The Ryan Lambie Column: Pressing a button can be fun

Ryan is ill. But not ill enough to stop him playing a brand new Flash game, and declaring it the gaming highlight of the week...

Mr Ryan Lambie's amazing joypad.

So this is what it feels like to be old. Gripped by a mysterious virus, I’ve been reduced to a shuddering, barely moving wreck, with the faintest beam of light leaving my eyes screwed up like a mole’s and the slightest bit of effort draining the meagre droplets of energy I have left.

How am I supposed to play games in this state? Driving games are out of the question: far too scary, what with all those crashes and everything. First person shooters? Ditto. Too much coordination required, and all those loud gunshots can really take it out of you.

Thank the Lord, then, for my good friend Nathan, who introduced me to a rather marvellous little Flash game called Canabalt. If you haven’t played it, then check it out (after you’ve finished reading this obviously – I need the company). And in case you were wondering, there are several reasons why this is the best game I’ve played all week.

Reason one: first, it’s a 2D platform game, which gets it in my good books automatically. And it’s like Mirror’s Edge with all the annoying bits taken out. Your little chap sprints from left to right, leaping between buildings and over obstacles. As he runs, he’ll gradually pick up speed, gently ratcheting up the difficulty until, inevitably, you make a mistake and he’ll plummet to his doom. Unlike Mirror’s Edge, there aren’t any stupid secret agents to slow you down with fiddly and tedious fight sequences, or pointless cut-xscenes that look like a GCSE art project.

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Reason number two: it’s been beautifully programmed. Not beautifully programmed in the Crytek sense, with photo realistic palm trees everywhere – but in the old-school, every-pixel-counts sense. The project of just one lone programmer (Adam Saltsman) and coded in a startlingly rapid sixty hours, Canabalt instils a sense of excitement and panic with a handful of pixels and a few shades of grey; gigantic alien robots skulk about in the background, laying waste to the city around you, and occasionally one of the buildings you’re traversing will crack up and collapse. Little touches like the John Woo-like flutter of doves in your wake and the detail in your tiny avatar’s movements also add to the frantic atmosphere.

Reason three: it’s different every time you play, forcing you to think on your feet rather than learn a pattern. This, and the little counter that records how far you’ve managed to run, adds to its crack-like addictive powers.

Reason four (and this is the main one): you can play it by pressing one measly button. No ducking, no running back the way you came, just simple, well timed jumps. This means it makes the perfect game for virus sufferers: no coordination required and only one operational digit necessary.

It’s the video game at its absolute purest – the most simplistic means of interaction possible, married to a steadily ramping challenge that dares you to get a little further than you did before.

So there you have it – Canabalt is proof that even the simplest games can be immensely addictive, and that just pressing one button at the correct time is far, far more difficult than you might think.

Ryan writes his gaming column every week at Den Of Geek. Last week’s is here.

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