Ah, endless runners. They’re a mixed blessing. They can be fun and addictive, and their simplicity makes them very easy to pick up and get into, but nobody can deny that mobile game markets have been flooded with lots of uninspired runner crap. Lest one get too cynical and paint an entire genre with the same broad stroke, it’s good to start back at the beginning of things. With this in mind, we’ll be covering the original endless runner: Canabalt.
Set in a monochromatic environment, players are tasked with controlling a faceless office worker running like Usain Bolt. Crashing through the windows of his dingy, lifeless office, he takes to the rooftops, dodging and jumping with reckless abandon in an attempt to escape a cataclysm that has befallen the city in which he resides. Who exactly is this guy? Which city is it set in? What year is it? What is the exact nature of the disaster? The game leaves all these questions up in the air, and frankly, it doesn’t even matter.
The game is a simple one-button affair. As the worker runs at an increasingly-brisk pace, the only direct control you exert over him is the ability to jump. Timing your jumps perfectly from one rooftop to the next and crashing into and out of windows makes up the bulk of the experience, but the occasional un-detonated missile will land and some buildings will collapse under the runner’s weight, making the player resort to reflexes that would put even Neo from The Matrix to shame.
The simple execution, excellent use of a limited palette, appropriate techno music and endless, procedurally-generated levels make Canabalt a pioneering entry in the history of games. The good news is that you can still play it right now, for free, in your browser. Navigate in this general direction to have your fun in the sun during the apocalypse. If you’re up for the task on your mobile devices (as per the game’s original design), you can find the iTunes version here and the Android iteration here. Be advised that these versions are HD, include various bonuses and actually cost money.