Game Reviews


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Canabalt terrifies me. It says something when a game that even the developer admits took just two weeks to write can set my pulse racing far faster than any Hollywood blockbuster or hi-def zombie fest on a console. Either I have simple tastes or Canabalt is special.

It isn't the most complex of games you'll ever come across, or the longest, but it's alluring nonetheless.

A plain take on free running, Canabalt is all about charging across a series of rooftops for as long as you can, jumping over pitfalls at pace and avoiding scores of objects that litter the way. Taking 2D form, your only input is to tap the screen when hazards pop up, your little man leaping into the air though never relenting in his sprint forward.

A run can be over in a matter of seconds - mistimed jumps are the most common route to oblivion - but that's the appeal: to fall flat on your face and, with a tap, try again.

What gives the whole experience an edge is the fact that you have no idea what you're running from, or what you're charging head first into. The whole screen shakes, buildings collapse and ships shoot past overhead - something monumental is clearly going down in the city, but just what it is is left to the imagination.

Such minimalism is a tactic that serves Canabalt well throughout, the blink-and-it's-over nature of play reflected in the retro, pixel perfect, black and white visuals.

The game's background in Flash is evident throughout. The sole goal of lasting as long as you can before you fall to your death or run straight into a wall is the kind of challenge that hampers productivity in offices the world over. Nevertheless, the package seems bulkier on iPhone with the game filling. Its superb trance-esque score is a particular highlight when playing with headphones.

Making it beyond the first few seconds is in no way certain. To post anything near a respectable distance (the game allows you to upload your score to Twitter with just a few taps), you need to put in time, each death serving as nothing more than excuse for another crack.

The course changes subtly from one go to the next, however, with cranes replacing buildings or boxes suddenly blocking paths that were previously clear. You can't count on righting any mistakes you made on the last go because there's no guarantee that those same pitfalls will be there in the next.

It's a feature that does rather dent any chance of folk taking this all too seriously. The fact the course changes randomises the challenge, so your best distance may well have been achieved in a much easier environment than your friend's.

As a result, Canabalt falls firmly into the quick-fix category. It's a fun little ditty, beautifully presented, but one where success is as much down to luck as it is any skill. That's no doubt all the developers intended, but the sheer addictiveness of play suggests any follow-up that adds a more structure could give it a serious run for its money.


Part timing, part luck, Canabalt is the kind of quick-fix that has the potential to become a phenomenon, the game's free-running fix giving players a new kind of high score to chase
Keith Andrew
Keith Andrew
With a fine eye for detail, Keith Andrew is fuelled by strong coffee, Kylie Minogue and the shapely curve of a san serif font. He's also Pocket Gamer's resident football gaming expert and, thanks to his work on, monitors the market share of all mobile OSes on a daily basis.