Analysis by: Emily Greenquist


“Canabalt” is a simple platformer - one button: jump - yet complexity subtly arises with the story implications of the background and an infinitely random playing field. 

In a dense cityscape, the player (dressed like Michael Jackson and/or Neo) runs for his life: off crumbling buildings, through glass windows, above bombs, and tripping over objects that look like discarded office supplies.  The background shows shadows of giant robots and smoke plumes, hinting at the cause of this city’s demise.  By not explicitly explaining the story, but taking the care to add these visual elements, a believable, strange world is built. 

To sustain life in such a world, the player must sustain the run.  Oddly, to maintain the rhythm of play, it is better to not look at the player, but at the open environment immediately ahead.  Like Tetris, “Canabalt” continues into infinity - there is no “win screen” and no relaxed action; only many death conditions, with a closing score to compare.  This creates a frustrating, yet addictive experience, and regulation of time management befalls entirely on the player.  Like its structure, “Canabalt” could be played and replayed into infinity.  

“Canabalt” inspired another recent sensation, “Robot Unicorn Attack” set to an 80’s oddity (Erasure’s “Always”) and adds the features of double jump and the illustrious “rainbow attack.”  The environment is likened to an elementary school girl’s sticker book and the visual “story elements” are decadently absurdist. 

Both “Canabalt” and “Robot Unicorn Attack” are wonderfully engrossing, and showcase the delights that can be played without excessive amounts of buttons and elaborate cut scenes.  

Which rabbit hole will you fall into…


Special Thanks

To: Peter Greenquist, who haunts me with his "Canabalt" high score of 22372.

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