It's rare to randomly come across a game that utterly punishes you at every attempt to progress and this game does it to such a degree that I am somewhat reticent about putting forth this review. A game that unleashes one's inner masochist and continually punishes the player is surely not a game that is consumable to the gaming public nor is it a particularly great selling point to a game. However, a shift has occurred whereby that there is an audience of weirdos like myself out there that thoroughly enjoy a challenge against near-impossible odds and will continue to play through a game despite it's difficulty.
One may wonder if playing through a hard game may have something to do with the idiosyncrasies of the user who plays it or if the creator (8-bits fanatics) takes some sort of perverse glee from goading players on via increasingly concurrent difficulty spikes but that is to miss the point of this game entirely. Saying that a game is hard does not make a compelling selling point but whether or not that the various parts a game clicks and harmonizes to make it more than the sum of it's parts. Dark Souls' difficulty for instance is slightly exaggerated by various game journalists and gamers alike but one would have to contest this, due to the fact that while the game is hard, it is not punishingly so.
The game world of Dark Souls doesn't care about you, nor does it see you as very threatening. It's flagrant indifference can be marked by when the player dies after taking a wrong turn for instance; they simply walk away as if nothing particularly interesting occurred. As gamers, we're used to being the no1 threat with character focus shifted squarely onto the user's avatar through the majority of most games. Dark Souls doesn't contain any malice because it doesn't care about you and the same can be said about Aban Hawkins and the 1000 Spikes.
One would wonder how on earth an 8-bit platformer would have anything in common with an acclaimed game like Dark Souls but it's due to the absolute joy of getting closer to the end. It's the feeling of getting closer to more treasure after prolonged trial and error. It's that feeling of accomplishment that you get when you finish a level and the growing dread that you occurs when you have to jump back into the fray, ready to go through it all over again to progress further with the stakes getting higher and higher.
This game, while simple to look at with it's retro appeal/homage to 8-bit graphics is surely worth the attention to those who seek a challenge and have not yet found it within the usual suspects of the genre. In terms of it's control scheme, it gives you all the tools that are necessary for progressing in the game, two jump buttons ranging from a small hop to a massive leap that will enable you to jump over obstacles and leap between falling boulders of various types of height. Aban can also use projectiles to blast enemies such as scorpions or to cancel out other projectiles fired by Aztec heads and other dangers.
However, it is in terms of how the level design ultimately compliments the game that really shines. The objective is as simple as it gets; find the key and reach the exit. Perhaps it is not as compelling as rescuing a princess from a castle, but with the promise of treasure/artifacts at the end of each of the five worlds, it'll give you enough incentive to venture forth, regardless of the dangers ahead.
It's many pitfalls, traps, surprises and hazards forces the player to learn from his/her mistakes in order to progress through the game and will punish the player if they hesitate or are emboldened enough to take a step forward only for a cheeky spike trap or a falling boulder to take Aban out. However, if one is stuck at a particular point in a level and cannot see how one can conceivably pass through it without using up a thousand lives, there is a skip stage function that will allow the player to progress but you can only use it about ten times.
It is clearly influenced from a mishmash of 8-bit classics such as Super Mario Bros, the Mega Man series and Solomon's Key with a dash of Indiana Jones for good measure to make it (in the words of the developer 8-bits fanatics) "This is a Hardest, Extremist, Craziest platform adventure" and they may have license to make such an audacious claim.
With a satisfying ending and the news that it will be soon ported over to the 3DS as a downloadable title and Nintendo's upcoming Wii U console with enhanced graphics, remixed music and a local multiplayer mode; Aban Hawkins will attract a wider audience than the niche Xbox indie community from which it sprung which can only be a good thing for an upcoming indie developer.