Today I’m going to mostly wax lyrical about Alto’s Odyssey and its predecessor, Alto’s Adventure because, despite being “only” mobile games, they are two of my all time favourite games. And I’m a guy who loves games. They are to mobile gaming what Command & Conquer was for me discovering PC gaming back in the 90s. They are the first experience of a game in the medium where I forget what I’m playing on and enter a state of blissful flow.
At first glance, the Alto games are just what you’d call an “infinite runner”; a game in which your character continually travels through an endless procedurally generated world, navigating puzzles and traps, picking up new abilities and seeing some interesting stuff. Even with that reductive impression, they’re still a particularly beautiful example of the genre. The visuals are stylised, simple but vibrant, and very pretty. Vistas roll past with smooth confidence and your character’s animation always feels satisfying and intuitively linked to your input. In addition to that beauty, however, these games are just something else. Alto’s Adventure has had me playing compulsively for a couple of years, and the only thing which put a stop to that was the release of Alto’s Odyssey. Your progression feels reasonably paced, your uptake of new tricks is logical and organic to the rest of the gameplay. New world elements are a continual genuine delight and the whole thing is sprinkled with a friendly whimsy which routinely makes me smile. And the sound is just perfect. The music behind the whole game is Brian Eno level ambient genius. Listened to through headphones, it’s spectacularly great at luring you into a happy meditative state. And there are llamas, and old men who chase after you with sticks, and you can smash rocks and you get a wingsuit and one of the characters has rockets on their skis and you get to disturb birds. Alto’s Adventure is a 10/10 mobile game, and a 10/10 game in general.
At least it was, because somehow Alto’s Odyssey is better. 11/10? The team have taken everything which was wonderful about Alto’s Adventure and furthered it. They’re resisted the urge to amp everything up and make it an extreme version of the original game. They’ve simply created more world, which feels naturally connected to the first game while being different enough to have you spellbound all over again. There’s a familiarity, in that the core gameplay is based on the exact same principles and the contours of the world follow the same logic, but now you’re in a sandy environment with temples and vines and balloons (hot air balloons! Guaranteed to make any environment more amazing). There are lemurs and birds of paradise too. Oh and you can get a wall-riding snowboard (fun doesn’t have to make sense) which allows you to grind along the side of giant rocks. It’s just magical. The musical brilliance is back too. Visually, the team have really achieved something very special. The visual language of the first game remains intact but the things they’ve done with it are enough to make you emotional. The first time you’re in a sandstorm or a thunderstorm and seeing your character in silhouette against the sky is way more scintillating than you could ever reasonably expect from a mobile game. It’s stunning on a phone screen but I’ve been absolutely loving playing on my iPad. It’s a work of genuine art.
What wonderful games.