While my day job might be in accounting, the other university courses I liked were communications and marketing. One of the concepts that they emphasized is being able to pitch a product in one line. If I was to give a short line to describe Alto’s Adventure, it would be “Journey as an endless runner.” While a free-to-play mobile game won’t quite live up to one of the best games ever released on the PS3, Alto’s Adventure sure does more than hold its own in its genre.
Alto’s Adventure is a side-scrolling endless runner. You play as the titular Aldo who has to snowboard down the side of a mountain to catch his escaped llamas. Along the way, you have to avoid random rocks piles of rocks, gaps in the mountain and angry locals that you wake with your loud snowboarding that will try to kill you.
Much like Journey, it’s a fairly calm experience that relies more on atmosphere than gameplay to carry it. Of course, Journey used that atmosphere to tell a story (and did so quite successfully) where as Alto’s Adventure really doesn’t have one. Yes, you’re supposed to be catching your escaped llamas but whether you catch all or none of them has no impact on the game. A story isn’t a must-have whose absence ruins the game but it would be very nice to have a story to back up the rest of the game.
The controls are rather easy. Alto just slides down the hill on his own. All you have to do is tap the screen to jump or tap and hold to make Alto do a backflip. The controls are reasonably responsive but the close timing that the game requires does make me question that assessment. I wouldn’t call the controls unresponsive enough to complain about even if they aren’t as responsive as they would be if you have a controller in your hand.
While the goal is supposed to be to catch llamas, it doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of the game hence why I mentioned the game not having a story. It’s an unfair statement to an extent because there is a reason you’re going down the mountain but it doesn’t reflect in the game. What does get you down the mountain is the gorgeous atmosphere and scenery. What keeps you coming back is a series of goals for you to progress to the next character level. The goals could be for performing tricks, travelling long distances, jumping over rocks or chasms and have no discernible impact on anything.
However, doing tricks does have one nice effect. Racking up trick points will increase the length of Alto’s scarf. It’s a very Journey-esque mechanic and entirely cosmetic. The game also features dynamic time of day changing so you can go from midday through sunset and into the night in one run and watch the sky and lighting effects change as you snowboard along. There’s also a meditation/easy mode that will just let you keep going to listen to the music and watch the scenery flying by if that’s what you’d prefer.
Despite the fact that Alto’s Adventure isn’t a very deep or meaningful game, that doesn’t mean it’s bad. Not every game has to have an amazing story or mechanics to be a great game. Alto’s Adventure creates a beautiful world that I love coming back to regularly. There’s something compelling and cathartic about snowboarding through the woods at dark or soaring over a bottomless chasm as I’m silhouetted by the setting sun or catching llamas at high noon. As far as the endless runners that I’ve played goes, this is top of the list.
Alto’s Adventure was reviewed on Android but is also available on iOS. Your impressions of the game may differ on platform played on, device played on and whether you think that atmosphere matters in a game.