Version Reviewed: 1.3
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The beautiful thing about iPhone games is that they don't need to be complex to be addicting. Canabalt once again proves that fact. Just like Doodle Jump and other incredibly simple titles, it's short, simple, and yet hard to pull yourself away from. The graphical complexity hidden beneath a retro skin, excellent music, and frantic pace are just icing on the cake.
In Canabalt, you play a tiny human racing across the rooftops as an alien invasion occurs in the background. Unfortunately, your escape isn't easy. Buildings crumble beneath your feet. Chunks of metal come hurtling through the air. Boxes strewn across the rooftops, threatening to trip you. Your path forces you to navigate the edges of billboards and collapsing buildings. Gaps between skyscrapers must be crossed without pause.
It's a frantic game, to be sure, but also an incredibly simple one. You see, your character runs no matter what: in a straight line, always forward, and faster and faster until he hits an obstacle—which will either slow him down (think a box) or kill him (a wall). The only control you have is the timing of his jumps; tap anywhere on screen, and he'll leap into the air. The more you play, the more you improve your timing, and as you build up speed it's hard not to feel like a superhero. One thing to note: the world is randomly generated each time you play, so memorizing your path is impossible. This is all about skill.
Death comes quickly to the uncertain. Fall off a billboard, get slammed by a missile, miss the glass window and slam into a building...yup, each game will last a few minutes at most. It's easy to do "just one more round," though, because all it takes is a tap anywhere on the screen, and you're running again.
As I played, I sometimes found myself distracted from my pixelated character by the sheer detail of the game's graphics. In the foreground, buildings crumble and birds burst into flight as you approach; glass shatters with beautiful detail. But it's the background where things get really interesting. Tripods, spaceships, and strange machines lumber ominously through the landscape, presumably on a mission to destroy the Earth. I've never seen a game do so much with such a simple monochrome palette. There's constant action in both the foreground and the background, and it's the little details like that that make the game so easy to replay.
The audio is similarly solid. There are two tracks ("DARING ESCAPE" and "RUN", both by Danny Baranowsky) to chose from, and each adds a different brand of adrenaline. Regardless, both feel as dynamic as the world you're running in, and the overall effect allows you to immerse yourself in a strange, extraordinarily simple world of pure, unfettered movement.
At the end of the day, Canabalt is a simple game. It's run-and-jump, over and over again; the only semblance of "depth" comes with the online leaderboards. Many will balk at the "high" price of $2.99 for a game of "just" tapping the screen—especially since this is a port of a free Flash game. But Canabalt is a gem that daringly mixes simple gameplay with an incredibly complex world, proving that minimalism doesn't have to equal minimal entertainment. If you're looking for a simple, quick-play game, this is one to buy.
Give it a try for free at canabalt.com.