Canabalt is a 2D side-scroller where you control a gentleman continuously running across rooftops and cranes, gradually building up speed while avoiding various objects which will either slow down or kill him. Rather than "score" or "points," developer Semi Secret Software measures your success by the distance you manage to cross, even allowing for instant bragging via Twitter in-game. It's a simple premise with a surprising amount of depth.
And it's exactly the kind of game I want to pick up and play on my iPhone. Canabalt is perfect for the device: the gameplay comes in short, addictive bursts, it loads up quickly, and it employs the touchscreen in an intuitive way. Though a vast wealth of quick and addictive games now reside on my phone, I find myself constantly returning to Canabalt's rooftops and blaring techno music whenever I have a spare moment.
Controlling Canabalt's silent protagonist never feels frustrating. The iPhone provides a working alternative to a pressure-sensitive button press, and thankfully didn't quarantine my thumb to one particular part of the screen. Whenever I fell to my death or slammed into a wall going too fast, the fault was always my own and never that of the controls.
All you're really doing here is jumping – as your speed increases, so does the danger of not being able to anticipate what's coming up next. My first tactic was to slow myself down by intentionally running into boxes, only to find out that I didn't have enough speed to get across the occasionally collapsing building. My current solution is a careful mix of high-speed running tempered by slow down periods every now and then, though I have no doubt that my tactics will change as time goes on. Every now and then a sound cue will indicate the impending drop of a bomb, throwing a wrench into my shabbily cobbled plans.
Everything from the game's infectious soundtrack (a song I never minded looping), to the background imagery telling a story that's never explicitly spelled out, makes Canabalt feel like a game truly intended for play on Apple's handheld. And, silly as it might seem, the Twitter tie-in has been serving as a leaderboard of sorts for me (I'm coming after you, JC Fletcher!), employing one more facet of the iPhone in a smart and, thankfully, non-intrusive way.
I suggest you check out the browser-based version of Canabalt online for free before buying the full version on your phone. At $2.99, though, you'd be a fool not to purchase the game and come after my high score. A fool I say! (And yes, that's a challenge!)
iPhone 3G running OS 3.1 was used for this review of Canabalt.