Thursday, 30 January 2014

Canabalt



The Endless Runner type of game has been around about half a decade for now, being the kind of the game where a character of some non-specific denomination, is set to run forever within a setting or scene on a mixture of traps, incidents, tricks, platforms etc. that are procedurally generated within the game until such a point occurs that the player fails to make a jump, collides with an obstacle or drops dead of a heart attack (which is more the player actually having the heart attack, but we're not talking about Evil Otto at this point)

Canabalt is one of, if not THE first, of this Endless Runner type of game. The premise and controls are incredibly simple and this is a saving grace for the game. While other games might have controls like jumping, ducking, boosting and other such things that overly complicate an issue, Canabalt just has JUMP as the sole control. You do get some variation in this single command in that holding it down will make your runner jump higher.

The game is entirely monochromatic but that's not a reason to dislike it. The style is almost bordering upon the arty classification of imagery. Greys and whites adorn the scenery and background, forming the buildings and skylines and the very weird alien geometry. Having said this, the game is rich in hidden back-story all of which leads to wild guesses but easily backed up by the graphics on display.

From what can be ascertained, you're one of (if not the) last person around and decide that to escape, you're taking a full speed run at the nearest window of your skyscraper and saying "defenestration is my bitch" before hurling yourself out of the window and (hopefully) onto the rooftop of a nearby building. The longer you run, the faster you get while leaping from one rooftop to another. Sometimes you'll be required to leap into a window of a building and out the other side in a sort of "jump, but not too high" trap, which all adds to the random challenge within the game.

Other things to navigate around are the cracked buildings which will fall when you land upon them, so if your speed isn't quite sufficient you will end up falling to your doom. Other tricks and traps are the boxes littering the rooftops that CAN be beneficial in slowing your speed, but hitting too many too soon will drop your speed beyond what you'll need to make the next jump and you'll slap face-first into the wall and slide to your death.

In so far as the only real enemy involvement here, there are bombs that can be fired from off screen to land upon the buildings while you're running across them. Which can be heard to be fired if you have the sound up or headphones in (with some sound at least... I swear, some people are so overly literal...). While there is in some versions, the giant leg of one of the silhouetted monstrosities in the background which will come crashing down upon a building and take it out entirely, leaving you to land on the "knee" of the leg and jump off again quickly to the next building.

All of this occurs randomly and no two runs are ever really the same.

But that's half the story, the backgrounds and scenery do tell a sort of story. Some large mechanical quadrupeds are roaming the background and either scanning or lasering the area while plumes of cloud steadily rise from place to place. Getting to further distances show very odd and very alien looking architecture in place such as what appears to be UFO mother ships, obscurely built and positioned (ominous even) towers that are so striking out of place you can't help but ponder the origins while forgetting to leap across platforms. Ships occasionally fly past and sometimes mask partially the sounds signalling the incoming attacks of bombs or legs and it ALL adds to the atmosphere and mystery within the game.

We may never know, but we don't need to know.

The game itself is responsive, considering it's built with the idea of just one button for control; it should be and needs to be. Thankfully, it is and does its job rather well in being the sole controllable method the player has (boxes, not quite 100% controllable), and the audio of the music tracks accompanying it are testament to the talent of the composer. The game recommends wearing headphones for playing it and it really should be undertaken, if only so then nobody else has to listen to your obnoxious gaming on the bus! (Along with your Justin Bieber records, you shallow shit)

Adding into the replayability of the game (still not sure if that's a word but oh well) is the inclusion of a leader board in most of the non-flash versions, allowing you to compare yourself to thousands of other people who managed to press button repeatedly at random intervals in a non-scientifically qualify able comparison of alike and almost alike. You might get to 30,000m and doing some of the most bowel-tightening difficult jumps you've ever seen with reflexes so fast that the Flash is going to be impressed, or run 300,000m and occasionally had to hop over a few gaps with no bombs or legs turning up to fuck up your "impressive" distance.

With this realisation, there's no achievement in getting first place, or any place, or getting better if the game is bowing down and sucking the knob of the God of Random Numbers and you're getting the sloppy seconds defined as either simple running and jumping, or parkor-ering your way around orbital minefield central. BUT, ignoring the poorly situated idea of a leader board, the game itself is well worth a use as a casual time-spender or long term session burner depending upon how well you like it. It's worth a check at least if only because a) it's one of the first Endless Runner games and b) it does it REALLY well that many other types of this game could and should learn from it.