CANABALT is the best thing about the iPhone

As of beginning this article I was sitting in a doctors office waiting room. I drove my sister there because she is I’ll. I was there for a little over an hour or so.

I surfed the net, listened to music, and played a whole bunch of the best game on the iPhone: Canabalt.

The main reason that Canabalt is the best game on the entire platform is the effortless nature in that you can begin to play. It is a fundamentally simple game that can last for a few seconds or a few minutes.Waiting for the bus? Canabalt. On Break at your job? Canabalt. Sitting around for a few minutes with nothing better to do? Canabalt.

It’s instantly engrossing, even in the smallest chunks.

Canabalt has the same main objective that almost every other game has; avoid death. Simple as that. Well slightly less simple. You’re a guy, inside a building, and something is chasing you. You’re trying to escape whatever it is, some sort of alien or robotic menace you can infer from the “War of The Worlds” tripod-esque things moving around in the background and the occasional ship that flies overhead shaking the screen.

So you run. To the right. Automatically. So the game is about running, but since the guy who you control runs automatically it’s really about what you cause him to do. JUMP. As you jump you enable him to avoid death and keep running, and he speeds up.

You tap the screen anywhere and he jumps, how long you hold the tap for controls how long he jumps, it’s simple and elegant.

Zoomed in picture of Canabalt's style

As you’re running you have to jump to avoid various crates and boxes that cause you to stumble and slow down. If you slow down too much you die, cause you can’t get over the gaps in the rooftops, but if you go too fast you die because you jump too far, and the game becomes faster than you can react. The game quickly becomes a balancing act, as you try to keep the perfect death preventing momentum.

The thing with Canabalt though, is no matter how well you are doing, you will die. Every single game ends in the same way, with the death of your small black and white guy. You can die within the first five seconds of the game even if you don’t do anything he will just tumble out of the starting building to his death. You can hit a wall, fall onto a collapsing building, or even be turned into a fine mist of former person by hitting an alien rocket. It’s inevitable, and it’s why it has been said that the game is not about neither running nor jumping, but dying. It happens every time you play.

Game Over Man, Game Over

This screen shows up the instant you die, you see how far you’ve run and a brief, few words reflecting upon your death. With those few words as your only comfort, your only options are to exit the game or “Tap to retry your daring escape”. The retry message is a small glimmer of false hope. You never escape, and that is something that you have to come to terms with. You tap the screen and are immediately thrust right back into the same world of terror as before. You don’t win, all you do is play the few moments of this man’s terrified life, it kinda reminds me of “Groundhog Day” if Bill Murray were to die all the time.

The achievement is all in living just a bit longer. It’s addicting. It’s a distillation of the basic tenant of most games, continue living via player input. It feels pure.

The game has a soundtrack consisting of a total of two audio tracks “RUN” and “Daring Escape”. Each fluctuates between ominous and fast paced, giving the game’s soundtrack the perfect tone.

The sound effects are the real important part of the presentation. They’re minimal to be sure, but wear some decent headphones it’s great, the first screen of the game states “For Maximum Awesome, Headphones Recommended”. You hear the little mans footsteps as he runs, and you hear him grunt and gasp when he makes impossible jumps, and you hear windows shatter, and buildings crumble with a threatening amount of bass. It all goes to add an even greater sense of urgency to the game, it make you care just that small bit more, makes it that much more important that he survive for just that much longer.

A fun way to play though is to turn the music off entirely. You lose some of the distraction and can better focus purely on his footsteps and the world crumbling around you. Without the music the stakes seem greater. The sound of the building you start in shaking tells your brain one thing, MOVE. It’s less about the excitement of action gameplay, and more about the focus of survival. I feel if they could gave you the option to play with a backing track entirely composed of the noises of your city’s downfall, it’d be even cooler.

Canabalt is one of the best games of all time. It is the short sad story of a man who dies, and the struggle of the human spirit against the inevitable. You will die, that’s a fact, and the amount of game you get out of Canabalt is directly proportional to your willingness and need to survive, if even for only one terrified second longer.

I linked to the games original website back up at the beginning, and here is the official current site, where you can play the free version of the game right in your web browser.

The game sells for 2.99 and is the best app you can download from iTunes.

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