Amongst the mélange of Humble Indie Bundle titles are two side-scrollers with similar, yet unique takes on well-timed spacebar mashing: Canabalt and Bit.Trip Runner.
These titles aren’t the sprawling role-playing games and first person shooters of large studio productions, but nevertheless encapsulate the art of video games in their humble, yet pleasing experiences.
Bit.Trip Runner is the fourth title in the sprawling Bit.Trip series (including previously reviewed title Bit.Trip Beat). Much like its predecessors, Bit.Trip Runner features rhythm-based movement through multiple levels, culminating in a boss fight before proceeding to the next set of maps.
The gameplay is fairly straightforward. You kick, crouch, and jump to avoid obstacles and rack up points by collecting gold and power ups throughout the map. A jump into a wall or slide into a rock will send you back to the beginning of the level.
If you manage to collect all the gold bars in a single run, a bonus round gives you an opportunity to collect more gold bars in a “retro” level without the lively music or moving backdrops.
The game throws the entire colour spectrum at the screen…
Cranking the difficultly down to “Easy” eliminates the gold bars from the map and cranking it up to “Perfect” means any missed power ups or gold bars sends you back to the beginning.
Your in-game actions are timed to the music, though I found my movements slightly ahead of the beat – something that can easily trip you up.
Much like one of its predecessors, Bit.Trip Beat, the moving backdrops often obstruct your view of upcoming obstacles.
Despite the frustration of running into the same walls and UFOs repeatedly, the music adds aural complexity as you gain power ups throughout a map.
Even when a level loses its flavour a few restarts in, the soundtrack will continue to provide some sanity as you angrily mash your arrow keys and spacebar.
The game is visually stimulating, but often throws the entire colour spectrum at the screen in a hodgepodge of character, obstacle, and backdrop design.
But, again, the title flourishes aurally where it might let down in gameplay and overstimulate with visuals.
Bit.Trip Runner and its soundtrack were included as part of Humble Indie Bundle 4 and 6.
Though it is currently unavailable for Linux through the Steam Beta, it is available through the Ubuntu Software Center for $7.99 or by visiting the Humble Bundle site to redeem your USC copy.
The Museum of Modern Art recently announced a new collection of artwork consisting solely of video games. Canabalt is one of the first 14 titles in this new collection, including well-known games like Tetris, Myst, and Portal.
It is the pop art to the Renaissance sculpture of other games heralded as art
Whilst my memories of Myst from the early 90s include crudely drawn maps and illegible combinations in various notepads, Canabalt doesn’t demand puzzle mastery or offer compelling storytelling. It is the pop art to the Renaissance sculpture of many other games heralded as art – engaging or enraging depending on the player.
Unlike Bit.Trip Runner, Canabalt is an endless run through a generated map replete with glass curtain walls to smash through, obstacles to avoid, and falling debris to leap over as you jump from rooftop to rooftop. And jumping is all you can do.
As you progress through the map, your character gains more and more speed until you crash into the various obstacles on the rooftops, come face-to-face with falling objects, or meet an untimely death with a poorly executed jump.
the soundtrack catapults this title beyond its otherwise banal gameplay
Much like Tetris, you can brave the challenge alone or with a second player.
In both cases, the minimalistic gameplay sounds leave the majority of the aural experience to the soundtrack.
Though I never made it farther than a few thousand metres and, thus, only a few paces into any given piece of music, the soundtrack catapults this title beyond its otherwise banal gameplay.
The visual style is also compelling in its simple, yet striking presence. Combined with the soundtrack by composer Danny Baranowsky (also known for his work on Super Meat Boy and The Binding of Isaac), the audio-visual design makes the gameplay itself a backdrop to the sensual experience within an industrial cityscape bombarded by machinery and crumbling beneath your feet.
Ars Gratia Artis or Simply Banal?
So what does this game have to offer if not compelling gameplay? In the same way that abstract art and conceptual poetry challenge the definitions of their genre and incite fiery opinions from the entire spectrum of art and literary criticism, Canabalt fills a seemingly ambivalent role as both a pleasing timewaster and a game-like work of art.
Whether you expect artistic dialogue or simply entertainment from Canabalt, its visual and aural design outpace the gameplay, but not necessarily to its detriment.
Canabalt won’t be found on Steam or the Ubuntu Software Center; however, the download from the Humble Bundle site is simply an HTML file with embedded flash.
If you skipped the last few Android Humble Bundles, never fear. The title is also freely available on the web (though lacking a two player option). The soundtrack is available on Bandcamp with a “name your price” scheme.
Summary: The audio-visual design is compelling, even if the gameplay isn't.