Review: Canabalt

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Man, I hope you were there when Canabalt first appeared back in 2009. It was such a mystifying experience, playing this intense, engrossing Flash game on some random dude’s website. I never thought I could be so entranced by a single-button game but the presentation absolutely made it and built on the hectic gameplay in the best way. They say it was the first of the endless runner genre, and even if it weren’t, it would deserve a place of honor among them.

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You’ll never know who your hapless lady or fellow is or why their city is being annihilated by shadowy engines of destruction, but you won’t have much time to wonder, either. Canabalt is a one-button game, and that button is jump. Your character runs to the right at an ever-increasing clip, and you need to jump them from rooftop to rooftop to billboard to girder to whatever else is in your path. Each run is randomized, with obstacles, crumbling buildings, windows, and occasional attacks from the marauding machines.

It’s a simple premise, but the presentation takes it to another level. Set to pulse-pounding tracks, your journey through the chaos is all in silky-smooth, heavily-detailed gray-scale. Flocks of birds take flight as you charge past, the engines of destruction level buildings in the layered background, and stranger things still float past if you make it far enough. And if the presentation wasn’t enough, there’s a layer of strategy to the game as well. Letting your runner build up too much speed makes them hard to control, so sometimes you need to strategically hit an obstacle or two to slow them down.

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Expanding on the original offering are eight challenge runs with different themes, like nothing but windows or no obstacles to slow you down. They each have a target distance to “beat” them which should keep you quite busy for awhile. Also included is a two-player mode that fully supports being played solo as a very interesting test of coordination. On top of all that is a full 3D mode that redoes the graphics in sharp polygons that still manage to stay true to the look and feel of the original. If infinite runners always struck you as thin on gameplay, you’re bound to find plenty to do in this one.

There’s not much negative I can say about Canabalt’s triumphant return. A few of the obstacles, like the windows and walker legs, are quite difficult to overcome and can end some runs in frustration, but they hardly ruin the game. Outside of that, it’s the same game that made a splash nearly a decade ago, with plenty of bells and whistles to justify a purchase. The original might be free, but if you have any love for infinite runners this will be a worthy addition to your library.

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