Well, you jump, and that’s about it. Doesn’t exactly sound like that intense of a gaming experience right? In fact, at first glance Canabalt looks more like a rejected Atari title than the incredibly innovative and fun little gem that it is. I stumbled on the game about a week ago, and since then have been playing it quite a bit and I have to say, this is one of the most impressive games I have seen in a while and if Adam Atomic (the games creator) keeps this sort of thing up he will no doubt go on to even greater things.
The premise of this game is very simple, as are the controls, look, pretty much everything but the action and music. In Canabalt you play a very agile guy with Matrix like acrobat skills and what looks like a pixelated three piece suit. The entire world is falling apart, the background animations suggest some sort of alien/robot take over, and the game focuses on you making your daring escape. In order to do this you have to run and jump from one building top to another, avoiding debris, clearing pitfalls, and crashing through windows with all the swagger of an action movie star. As you run, the screen shakes, planes whiz by and crash, and rows of birds (who are oddly calm until you come along) fly off, making the whole thing quite a spectacle.
The two things that make this formula so potent are simplicity and speed. The only control the player has over anything is by telling our hero when to jump. Aside from this you are completely left to the games devices as your speed increases and the obstacles get ever more difficult, you can run into the boxes to slow you down, but doing so runs the risk of slowing down too much and not being able to make the next jump. This all gets to be really intense the farther you make it because you know that at any second you could misjudge a jump and have to start all over. As far as I know there is no “winning” here, and your “score” is measured in the distance you make it before dieing, talk about hard core.
What I like most about Canabalt is that it could be seen as a big middle finger to what gaming has become over the years. Granted, I’m no purest and I like flashy graphics quite a bit, but there is something incredibly refreshing about this games lacking what many of today’s best sellers depend so much on. You want a story? Aliens are attacking and you have to run across buildings to live. You want pretty graphics? Have this lovely pixelated world where everything is grey and white but still manages to be just as mood inducing as fancy lighting and texture mapping. It reminds you that maybe all these advancements in gaming are really just people trying to fix something that wasn’t broken in the first place and that what makes a game great is the concept behind it and the fun players have with it, the rest is just bells and whistles.
For a more modern reference, Canabalt is beautiful in a similar way to the classic PS2 game Okami. Sure, Okami had stellar graphics and was easily was one of the best looking games of all time, but what really made it special was its fresh take on gaming as a whole. It’s no secret that mainstream video games tend to be pretty much the same thing over and over again these days, but its games like this that make that fact most apparent. Why play the same WWII shooter over and over again when video games let us explore anything the human mind can come up with?
The best thing about this game though is that it is totally free for PC. It is one of many amazing browser based flash games that can found on a handful of websites so you dont even have to download it. Aside from this there is also an iPhone port of the game, I havent played the iPhone version but I know that one of the few things that would make this game even more fun is being able to pass it around to friends and see who can make it the farthest. Games like this are perfect for competition and had it been around when they were still thriving I’m sure it would have been a huge smash in the old arcades.
As of this writing this is the only game Adam Atomic has released. If you go to the forum where he first posted it you will see that it only took him five days to make it, which makes you wonder what he could do with a few weeks, or even years like many of the bigger names out there get for any given title. If you have a spare minute (though just in case you get sucked in you may want around an hour or so) you wont be sorry for checking this game out, it may just remind you what makes gaming so great in the first place.
Canabalt (PC Game) / 2010 Adam Atomic / http://www.adamatomic.com/canabalt/