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Canabalt's simplicity and single minded game play is as endearing as it is addictive. Sound, and grey scale visuals combine to offer your senses all they need for you to survive. On Flash or iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch, Canabalt is heart stopping exhilarating fun.
From the moment the lights dim and Canabalt's three-hour introductory movie starts, the player is drawn into a mythology as deep as "The Lord of the Rings" and as fantastical as "Avatar". As the millions of dollars of production value manifest themselves as the rich visual tapestry of the protagonist's life, every detail is explored to the nth degree. Even Tolkien himself would get a migraine from absorbing the sheer volume of information presented in this documentary. By the third act, you understand the protagonist as if he was a brother, and you're ready to join him on his quest as a Samwise to his Frodo.
Well actually, that isn't all strictly true. In truth, within seconds of the game loading, you find yourself in a violently-shaking office tower block, running toward the nearest window. You can't stop, you can't turn. All you can do is brace for the impact of your flesh against the glass and... jump. The glass shatters around you, and as you land on the roof of the neighbouring tower, extra-terrestrial war machines march in the background, vaporising all that stands in their way. All you can do is run, and that's all the story you need.
And wow, what a run! Until you've played the game, it might be difficult to understand how six shades of grey and one control button can be so exhilarating, but it really is.
For a start, the simplicity of the graphics really help to keep the game playable even at break-neck speeds. There are no distracting elements here, the game won't try to trick you into committing suicide. If it looks like you can land on it, you can. If it looks like an obstacle, it is. At 1mph or 100mph, you'll know where to go.
All you can do is run, and that's all the story you need.
The audio work too is beautiful and subtly helpful; there's a reason why the first thing you see when the game loads is "for maximum awesome, headphones recommended". Not only is Danny Baranowsky's "Run" a driving and atmospheric track but audio cues warn you of impending doom. Hear a "clack", the nest building's gonna be bombed. Hear a "roar", the next building's going to be obliterated.
You're always in control of the difficulty of the game by choosing to avoid or hit crates. Hitting crates slows the pace down if that's how you want to play, or jump them all to approach a breakneck pace. Take it too slow though, and there are some jumps you just won't make.
And just for fun, your final score reminds you how you met your demise. Run into a bomb, and "you ran 5242m before turning into a fine mist." Mis-judge a jump into another office, and "you ran 499m before missing another window." If you're particularly happy with your run then you can send it to Twitter, and a simple Google search will bring up other players' glories-slash-failures-slash-coroner reports.
Even after months of playing it still gets my heart pounding.
There's only one very rare bug that I've encountered, but it works out in my favour so I'd hate to draw it to the attention of the developers. Rarely -- very rarely -- I'll jump and land just short of a building, and just as I give up and prepare for the long fall down, I re-materialise on the roof and I keep on running. But like I said, don't tell the developers.
With so many gamers believing you'd be crazy to pay when you can pirate, wouldn't even law-abiding citizens balk at paying for a game they can legally play for free? Maybe some will, and even maybe the majority will, but as soon as the iPhone version was released, I didn't hesitate to buy it. Canabalt is super-quick, super-slick and super-addictive, and even after months of playing it still gets my heart pounding.
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