time seems to slow down, and for a while there is nothing but the moment. but do you have the endurance to stay in it?
Canabalt is a linear sidescrolling platform game in the mould of the original Super Mario Bros., but with a contemporary Mirror's Edge feel. However, Canabalt is quite a bit more minimalistic. It is effectively on-rails, with the screen constantly pushing the player to the right, and the only action is to jump using the space bar on the keyboard. There are also no power-ups, enemies, or any other levels aside from this infinitely scrolling assault course. So even though it borrows heavily from SMB, it has more in common with high-speed atari 2600 games such as kaboom! and centipede.
In some of the levels of SMB3, the screen would automatically scroll, pushing mario forth. These were tricky as you had to act faster and you couldn't go back. If you couldn't jump on time, the screen would push you off. To make matters worse, these stages often had falling platforms. Canabalt works exactly like this, but it has its own runaway momentum, so the longer you can survive by closing the gaps, the faster your little character runs and the faster the screen pushes you. It's like having no control over the 'p-meter' in SMB3. But if you're observant you can control your speed. In the game you're simply jumping over the tops of buildings and crashing through windows. But along the way, debris is scattered around. This debris is mostly boxes. At first, common game sense tells you that they're obstacles to be jumped over, but if you jump all of them you go too fast and either fall down the side of a building or crash into a falling mine. In this sense, it's like the movie speed, in which you have to keep a constant speed; go too fast and the bus explodes, go too slow and the bus explodes. It's quite clever and subtle how the game does this; it's not conventional video game rules.
All these forces pushing against the player is partly why the game is so compelling. In those moments where you do get to react and control your speed, you feel just a little bit of power in a system where you largely have no control. the fear as well, that pushes the player to close the gaps releases chemicals in the brain to reward continuity. It's all about continuity, and extending as far as you can. Because there is seemingly no end, you're forever trapped in this endless cycle of jumping. It can be quite soothing once you pass your first 5000m, and time seems to slow down and for a while at least, there is nothing but that moment. It's addictive because there's no end, and you're constantly trying to get an uninterrupted flow. The odds are always against you...Which spurs you on.
One of the most successful elements of the game is its randomly-generated levels. This means that it's not about perfect memorization; it's about fast reaction times. If you can't react on time, you're going to die. This is the crux of the game. If you have slow reflexes, you might not appreciate the game as much as people who are very quick (it may seem that the game is cheap) or who like to challenge themselves.
It's a good thing that Canabalt was free and on the PC. I think it has introduced lots of people to an older type of game that there aren't many of these days.