Review: Canabalt

Working late at the office one night, you jolt with alarm as the floor begins to shake. An earthquake? The building’s structure is obviously compromised, and it’s time to get out. With no time for the stairs, you sprint towards the nearest window in a blind panic. Dashing through an empty hallway, you wonder briefly why no one else is around. At the end of the hall, a reckless dive offers your only escape from the collapsing tower.

The city rushes up to meet you as you burst through the shattered pane. You land on an adjacent rooftop with a clumsy roll, shards of glass tinkling around you as they strike the concrete. You rise to your feet, glancing around shakily. Something is clearly very wrong; smoke rises in the distance, and giant, shadowy figures stalk slowly through burning neighborhoods. Overhead an occasional jet shrieks by, too preoccupied to notice your tiny figure on the roof. Through it all, you see no one. No humans picking their way through the rubble, no forces to oppose the towering machines wreaking havoc on your home. Stunned by the utter hopelessness of the scene, you feel an overwhelming urge to run.

It doesn’t matter where so long as you keep moving. There’s no time to find safe passage to the street below, and the buildings seem clear ahead. At the first alleyway, you barely look down before attempting a flying leap. Miraculously, you land unhurt on the next roof. As you regain your feet, a flock of birds takes wing in alarm. After a few more rooftops, you begin to hit your stride. Turns out you’re good at this. Really good. Each jump is longer than the last, and momentum builds with each fluid movement. If you can keep this up, you might just make it.

The next building cracks under your weight and crumbles to the ground as you race along its ridge. You reach the end just before it gives way and leap to the safety of a solid ledge. Some crates block the way ahead, but there’s no time to dodge around. Opting for the direct approach, you barrel through them and lose some speed. Luckily the next jump is short. As you clear the gap, a distant shot rings out; it seems the falling building behind you has attracted some attention. Suddenly a proximity mine crashes down just ahead of you. It’s too late to check your dash, so you’re forced to hop over, just barely clearing the bomb in time. Your running prowess is becoming a liability, but your legs move even faster.

A tall tower looms – too high to clear. As you race towards it, you realize your only hope is to find a window. A precise leap sends you hurtling into another empty hallway, hitting some furniture before you find your feet again. You vault the next chair and break the opposite window without pausing to look around. Was that bomb meant for you, or was it simply a random shot? Either way, it would be foolish to wait around and find out. The thought spurs you even faster, and you begin to panic. Over crumbling towers, through windows, and across cranes you race through the twilight with reckless velocity. Soon the background becomes a blur; only the next rooftop remains clear. Each jump takes you farther and faster, even as you struggle to maintain control. The city is lost, and you with it. Soon your legs are crying out for rest, but the destruction drives you ever onwards.

You take to the air yet again, but the next roof is gone before you reach it. A giant pylon plummets from the sky, instantly obliterating the building you were aiming for. You have just enough time to think how unfair this is before you strike the side and fall helplessly towards the street below. Darkness.

An ominous rumble jerks your eyes open. You stand alone in your office, and the floor is trembling. Your gaze finds the window at the end of the hall, and you start to run. Maybe this time you’ll get a little farther.


Canabalt has been a perennial favorite of mine since its iOS release in 2009. It began as a free Flash game, then expanded in a big way to the iPhone, Android, and PC. Play it with headphones.


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