Posted by Damien McFerran
The PSP is positively bristling with input buttons, yet Canabalt is a game you can play with just one. Originally conceived as a free-to-play browser game, it made the leap to iOS in 2009, and now graces the PlayStation Network as a PSP Mini.
Canabalt’s premise is the ultimate in high concept. The planet has been invaded by aliens and you character — an unnamed fellow dressed in a natty black suit — does what is only natural in this kind of apocalyptic situation: he runs for dear life.
To add even more danger to the game, you’re sprinting and jumping across high rooftops, rather than taking the more sensible (but less exciting) ground-level escape route. Your on-screen avatar’s movement is automatic; he runs and keeps on running until he either falls off the bottom of the screen or is dashed to pieces by a falling lump of machinery.
The only influence you have over this desperate individual is when he jumps; pressing any of the buttons on your PS3 pad, PSP or PS Vita will cause him to leap upwards. The duration of your press decides how enthusiastically he hops, and this can prove vital as the challenge escalates.
While this might sound a bit simplistic — even for a low-cost download — there’s an amazing amount of depth in Canabalt. As long as your character keeps running, his speed gradually increases. This gives him considerable momentum which helps comfortably clear the gaps between buildings, but it also makes it much harder for you to react.
To counter this, you have to periodically slow him down by allowing him to collide with boxes and crates which litter the rooftops. It’s essential that you balance this, however; hit too many obstacles and your speed drops so low that even the smallest of jumps is awkward to make successfully.
Other challenges include jumping into windows in the sides of buildings (expert timing is a must if you don’t want to hit a wall and fall to your death), structures which collapse beneath your feet the moment you land on them and the aforementioned plummeting objects. These drop into your path and cause instant death if you touch them, but thankfully you are given warning of their impending appearance in both aural and visual terms; they emit a roaring sound like a jet engine, and in the top-right corner of the screen a red dot appears, indicating danger is ahead.
The ultimate objective of Canabalt is to run for the longest distance; your best score is recorded and displayed at the title screen, staring you in the face each and every time you boot up the game. The urge to better your own achievement is considerable, but such challenges thrive on social elements. Sadly, unlike the iOS version, you won’t find a leaderboard in the PSP Minis version of Canabalt; that of course means you have no easy way of comparing your standing with other players.
Another omission is the lack of Twitter connectivity; in the iOS version, you could post your last score to the popular social networking site for proper bragging rights. Of course PS Minis aren't permitted to use network functions, but it still removes a lot of repeat enjoyment from the game not to be able to share your scores with others.
Despite the lack of social networking functions and global leaderboard support, the PS Minis port of Canabalt ultimately remains true to the spirit of the original. It’s just as compelling and addictive, and in many ways is the perfect portable game; it offers short-burst gameplay and a stern challenge which encourages repeat play. For the low price, this is well worth taking a leap of faith on.