay, and its retro-loving style that brought back memories with its throwbacks to a number of classic games from yesteryear. Super Meat Boy stands as a true testament to the importance of indie developers and their creations in a time when media giants reign over the industry.
Keeping the defiance of the indie spirit alive in very much the same way as Super Meat Boy, is 8bit Fanatics latest game Aban Hawkins & The 1000 SPIKES. It does not happen very often, but sometimes I can tell just from the very first impressions of a game, that there is something special about it. In this case, all it took was the sight of Aban Hawkins’ 8-bit portrait of horror as those classic bloodied spikes closed in on him. This was the start of a very odd relationship though; Aban Hawkins treats its lovers mean in order to keep them keen.
The basic premise of the game is that you are adventurer Aban Hawkins. You have a map left by your father that tells of treasures lying within some ancient tombs. Aban is determined to reach that treasure, no matter how many traps lay ahead. Little did he know that what was waiting for him was certain death, as you will find out immediately upon playing. The game is not shy about being so damn hard either; labelling itself as “a hardest, extremest, craziest platform adventure”. In all honesty though, the game is not so much hard as it is just plain unfair, and it will be this that puts the majority of people off. Each level contains an unprecedented amount of spikes, as well as: scorpions, lava, false floors, dart traps, boulders and any one of these things can take away a precious life upon contact. Not too much of a worry as you are supplied with a rather handsome looking 1000 lives at the start of the game. Now this may seem rather generous from the outside, but as you enter the tomb you will begin to realise that those 1000 lives are necessary if you are to make it through.
The game is retro through and through; from the visuals, to the sound, and even down to the controls. By adopting this style Aban Hawkins mimics the actions of many other indie games, but like Super Meat Boy, this serves as more than just a visual tribute. Aban Hawkins returns its players to a time when games were unforgivingly hard. By doing this, the game wins me over completely. The reason is because it winds back the clock to a time when developers were able to make the game how they wanted it, and did not have to sacrifice difficulty because the publisher feared it would reduce sales. In this way, indie and retro almost come hand-in-hand; and in Aban Hawkins it is a beautiful marriage.
I may sound ungrateful of the lures of modern gaming now, but the truth is, Aban Hawkins had me gasping many more times than its modern counterpart, Uncharted, was able to. On many occasion, spikes emerged from the ground when I was genuinely not expecting them to due to figuring that the developers “would not be that harsh”. At this point I realised this thought process was one that had developed through playing the often more gentle games of today. Aban Hawkins is an outstanding indie title as it could only ever exist within the indie space. The game is a true challenge throughout its entirety, and as long as you can keep your cool, it is extremely satisfying upon completing each level. Level design does not get much more simple than avoiding traps, collecting a key and then using it to open the exit. A change in environments and a gradual introduction of different traps and enemies ensures this simplicity does not become bland. Not like that is ever a word I would use to describe the game otherwise. Every screen is filled with so much activity for you to concentrate on that you are glad there are no major distractions.
In truth, Aban Hawkins is nothing outstanding; it is not original or innovative for instance. What it is though is a genuine video game; it does not use cinematic techniques, a complex story or any of these other forms borrowed from unrelated media. The game is true to form and is appealing through its challenging and addictive gameplay. In all honesty, if the game is so hard and frustrating that you refuse to play it in favour of something “more enjoyable” then you fail to realise a pure gaming experience when one is presented to you. I can guarantee that you will die several times on each level because the game does not give you a fighting chance from the get-go. The idea of the game is to master it, learn the tombs’ many traps and to then pull off the right manoeuvres at the right time to reach the exit. It is a simple formula that has been lost amongst the mass popularisation of the video game, and it is this ability of the indie game space that enthrals me and keeps me loyal.
I have no problem with modern games (in fact I have favourites amongst them), but they rarely treat us to an experience such as the one offered in Aban Hawkins. As a matter of fact I am glad they don’t as this makes it all the more sweet when a true indie gem does. This is what indie games are all about: celebrating the medium and making games that would not exist otherwise. Aban Hawkins is a game made by gamers for gamers and that is what really shines. Satisfying gameplay, a retro palette and simplicity itself are what makes Aban Hawkins stand out, and the very fact that it does for only these reasons attests to the gradual loss of the purity of the video game. Nevertheless, if you enjoyed Super Meat Boy and thrive in those glorious moments of satisfaction that can be had from mastering a truly challenging game, Aban Hawkins & the 1000 SPIKES was made for you.
Review summary Pros:
Pure classic platforming heaven
Controls are not the most fluid