There's something deliciously ironic about Canary. Set in space, Nitrome's avoidance shooter-type game puts players in the role of a stalwart canary in the employment of the Canary Mining Colony. With rocks falling everywhere, hostile yet adorable aliens and a panoply of other things to worry about, the game really does give new meaning to the phrase 'canary in a coal mine'.
Spanning twenty four stages, Canary's presentation is rather typical of Nitrome. The chiptune tracks are borderline epic, the graphics are charmingly pixelated and the controls simple as key lime pie. The canary follows your mouse, and you click to fire your laser, which can slice through rock. Hold down the mouse button to fire a concentrated beam that will shear through big chunks of the landscape that will drop out of the way so you can pass. Your canary can also push things out of the way if they're not immovable, like mine carts or even blocks of stone that you've cut apart from the larger mass. Just don't hold down the trigger too long, since your laser has a limited amount of power and needs time to recharge. Get left behind by the constantly moving screen or take too many hits, and you'll have to restart the level.
Analysis: Canary is quite possibly the first game I've found impossible to categorize. There's a little bit of everything in it, something that makes it feel almost schizophrenic in disposition. As the titular avian, Canary 214-LE, you'll spend most of your time weaving past rock formations and down mine shafts. Armed with a mining laser, you'll be able to cut through unnecessary geological fixtures, falling debris, and the unfamilar lifeforms that populate the mine. In this respect, Canary feels a lot like your typical Shoot 'Em Up but I can't remember the last SHMUP that had me worrying about the physics behind my actions. In my first playthrough, I was unceremoniously squashed into a wall because I couldn't figure out exactly how to properly fillet a chunk of granite so I could ease the protagonist through the gap.
Initially, I thought that was pretty much the extent of things. However, as the game progresses, you'll find yourself slicing through rocky outcroppings to drop a boulder on an armored foe's head. Sadly, opportunities to do so are somewhat limited. Most of your encounters with Canary's plentiful enemies will involve you taking them head-on with your mining laser as opposed to relying on convenient landscape formations. While the first two stages are relatively painless, things quickly become more break-neck by the third chapter and far more SHMUP-like. Consider this your warning.
The game is beautifully easy to learn, but making that laser work to your advantage, on the other hand, is something else entirely and dependant on the player's skill. Off-beat and entertaining, Canary is definitely not going to have you dropping dead from boredom anytime soon.