Canabalt Review—Almost as Fun as Cannonball Run


Canabalt is something of a modern day classic, popularizing (perhaps even creating) the automatic running game genre. We’ve seen clones of this game appear as Minis, most notably I Must Run! and One Epic Game, but the original has now been brought to Minis by Beatshapers, who have done a great job of bring us a solid stream of good games over the years.

In all honesty, though, Canabalt pretty much passed me by. Since I don’t play Flash games on the PC, nor do I own a smartphone, I have only heard about it secondhand. So I wasn’t sure what to expect, really. When I fired it up, I felt like a kid of today playing Pac-Man for the first time.

The pigeons don't seem to be too bothered by what's going on in the city.... Are those two giant robots mating?

The pigeons don't seem to be too bothered by what's going on in the city.... Are those two giant robots mating?

The first thing that strikes you about Canabalt is the graphics. They are black and white, which is not something you see very often today except in retro-themed games. And yet the graphics are anything but retro, as they are very well detailed, apparently depicting a ruined city—or rather a city in the process of having something disastrous happen to it.

The next thing you likely notice is “Hey, my little guy just fell through a window and died!” Canabalt wastes no time on explanations or tutorials (though you do get a sentence recapping how your guy died). You’re thrown right into the game, starting off in what appears to be an office building, in which the guy starts running to the right, headed straight towards a window.

Building collapse!

Building collapse!

Once through the starting window, you must navigate an urban landscape mostly made up of roofs of buildings, but sometimes billboards and cranes. The only thing you directly control is when your guy jumps; he moves on his own, gradually accelerating so he moves faster and faster. The terrain is generated randomly, so you never really know what to expect next, except on a few occasions, when you see a red dot appear on the screen. This, the game’s only use of color, warns you that something is about to fall from the sky.

Just what falls I’m not sure—it seems to be part of a jetliner engine. If you run into it, you apparently die quite horribly. Also, on occasion, instead of that small object falling, something much bigger falls (the whole plane?), destroying all of the building except one tiny portion. This is by far the most difficult obstacle to traverse in the game, at least for me.

This is what's hard! (sorry for the blurriness, as it's from a trailer, not a still)

This is what's hard! (sorry for the blurriness, as it's from a trailer, not a still)

Indeed, that’s actually another thing that struck me about Canabalt: it’s actually sort of easy. There are only two things that generally cause me to die, that thing that destroys most of the building and when you run into another office building and have to crash through the window to enter. The main thing is to manage your speed—don’t go too fast (occasionally run into a box to slow yourself down), but don’t go too slow, since otherwise you won’t be able to escape a collapsing building.

There’s not a lot of variety in the graphics, but they are very well detailed, especially the background. Occasionally, you can see moving things in the background. It’s hard to say what they are, some sort of giant things attacking the city, but they look more like robots than anything else. But conjoined, like two of them attached to each other, but with separate legs and arms. Or possibly doing something else.

The same goes for the sound in Canabalt; there’s not a whole lot, but what there is is well done. Different surfaces make different sounds when you run on them; there’s the sound of glass breaking; and, you have airplanes zooming. You can pick from three different musical tracks, all electronic, as well as silence at the main menu. The music is good, but not quite my cup of tea, so I choose silence.

Why doesn't he just take that staircase down?

Why doesn't he just take that staircase down?

As I was playing Canabalt, it dawned on me that I had played this sort of game before. Oh sure, clones like I Must Run! and One Epic Game, and to a lesser extent The Impossible Game. But going back much, much further to a game for the Atari 2600—Keystone Kapers. Oh sure, it wasn’t randomized, and there was a goal (of catching a thief), but other than that, it’s very similar in feel.
Moon Patrol was also a game where you were constantly moving and had to jump over obstacles, though in it you could directly control the speed.

Canabalt is a hard game to judge. On the one hand, its clones (particularly One Epic Game) have surpassed it both in features and in fun. On the other, it was the game that popularized the genre, if not invented it. While it’s lacking the bells and whistles, like different modes, achievements, different terrain, it still is a lot of fun, and originality should be rewarded.


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24 Responses to “Canabalt Review—Almost as Fun as Cannonball Run”
  1. JeremyR says:

    Just to be clear, I like Cannonball Run. I love those old ensemble comedies.

