People that follow me on Facebook and/or Twitter will know how much I love this game. Canabalt is a Flash game and iPhone app made by Semi Secret Software. It was released in September 2009. Its premise is simple, run, jump, and survive. Simple right? Yeah it is. But there’s still a lot under the hood of this game. Is it worth the €2.39 on the App Store? That’s what I’m about to tell you.
(Note: For any of of you out there that also read Tim Rogers over at action button dot net, there’s going to be an agreement of ideals behind the game (and others) that borderlines on plagiarism. I do agree with Tim and what he said, but I’m trying my best to get my own words and feelings behind it, so Tim, if you ever stumble on this, and feel somewhat violated and pissed off that I’m ripping you off, just ask me and I’ll take it down.)
Canabalt, as I’ve already said, is about running and jumping. Running is automatic. Jumpinmg is touching the screen/clicking/pressing Z or X, depending on where you play the game and what version it is. This jump is pressure-sensitive, if you press lightly or just tap it, your character wil just tdo a small jump, enough to clear small obstackes like boxes or office chairs. A heavy press will jump higher and farther, more suited to clearing gaps between buildings. And that’s all there is to the gameplay.
Like I said, simple stuff. But like most other simple things, it’s addictive. Remember Tetris? Easy to pick up premise, hard to put down. Games on Canabalt are often finished in a matter of a minute or 2, so where’s the appeal? It’s certainly not the graphics, they’re only available in the most part in 4 colours (White, Black, Grey, Greyish-Blue) and pixellated. But that’s the joy of it. Like Tetris on the original Game Boy. It wasn’t renowned for its graphics, and as the most purchased videogame of all time, it certainly hasn’t hindered it. So where does that leave Canabalt?
Canabalt is the embodiment of how simple a survival game can be. Your character starts the game in an office building, running. He doesn’t stop running until he’s dead. We never see what he’s running from though, although battling war-mechs in the background could suggest one of them is out to get him. We don’t even know if he’s scared of whatever’s chasing him (if anything is, that is, for all we know and see he could just be running for the sake of running). All we know is that he runs, and he dies if he falls or runs into dropped bombs. If you want to put it inperspective, here’s another game where the context is questionable. Super Mario Bros.
Yes, the very first Super Mario game. Let me put it this way: Whereabouts in the original game did it say that absolutely everything has to die? What of the Goombas and Koopas? Have they not families to go to? What did they do that they deserved to die, besides walk from right to left? Why does Mario have to save the Princess? Who says he’s even saving here? What if she really likes Bowser and Mario’s the bad guy wanting to take her back because he’s jealous?
Or back to Tetris. The pieces are all parts of a huge building site. You’re job’s to line up the constriction parts to that the building becomes structurally unstable and collapses in on itself, and game over is completion of the building.
You see, that’s what I liked about the older games: they rarely ever told you the entire story before sending you on your jolly way. And it’s something that, in the wake of Canabalt’s success and critical acclaim, I hope it starts creeping back into games, leaving us with gaps to fill on purpose, in the hope that some day, we might actually find out what Douglas Adams’s Meaning of Life was from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, or Ron Gilbert’s fabled Secret of Monkey Island.