You know that a game is good when you struggle to quit playing long enough to write up a review. That’s the case with Canabalt from Austin-based Semi Secret Software. It’s intended as an iPhone/iPod Touch game, but there’s a free Flash version online. The iPhone version will run you $2.99, but it is so worth it as to be ridiculous. I’ve shared this game with five people so far and all five have come back to me angry at the two hours or more that they have lost to playing.
As you can see, Canabalt has simple black-and-white pixel graphics and a single mouse cursor. Your goal is to click the mouse to jump as your character (I call him Joe, don’t know why) runs from building to building jumping over obstacles, through windows, and off of cranes in an attempt to escape an alien invasion. Okay, so you’re not told that this is an alien invasion, but there are some very War of the Worlds-looking giant robots in the background. That’s pretty much it. Run, jump, last as long as you can. Joe speeds up as he runs more and slows down when he hits objects left in his way. If you make a very short click, you’ll make a low, quick jump. A longer click will shoot Joe up into the air much further, but without any ability to bring himself down should he need to. Sound simple? It is. But it’s also entirely addicting.
What really got me was the visceral feeling you get from Joe and the objects in the game. If you hit glass at high speed, it goes flying across two rooftops, making you feel like you belong in The Matrix. When you land on a rooftop covered in birds, they spook and fly away. When you land after a long jump, Joe will roll to absorb the shock after flailing his limbs in the air to maintain his balance. Different layers of backgrounds scroll by as you run, giving the feeling of being in a large city running from a real danger and of course there’s those giant robots shooting beams from their eyes in the distance. Just when you start to feel comfortable with your running and jumping, a large aircraft will zoom by, causing the entire screen to rumble in its wake. That kind of thing is distracting. This is a perfectly executed game both graphically and from an animation standpoint.
The music feels like the action music from a chase scene in a movie. It’s not the greatest music in the world, but it serves its purpose well. The only sound problem I had was the “tinkling glass” sound as the glass hits the roof somehow doesn’t fit in quite right, but that’s such a minor quibble that it’s somewhat silly to even mention it. It just sounds a little cartoony compared to the rest of the sound.
As the game gets faster and you cover more distance, you begin to get tense, trying to anticipate the next jump. Will you need to jump again just after this box or will you have some more running space? If you make a large jump here, are you going to miss the edge of the next building entirely and plummet to your death?
I love to see such a simple concept executed so perfectly. I will happily give Canabalt a 9.9995. It loses .0005 for the cartoonish glass tinkle, but you may not even notice it. At least not for the first hour. So far I’ve cleared 5000m once. Can you do better? Post your results here in the comments and try to avoid becoming a fine mist.
Rating: 4.9995/5 Stars