Canabalt – a social app

You may not have heard of Canabalt – a flash game that has been ported to the iPhone. I played the flash version a long while ago, and found it to be a fun, compelling game, but nothing to write home about. Then, while checking twitter, I saw this tweet from a friend:

@becjeeRebecca Jee

I ran 2401m before hitting a wall and tumbling to my death on my iPhone.

This, combined with my vague recollection of the game was enough to push me over the line, and spend the $AUD3.99 in the app store on the game. It’s the time I’ve spent with the game since that’s made me want to put together this blog post – I think the game is an excellent example of a social app, and one that embodies the simplicity of what an iPhone game should be.

When you first launch the app, you see this screen, with an 8-bit, greyscale illustration of a pair of headphones, and a tagline – “For maximum awesome, headphones recommended.” The broken English combined with the graphical style gives a sense of retro gaming that makes the higher resolution of the remaining graphics a pleasant surprise.

Canabalt splash screen

At this point, you arrive at the splash screen. In the top left corner is your player account: by default, your username is “New Player”, and you can start using the game immediately. In the top right is the detail of the song that’s currently playing. Unlike other iPhone games I’ve played, Canabalt respects your iPod – if you launch the game while listening to something else, you can keep listening to the iPod, and the sound effects are played over the top, at a fixed volume. Likewise, Canabalt respects the mute switch – if you leave the sound switched off, then the sound doesn’t play through the iPhone’s speakers.

If you don’t have your iPod playing, the music is suitably atmospheric and calls to mind the old soundtracks of Commodore 64 games (though without the SID-2 chip’s inherent limitations).


The home page has three chief options: about screen, high scores, and play the game. The about screen tells the story of programming the game, and has just enough personal references to give the game a little more character.

Canabalt about screen

The high scores have a series of clever 8-bit style icons for the local machine, the best score of the day / week / month and the planet.

Canabalt local high scores

Reading the global high score table gives the usual worry about people who have far too much time on their hands, and obsessively play the game.

Canabalt - best runs on earth!

This brings us the the gameplay itself. You control a little animated character who runs from left to right across the rooftops of an apocalyptic cityscape.

Gameplay - canabalt

The top left is a pause button: not only is there an option to pause the game during play, but if the iPhone is interrupted by a system event, the game pauses, ready to resume when you’ve dealt with the interruption.

Canabalt pause screen

The top right is an indicator of how far you have run so far. The only other interface element is to tap the screen, which makes your character jump for as long as you hold your finger on the screen.

Gameplay - canabalt

One elegant touch is the white-only animated birds who – in a John Woo style – fly out of the way as you run past. There’s also broken glass with requisite sound effects and fly-away pieces, and obstacles.

Gameplay - canabalt

The only way to slow your character down is to run through the obstacles. This can present problems, as certain jumps require a higher speed than others, and – with the limited viewing window – it’s not possible to tell what speed will be required in advance.

Gameplay - canabalt

When you’ve finished the game, you’re presented with a finishing screen that ticks all the boxes: your death is described with specific prose that heightens the need to keep playing (and hence discover the other phrases), and there’s almost no barrier to starting another game.

Gameplay - canabalt

Your other option (apart from exiting to the main menu) is to share your score on twitter – this is accomplished with the same clean, elegant interface that we’ve seen throughout.

Canabalt sharing

Enter in your twitter account details, and there’s a preview of the tweet, and the option to change accounts, or cancel altogether. With such a simple interface, it’s really easy to share your successes in the game with your twitter followers, who can then go through to the website (title tag – CANABALT: Buy it with your moneys!!) and purchase the game.

Canabalt sharing

So if you’re looking for an elegantly designed game with engaging, but not completel
y addictive play that shows off how an iPhone app should be made, it’s worth your time to download it.

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