  2. Ofaliss says:

    Canabalt HD was released not long ago for Android devices. The HD version was remastered with 3D backgrounds, and you can choose between the traditional 2D or 3D backgrounds. May not sound like much, but it’s still more than what you get with this version. I can’t help but wonder why they didn’t release that version for the mini release.

  3. JeremyR says:

    Yeah, I agree, that doesn’t sound like an improvement (the graphics are nice enough). Now maybe if it had an unlockable Dom Deluise…

    Or maybe more variety in the terrain. Like different cities. One being attacked by a Godzilla like monster, another being attacked by aliens, maybe an antarctic level with giant penguins in the background…

  4. evanac says:

    I have to disagree and say that less is more in the case of Canabalt. I think it’s just about perfect. I still play it reasonably regularly now. Something about the mood just pulls me back and the simplicity makes it perfect for a quick 2-minute blast.

    Although I’ve not played the PSP version it’s a solid 9 for me (I’ve played the Flash and iPhone versions)

  5. JeremyR says:

    I think the platform probably does play a role. While the PSP is a pretty decent pick and and play portable, at least if you have a large memory stick, you still have to go though the long-ish boot up with the logo and such, so even with a game with minimal loading times (like this), it’s still 30 seconds before you can play.

    And if you want to play for more than a few minutes, it gets old. I usually get sick of it after about 3000m. It’s just not a challenge, except for that big thing falling, which I think is cheap. More just a time killer.

    By contrast, I sometimes play One Epic Game for an hour or more in a sitting. Just the random pieces used having a bigger variety makes a difference. Or just a change of scenery.

  6. Ofaliss says:

    I don’t know… Canabalt HD looks pretty slick! I can’t tell for sure, but the guy running looks less blocky than the regular version.

  7. sniper712 says:

    like those sprites, might get it with my mini mania craze package

  8. airtoast says:

    Keystone Kapers is one of my favorite games from my youth. Also Miner 2049er and H.E.R.O. Great games! They should do HD remakes of them. Actually, they may not turn out so well…

  9. min says:

    dear readers, this is a very bad game. There is a psone classic on the EU store called HARDCORE 4X4 and is only 1.99. It is great!!!Much better than most minis under 2 pound. If you are putting £10 on your psn wallet for a 7.99 game, you will have 2.01 left. Now with that lef over, hard earned cash you could get a mini but you could also get 3 psone classics(one of 3 psone classics under 2 pound,not all 3!!!) and have much more fun. On google, type “TNN MOTOR SPORT HARDCORE 4X4? and look for a gameplay vid. It is much better than your average mini.

  10. sniper712 says:

    @min, i played worse so this really isn’t an issue, but i’ll take your advice into account. besides good/bad game varies on personal opinions

  11. onmode-ky says:

    “Hey, my little guy just fell through a window and died!”

    . . . Sounds like a bizarre plea for Viagra.

    “it dawned on me that I had played this sort of game before”

    There’s a section in Taito’s arcade game Jungle Hunt which is reminiscent of this as well, though in the opposite direction.

    sniper712, FYI, the PS1 game that min is campaigning for is not any cheaper than any other PS1 game in the NA PS Store. Seems to be a UK-only price break. Anyway, I have to say I don’t understand why min is so dead set on coming to a Minis-focused website and telling people, on 3 different reviews here so far, to buy one (very specific) PS1 game instead of any Minis. Surely you don’t think we’ve been brainwashed to enjoy Minis and need you to help us see the light or something? I think you need to be more open-minded about this.

  12. min says:

    I didnt mean it like that so sorry if i got u angry, all i ment was that some minis are overpriced especially when you can buy psone games cheaper. Don’t get me wrong, minis is one of my all time favourites from PlayStation and is something i visit every time i go on the store but some minis are just overly priced by a long shot. N.O.V.A for example is a great mini but was a bit expensive (3.99), I waited until the sale was on during the summer and got it for 1.74. I loved it but 3.99 is just to high. All mini games so have mini prices.
    I am so sorry for offending you onmode-ky, i hope u can forgive me now that you know what i mean.

  13. thumbbandit says:

    Hey Jeremy, could you answer a few questions for me?
    Are there checkpoints in this game?
    How many levels does it have?
    Does the game have an end?
    How does it compare to I Must Run?

