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Review: Canabalt

canabalt

In the interests of consistency, the “Combat” field of this games review refers to the evasion elements of the endless runner gameplay.

Despite the wealth of AAA titles I find filling my PC and my console, the older I get (and the more work oriented) the less I have time for them. Sure, I can play a game like Ni No Kuni for 40 hours over a three week period and love the entire experience – but this also means that's three weeks where I didn’t play much else. More and more I'm attracted to bite sized instances of entertainment, from a single level of Halo 4 to a few ranked matches of Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3. And of course, mobile games like Canabalt.

Now Canabalt is a game I’ve had on my phone since virtually the day that I got it. It’s a title that was bouncing around at the same time and had the blend of easily recognizeable style and repetitious competitive scoring that makes a successful app. In a nutshell, it's a game about a small two-bit James Bond-like secret agent who is trying to escape (you never know exactly what) by running across the rooftops of a cityscape.

Come to think about it, with my well documented love of Mirror’s Edge, I never really stood a chance with this one.

Controls are simple, touch the screen to jump (this game is a horizontal endless runner, almost Mario-esque in some ways)  and touch and hold for a longer jump. That’s literally it, just touch and jump from rooftop to rooftop until you fall down.

But as always, the devil is in the details. Firstly, the entire game is done in shades of black, white and grey – giving a persistent noir feel that puts a serious note in the otherwise comical activity of leaping from roof top to roof top. The city backdrop is frantic with energy, large planes and ships fly past at high speed and ruined buildings give off smoke in the background. You very clearly get the idea you are in danger, it’s not as much of a free running adventure as you might get from something like Temple Run.

Then come the procedurally generated elements, the buildings you are travelling on top of. Not only do they vary in width and height, but often they will begin to crumble beneath you or will force you to smash through a window and travel the indoor of a floor before smashing back out again and on to a building top. As well as these, there are other random elements thrown in to run on, you might sprint the stretch of a crane or along the side of a billboard. The scariest part of all is when idea of the ruined city catches up with you, mainly through a plane or missile hitting the building you are about jump on and leaving only a small platform behind – or even more startling, a robot dropping from space to block your way. Touching that (like falling) is instant death.

All of this builds on top of a techno soundtrack to give a sense of urgency to your actions, and create a game experience which seems to imply a story it never tells – you aren’t told where you are, why you are running or what is going on and still get a fairly solid impression of a distropic city and one man’s quest for survival.

All up, that's about as deep as a 40 second endless runner which you buy on your phone for a dollar is ever gonna get.

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