Everybody Runs

Let’s talk briefly about the endless runner. The first instance of the genre I recall encountering was Adam Saltsman’s Canabalt in 2009, and it instantly seemed like a game-type whose time had come with the advent of touchscreen handhelds. The roots of the endless runner — with its constantly moving protagonist and emphasis simply on survival as a measure of success — seem to lie in those dreaded platforming levels where the screen scrolls at a constant pace. Entering those levels in Super Mario World or similar, I was usually frustrated by the inability to take a breath and plan my next move, or to take time to break all the blocks I wanted - having control of pace taken from me as a player was often irritating in those circumstances, but that’s not my experience with endless runners as they’ve developed into a bona fide subgenre.

It has something to do with the relative simplicity of what’s being asked: to assume control of the character’s movement in a single axis (normally the y in the games I’ve played) and to sustain movement as long as possible. Just as the simplicity of the controls make the genre perfect for playing on an iPhone, so too does the conceit that you’re doing well if you last more than a minute or two, which works well for playing in bursts. However, the genre also has a powerful one-more-go pull that means you can sit and play for a while. Here are my four favourite endless runners, including the two great releases from this last week that inspired this post:

Canabalt

There’s evidence to suggest the endless runner dates back to Commodore 64 gaming in the 80s, but there’s no denying it was Canabalt that popularised the genre in the modern era. Quite rightly it was one of the first inductees to MoMA’s video game collection in 2012.

Super Hexagon

This one works slightly differently to many of the other entries in the genre, but it’s coming from the same place in terms of gameplay: move that little triangle on its hexagonal axis and keep it from crashing into the incoming walls as long as possible. (As with many endless runners—for some reason—also features a killer soundtrack, this one from Chipzel).

Fotonica

I had this first-person twist on the endless runner for Mac, but it makes so much sense on a touchscreen handheld and the new iOS version is perfectly executed.

Alone

Described to me as ‘Canabalt at the speed of Super Hexagon and somehow living up to that hype - this is the game I’m currently reaching for when I want to briefly flood my system with a hit of adrenaline.