Monday, 22 July 2013

Canabalt HD (Android/Ouya)

What can be said about Canabalt that has not already been said? The legendary one-button indie has made its way to the Ouya in the form of Canabalt HD, its first appearance on a proper non-mobile games console in the game's much celebrated history.

For those who don't know, the game is a minimalist futuristic 'endless runner' which begins with you leaping from an office block and jumping over buildings and avoiding falling alien bombs and other hazards. The controls consist of a single tap, or button press depending on platform, which causes you to leap - and that's it. The story is never explained, but the background of alien tripods ala War of the Worlds, firing over a damaged city skyline suggests an apocalyptic alien invasion from which you are fleeing endlessly.

This Android and Ouya exclusive 'High Definition' version created by Kittehface includes a number of new gameplay modes, additional music and graphics, achievements and also some basic multiplayer, based around a second runner joining you. Without wanting to go over in detail the basics of the game again – in sum, it's superb – this review will focus on the HD revamp.

Starting with the graphics, the HD version is, as you'd expect, more crisp, with a slight faux-3D angle providing a bit of depth to the building tops and backgrounds. It's a matter of taste as to which you prefer, but as someone who was initially introduced to the game through its C64 port, C64anabalt, I still personally prefer the blockier original graphics over the clean-cut aesthetic of the special HD version.

One small and unheralded addition is that every other game is played with a female runner. It's only a small touch but it's a nice nod to the fact that not everyone who plays games is a bloke.

The additional gameplay modes provide the most notable changes in Canabalt HD. The modes essentially take one feature of the basic game and exaggerate it to a massive degree, thus one mode has a ridiculous number of crates littering the rooftops to slow your progress, another has large alien bombs falling from the sky, and so on and so forth. Each of these modes has a target distance to achieve, which unlocks an achievement and another one if you manage it in multiplayer.

These game modes are enjoyable, with some working more than others, but as is often the case when game modes are tacked on to a game after it has been completed, they feel like the addendums they are rather than integral parts of the game itself. Likewise the choice of extra tracks - 'Daring Escape' and 'Mach Runner' - from Danny Baranowski, composer of the classic 'RUN! theme, are both of a high standard yet lack the impact of the original, feeling more like enjoyable B-sides than an A-side.

The achievements are pretty routine and will be familiar in their style to anyone with an Xbox 360 or Steam. Most relate to completing the additional levels in both single and multiplayer, while a few relate to various in-game successes, though whether knocking over 50 boxes counts as an achievement is debateable.

The multiplayer aspect is probably the most exciting part of the Ouya package, outshining the previously Humble Bundle and Winnitron exclusive two player versions of the game in both execution and attention to detail. The game already works with friends due to the speed with which you can take turns; but having two of you play at the same time competitively leads to much shouting and jostling of elbows. This feature is probably the main selling point for having the game on the Ouya, with multiplayer working better on separate controllers than by pressing different sides of the screen (as per the Android mobile version).

At $2.99 it's hard to find anything to complain about in Canabalt HD. It is perfect for a quick pick-up-and-play ten minute sessions, and a must-have for any time you're having friends over to play, making the Ouya version perhaps definitive as far as multiplayer is concerned. The additional features are a nice touch, but it's the classic version that will have you coming back time and again.

Download the demo here (from Total Ouya).
Download the demo here (from Google Play).
5 out of 5