1001 Spikes is a difficult platformer designed with the retro aesthetics of an 8-bit game. It is an enhanced version of Aban Hawkins & 1000 Spikes. It was remade entirely with an improved visual style, more than twice the levels, redesigned levels, additional modes and additional characters. The protagonist is Aban Hawkins who explores different environment in search for his father, the archeaologist Jim Hawkins, and the treasure of Poko-Mum rumoured to be behind a golden door. He travels through Antarctica and South America with locations such as jungle, caverns and lava temples.
The title references the amount of lives the player has to complete the game. These are needed to complete the hard levels filled with enemies and traps such as spikes, boulders, falling platforms, crushing blocks, etc. – requiring a lot of trial and error. Basic controls consist of movement, a regular and a high jump, and an attack move (both melee and ranged). It is also possible to talk to characters at certain moments. A large amount of characters and additional costumes can be unlocked throughout the game, usually by discovering gold skulls in levels. Certain characters have specific abilities. The character Ninja Aban for instance is able to brief hold on to walls and perform a wall jump, Tina Hawkins (his sister) can cling to walls, and President Thompson has a double jump. Other characters are variants of Aban such as Soldier Aban and Slayer Aban (a nod to Castlevania), or characters from indie games such as Meat Boy (Super Meat Boy), Nyx (NyxQuest: Kindred Spirits), Curly Brace (Cave Story), Commander Video (Bit.Trip) and a large amount from Super Time Force. There are also references to classic games such as Ghost 'N Goblins' Sir Arthur's white armour, Nathan Drake (Uncharted) for the PlayStation version and Mr. Video Game (Mario) for the Wii U and 3DS version. Each character has its own story elements, but cannot be swapped on the fly or between levels; they each have their full campaign.
Spikes are the common hazard to avoid and most levels have a key required to open the door that leads to the next level. For the first part of the game players have the ability to skip certain levels, but this locks off the second part of the campaign where this is disabled. That means that to complete the entire game, eventually all levels need to be completed, but it is possible to access a world map and return to any of them. The story mode contains 61 levels and the entire games has more than 100 levels. The game can locally be played cooperatively with up to four players and also in a versus mode. Next to the main story mode there are three arcade modes called The Golden Vase, Tower of Nannar, and The Lost Levels. The first is the versus mode where players fight each other to beat coins out of vase. These coins, also found in the story mode, can be spent in a shop for unlockables. The other two are additional campaigns for solo or cooperative play. The Vita and 3DS versions lack the arcade modes and multiplayer.