Review: Alto's Adventure

Mobile games are hard to get right, especially on a smartphone where the control scheme is limited. Oh, hush. Yes, "it's infinitely reconfigurable!" Super. But when you're playing a game with your fingers covering part of the screen? Or when you're playing a game and have no tactile sense of when you issue a command?

The multi-touch screen has enabled far more convenience than probably anyone could have imagined when it was being developed, but its input limitations where games are concerned have also limited the types of games that are readily playable on smartphones. Your basic types are "board game surrogates," "single tap adventures," and "games that play better with a controller."

Endless runners fall into that second category, and there are quite a lot of them. Because the gameplay for the endless runner on mobile is so basic, the only way for these games to differentiate themselves from the competition is through the visual aesthetic or general world of the game. Sometimes they succeed because visually the game is interesting and very polished (Temple Run 2). Sometimes they succeed because they've got licensed characters we recognize (Laura Croft Run).

Alto's Adventure succeeds because it creates a simple yet immersive visual experience, couples it with inviting sounds and gameplay, and then avoids pushing in-app purchases that would ruin the experience. So far, it's the most satisfying endless runner I've played.
Changing weather in a mobile game is something of an extreme premium. Alto's Adventure makes it seem really obvious.

The premise of the game is basic, as is the case with pretty much any endless runner. Alto, a young boy with the snowboarding skills of a god, has his llamas break out of their pen while he's watching them. So he has to chase them down the mountains outside of his Peruvian village on his snowboard, avoiding obstacles and trying to catch as many llamas as possible.

There's also coin collecting, powerups, and stringing stunts together in such a way that you can actually start flying, which I assume are not actually things real Peruvian snowboarders do whilst chasing llamas down the mountain. You control Alto (and his unlockable friends) by way of basic tap commands, and really all you do is just tell him to jump strategically. It's pretty simple, can easily be played with one hand (assuming you can hold your phone in landscape orientation with one hand), and it sounds like it'd get old really fast.
This really doesn't get old.

But that's just it. It doesn't. I have actually spent hours at a time playing this game, especially on my Apple TV, simply because between the sounds, the artwork, and the fluid nature of the controls, Alto's Adventure is a simple joy to play. There is something to be said for an activity that can relax you when you need to relax, and aside from watching episodes of "The Joy of Painting," Alto's Adventure does that better for me than absolutely everything else.

The game is easy, but not simplistic, interesting without being complicated, and satisfying without being stressful. As far as mobile games go, this is one of the best I've played. You do have to pay money for it up front, yes, but for that initial investment you get an enjoyable and complete package, something of a rarity in a world dominated by the freemium profit model. To be fair, the sequel Alto's Odyssey is coming out sometime in the next few months, so if you want to just wait for that and grab it, that makes sense.

But just know that you will be missing out on the zero-stress zen mode of the game, and if you're okay without this in your life... well, more power to you, I guess.