  14. onmode-ky says:

    I think I never responded to min in any of the blog posts where he wrote that comment above thumbbandit’s, because when I first read it, I was in the middle of something.

    I wasn’t angry, min. What you were writing, and writing multiple times, simply seemed a very strange thing to do, like going to a supermarket meat department and telling everyone they should be vegetarians.

    By the way, it isn’t entirely fair to compare PS1 downloads to Minis when it comes to pricing. The PS1 games are cheap because they’re old and have already had an earlier time period generating revenue. When they were originally released, they cost much more than they do now, and most of them were made with much larger budgets than any Minis. Minis are newly developed, or in some cases newly ported, games which are starting out at these lower-than-retail prices. PS1 downloads just need to cover the cost of putting them on the PS Store; Minis have to cover the cost of actually making the game.

    There is also the point that you shouldn’t recommend a racing game to someone when they’re looking for a completely different kind of game. “I’m trying to decide between Street Fighter and Tekken—” “You should get Tetris! It’s cheaper!” “Wha . . . ?” You see how odd that comes out? It doesn’t matter how good Tetris is; it’s not a fit for what they’re seeking.

    Also, please just write a comment once, and keep it in the same post where it has context (in this case, here, instead of the other 3 blog posts where you also wrote it).

  15. min says:

    I now know what you mean, nice way of pointing it out(i laughed at the tetris quote. im glad you were not angry at me for i felt like i was vanished from this site. its just nice to know that im not (i have you bookmarked and everything).
    so if we can just put this behind us and enjoy new releases.
    PS – is sony going to shutdown the store for psp or will we always get into it?
    please relpy.


  16. pspminisman says:

    a game that i would love to see on psp minis is…wait for it,,,wait for it,,,DON’T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN!!! it would be great. A side scrolling fighting game with laugh out loud comedy in the cut scenes. You can just imagine the opening cut scene. Zohan jumps off a 100ft building, lands and a pedestrian says “WHAT!! what are you, bionic?” “No, i only like the ladies.” “thanks anyway.
    no matter the price i would buy this!!!

  17. onmode-ky says:

    No way to know yet what Sony’s plans are for the PS Store storefront for the PSP and Media Go. They haven’t announced any end-of-support, grandfathering plans (nor any specific plans to keep it running for however x long).

  18. min says:

    thanks anyway.
    by the way, do you reveiw games here and what psp do you have?
    would you let me reveiw this game in the comments box?

  19. onmode-ky says:

    No, I’m not a reviewer. I can’t imagine there would be any objection to a user review in the comments section—it’s still on the topic of the blog post, after all—but I do think it would be a better idea to put your review in the site’s forum, in the “User Reviews” section. You’d likely get more active discussion in there, though maybe less overall reading-only traffic over time.

    I have a PSP-2000.

  20. min says:

    thanks . i have the 1003 and 3003. both great. the 3000 is just the same as the 2000 but with a mic and enhanced screen. im glad you dont have a go though because the are rubbish.
    last time i tried getting onto the forms, i had trouble so i might just put it in the comment box.
    thanks tho.

  21. MeganParker says:

    Hey Jeremey – Since you wrote the review – I am assuming you have advanced pretty far in this game. Can you please answer the questions posted above? I will copy them back here for you =)

    “thumbbandit says:

    March 26, 2012 at 1:57 am

    Hey Jeremy, could you answer a few questions for me?
    Are there checkpoints in this game?
    How many levels does it have?
    Does the game have an end?
    How does it compare to I Must Run?”

    Thanks =)

  22. JeremyR says:

    Sorry, if the comment is after a couple days, usually I miss them.

    But to answer those questions

    Nope. You run until you die, then start over. It’s randomly generated, so checkpoints wouldn’t make sense.

    Basically just the one level

    I don’t think it has an end, I got to something like 12,000m on one run (more lucky than anything)

    And I haven’t played I Must Run, so can’t compare

  23. hassoun3 says:

    nice game

  24. Michael G says:

    I like the mechanics and simplicity in this better than One Epic Game. But there should also be a stage or quest mode with different goals/hazards. In just trying to surpass your high score it doesn’t feel like a complete game in this day and age. I’m not knocking it, though. There’s always room for a sequel!

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