About games and gaming thereof!

Why Canabalt is Awesome

If you’re connected to the indie PC gaming scene, you probably know about Canabalt. If not, click the link. Now.

Canabalt is a big hit among browser games, and I still hold it as the benchmark for visual design, minimalist gameplay and flow in flash games. Today I’d like to examine why so many people (including myself) love it so much.

Firstly, I want to address the misconception that Canabalt has no story whatsoever. While it’s true that the game doesn’t really have a structured plot, there is a lot of storytelling going on during the gameplay.

The world looks basic, but the attention to detail is exquisite if you look closely. Nearly every building is in decay. Every once in awhile you’ll see a hovercar fly by, shaking the camera. Sometimes you’ll jump onto a crumbling building that immediately starts falling down. It all combines together to give you the impression of a city in chaos and turmoil.

If you pay attention to the background, you’ll see giant robots with cranes that are walking through the city. What are these robots? It’s never explained, but it’s safe to assume they at least have something to do with this destruction. Every now and then a bomb will fall in front of you and you have to dodge it. Who dropped that bomb? Why? Clearly something is attacking your city. Is it the government? Is it aliens? Is it terrorists?

Bombs away!

What I love about the storytelling in this game is that so much is left up to the imagination. Clearly Adam Atomic understands that sometimes the less you tell the player, the more powerful the game’s effect can be. This is especially helped by the use of pixel art.

There isn’t anything really intriguing about the setting, but it’s a completely fleshed out and engaging world that I love to look at.

Then there’s the gameplay. The controls are about as simple as you can get; you press space to jump. Your running is controlled for you. All you have to worry about is when to jump and how high up you go when you’re jumping. This makes the game accessible to just about anybody, even people who have never played a game before.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t strategy involved. Boxes slow you down, and if you run into too many boxes you won’t be able to reach the next building. But if you’re going too fast, it gets hard to stop yourself from falling. You have to keep yourself balanced between too fast and too slow, and it can get tough.

Gotta watch out for those boxes and chairs...

I normally get bored of games that involve playing the same thing over and over so you can get a higher score, but this game has variety, a fast pace, and a thrilling song that further reinforces the tone of the game.

I play this game nearly every day, if only for a few minutes. Whenever I beat my high score I post it on my Twitter (by the way, you should totally follow me!). Canabalt may not be the most ambitious game in the world, but it does what it does so well that I can’t help but admire it.


7 responses

  1. Rayzn

    At first, I thought the title said ‘Why cannabis is awesome’

    January 15, 2011 at 2:04 PM

    • JPH



      January 15, 2011 at 4:00 PM

  2. DustyBear

    Well, shoot. I’ve always liked the game… I just spent to much time wishing I pressed the space bar just a little softer to make it through the glass, so I never realized everything going on.

    I went back to watch it all and made sure to turn the speakers on. It was a new game to me.

    January 15, 2011 at 10:55 PM

  3. You Don't Know Me

    Cannabalt is super fun.

    The biggest draw for me is there’s no wait, if you want to play you just start it up and you’re immediately in the thick of the action leaping over buildings and dodging falling bombs.

    It gets a certain level of immersion not normally achieved in flash games as well with it’s amazing sound quality and the action that is required almost immediately after starting gives you a sense of urgency not found in most games.

    January 19, 2011 at 9:58 PM

    • JPH

      Do I know you from somewhere?

      And I agree. I always get bothered when games force you to wait through elongated death sequences or loading screens before you can start playing again. Canabalt’s instant restart feature helps give it a great sense of flow.

      January 20, 2011 at 1:24 PM

  4. You Don't Know Me

    You most definitely have never met me before.

    The only thing I could ask for is something along the lines of zooming out as you start going faster, doesn’t need to be a lot but some would make it much easier and wouldn’t require you to run into several boxes in a row once you start going fast.

    January 20, 2011 at 5:58 PM

    • DustyBear

      Indeed, that is a problem. However, I can’t really agree with either side(one side being for zooming out and the other against).

      It helped make the action more fast paced and heart racing as you traversed across the buildings with absolutely no knowledge of what would come at you.

      On the other hand, if the zooming out feature were to be active, it would certainly make the game less frustrating to players who don’t enjoy such demanding action.

      Come to think of it, it would be nice to have different modes. Maybe “Hard-core Action” vs. “Leisure Stroll”?

      January 20, 2011 at 11:03 PM

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