1001 Spikes is what I would call Mario Bros. done right. No, not that Mario Bros. I'm referring to the original (rather dull) platform arcade game that was at one point packed into what seemed like every GBA Mario remake ever.
The original Mario Bros. was positioned as a multiplayer battle in which Mario and Luigi knock over enemies and kick them away, which wasn't a bad idea in of itself. However, it was hampered by poor controls and relatively one-dimensional gameplay, giving it a short shelf life. As such, it's no surprise that even Nintendo enthusiasts barely recall it.
1001 Spikes' recipe for improvement over the original knock-out-a-foe-and-collect-a-coin formula is relatively simple. First, it introduces the idea of classes, which adds a bit more variety to the action. Second, coins now pop out of a Golden Vase, which can be picked up and moved around the stage. Third, it supports up to four players, resulting in much more chaotic and interesting battles.
All of these elements serve to liven up the gameplay in one way or another, making it feel much more like a party game than the original Mario Bros. Having four players on the sceren at once makes for some wild battles; but importantly, there's still a rhyme and a reason to the action. After a bout or two, it quickly becomes apparent that the best way to win is to snag the Golden Vase and escape through a door to a different part of the map, which forces players to negotiate the spike traps and other hazards situated around the map and keep moving.
That leads to another important difference between 1001 Spikes and Mario Bros. -- the actual platforming. The original Mario Bros. was more akin to Donkey Kong than Super Mario Bros., featuring low, floaty jumps and relatively slow movement. 1001 Spikes doesn't move much faster, but its platforming is made more dynamic by the addition of a high jump button, which is a useful tool for judging leaps and reaching higher platforms. It's also possible to shoot projectiles in 1001 Spikes, with fireballs and daggers being available depending on which class you choose.
All of these elements combine to create multiplayer battles that often seem to have a million things going on at once, and are just flat-out fun. With rounds lasting barely more than a few minutes, 1001 Spikes quickly picks up the kind of momentum that can carry a group through a whole evening. And in a fun twist, classes are based on recognizable characters from classic platformers like Mario and Ghosts 'n Goblins, with only the names having been changed to avoid lawsuits. So in a given battle, Simon Belmont -- sorry, "The Slayer" -- can be seen leaping around and battling Mario and Arther look-a-likes, giving the whole thing a kind of early Super Smash Bros. flavor.
Of course, this being 1001 Spikes, the platforming is also ridiculously difficult, even in the multiplayer mode. The representative on hand to demo it likened it to Super Meat Boy -- another insanely difficult indie platformer -- and the comparison in this case seems apt. You will die, often in maddening ways. But you also return to life almost instantly, and when playing with three other people, crazy deaths tend to result in a lot of shouting and laughing.
It's this sense of high-speed fun that goes a long way toward alleviating the doldums of the original Mario Bros., elevating it into something approaching what the original creators might have intended it to be -- an enjoyable multiplayer battle game. It's not the only multiplayer mode that 1001 Spikes has on offer either. Other modes include a high speed verticle race against time versus an auto-scrolling screen that resembles Ice Climbers, and a New Super Mario Bros.-like cooperative campaign that has been dubbed "The Lost Levels." Ultimately, I prefer competitive multiplayer, but it's nice to know that 1001 Spikes is willing to cater to a variety of tastes.
That 1001 Spikes has multiplayer at all is a big point in its favor, since it makes for a nice alternative to 1001 Spikes' extremely difficult single-player campaign, which is geared toward the hardest of the hardcore. I know that if I pick up 1001 Spikes, it'll be so that I have something else to play with my friends on the Wii U. The only thing holding me back is that it currently requires either a nunchuk or a classic controller. If the final version is compatible with a normal Wii Remote, they'll have a sale.
Beyond that, 1001 Spikes is proof that retro games need not merely ape the classic games upon which they are based. Some -- like the original Mario Bros. -- have significant room for improvement. That 1001 Spikes has taken that original idea and build it into something great is commendable, and hopefully a good example for retro-style platformers to come.