I say famous, I’ve never heard of it but a quick play online reveals why it became so popular among the obviously more trendy smartphone users. Essentially it’s a one-button platformer that takes place across the rooftops of a ruined cityscape in what looks like the middle of a devastating invasion. Your character sprints across the screen, jumping across collapsing buildings and dodging airplane parts that fall from the sky. There is no aim except to survive, with the distance you have run clocked in the top right hand corner of the screen.
The lack of a storyline or background is something that often annoys me in games but in Canabalt it works perfectly as your imagination quickly fills in the blanks to a greater effect than a 100 word synopsis ever could.
A quick look at the ruined buildings while a futuristic ship soars past you in the sky immediately sets the game in a near-future post-apocalyptic setting. In the background huge mecha-alien figures fire lasers like a scene from War of the Worlds as the screen moves faster and faster, giving the feeling of an urgent flight from a danger always on the edge of your perception. The lack of other human life creates a feeling of desolation and isolation and all this is created within seconds of starting play.
All this is in the original Flash/iPhone version, so how has the C64 coped with handling it all?
Amazingly well, with nearly all the elements of the original making it over, even the music has been ported over as well and sounds suitably SID-tastic. The mecha-alien figures have gone from the background, and for some reason the cranes that you can run over in the foreground are relegated to only be visible in the background. The most important element, the gameplay, is as intuitive as ever as your escaping hero runs automatically and you simply press space (or fire on the joystick) whenever you want him to jump.
A fantastic touch is a hi-score table that saves your score automatically so you do not need to save the file to record your scores. For some reason the game didn’t recognise the letter ‘a’ so I couldn’t spell my name properly but that small quibble aside it’s a lovely feature.
Bizarrely another version of Canabalt is also close to being released for the C64, with the full permission of the author of the original, Adam Saltman. This version, named C64anabalt will be an entry into the RGCD 16k Cartridge Competition 2011 and a preview video has been posted on Youtube and looks equally impressive. The approach looks to be slightly different, with a single background layer compared to Canabalt (C64 version), which allows the foreground to use the colour black, rather than just a different shade of grey. There is also a different SID tune that on first impression I have to admit to preferring. A conversation between the two authors on the Commodore Scene Database site for Canabalt explains the rationale behind the differences.
It’ll be interesting to see which version comes out on top. In terms of gameplay there doesn’t look to be anything to choose between them so it’ll probably come down to a preference for the slight differences in graphical style. As PaulKo64, the C64 scener behind C64anabalt says on the Canabalt page on the Commodore Scene Database, given the amount of worthy indie games out there that could be ported to the C64 it’s a shame two sceners have unknowingly developed the same game.
I’ve thought for a while that mobile games offered a great source of inspiration for older systems and the explosion of match-3 games on the Spectrum is an example of the modern influencing the old. I’ve also written before about how older games provide inspiration for mobile games due to the similarities in dealing with severe memory limitations. Seeing such simple yet sophisticated games like Canabalt appear for the C64 is however a real leap forward and it points to a bright future for the homebrew scene if games of this quality keep on coming.
Canabalt is a top quality C64 title and I can’t wait to compare it with C64anabalt. The latter is going to come out as a limited edition cartridge and I will be sorely tempted to part with £20 to add it to my C64 collection.