Back when Snowman’s endless snowboarder, Alto’s Adventure released in 2015, I lamented that such gorgeous artwork was being used on a runner, and not something more like an adventure game. It’s not that I don’t appreciate runners, but they’re not my first choice in games. Despite that, I gave Alto a chance and had a great time with it, though I never completed all the levels. It got a bit too hard for me and I eventually stopped playing. But I was still excited to try the sequel, Alto’s Odyssey, not least for its stunning visuals.
The major noticeable difference in Odyssey is, as the name suggests, that it takes place in dessert environments and you’re traveling over sand instead of snow. It starts off very similar to Adventure, with a tutorial showing you the ropes and explaining that you can jump over rocks with a light tap on the screen, or continue holding your finger on the screen to rotate and attempt to pull off a backflip. You learn that the more tricks you do, the faster you’ll go and the higher your score will be. As you do tricks, you’ll also build up a little temporary force field around you that lets you smash through rocks. Early on, things don’t seem all that different besides the fact that you’re sandboarding instead of snowboarding and there are hot air balloons to bounce off of. There are still rocks that want to trip you and chasms that want to swallow you whole. But complete a few goals and level up a few times and you’ll be instructed to buy the sandboard, which allows you to wallride!
Wallriding is, by far, the biggest addition to the game. But first, let’s back up a bit. You start off in the Dunes, which is mostly sandy with bunting tied to some hot air balloons. There are, of course, chasms, as well as tornadoes that lift you up into the air. But it’s the “safest” of the three biomes you’ll explore. As you travel and complete goals, you’ll make your way to the Canyons, where you’ll be introduced to the wall riding. A bit farther on, there’s a third biome called Temple City, with ancient ruins, waterfalls, and vines that snap if you ride on them for too long. But the Canyons are still the most notable of the three, at least mechanics-wise. Once you buy the sandboard, you’ll be be able to slide (or ride) across and up walls that have little white dots along the surface. Chaining these together with backflips, grinding, and perhaps even some balloon bounces, you have potential to get some seriously big trick combos going. But they don’t come without dangers. Normally, wall riding is fairly safe and low-risk, with advanced players using it to pull off impressive tricks. But when you combine those walls with deep chasms, that’s when they become scary. I’ve seen the following screen more times than I care to admit.
As with any new skill, it took me some time to get used to the wall riding. I even replayed the tutorial a few times and wouldn’t have minded a sort of playground just to work on those skills. But I’ve played a lot over the last week or so, getting up to level 45 and unlocking five of the six playable characters. While there are still chasms that eat me alive, I’ve been enjoying this game more than the original and have already travelled almost 1.5 million meters total. Yes, it sucks to bite the dust when I’ve got a great run going or am close to achieving a difficult goal, but I just brush myself off and try again.
The gorgeous minimalistic artwork makes it a joy to keep coming back for another go. The pinks and purples of the rising and setting sun, orange sandstorms, blue thunderstorms, gushing waterfalls, and of course the the hot air balloons, keep the eye candy as varied as the interactive elements themselves. Flying with the wing suit is somehow more elegant than ever before, and the colors throughout are richer. And while the only llama you’ll meet this time is Felipe the playable character, there are other animals such as Birds of Paradise that fly alongside you, with a long flowing tail that complements your flowing scarf. All this, coupled with a relaxing but never boring soundtrack makes for an experience that’s an audiovisual treat for the senses.
It also helps that, as with Adventure, there are goals to achieve, characters to unlock, and items to upgrade. So even though it’s a high score chaser at its core, you have other things to focus on and keep you interested. It’s exciting to complete goals and advance levels and unlock new characters, just like it was in the first game. You unlock Maya first, and it does get easier to rack up points once you have her, since she can flip faster. I also found it easier this time around to chain together trick combos, since you have wall riding, balloon bouncing, and tornadoes along with the usual backflipping, grinding, chasm jumps and, of course, wing suiting, aka flying.
That said, I do have the same complaint about the goals as I did with the original game. Once again, you have to complete all three goals of a level before you’re given any new ones. So if you’re stuck on a particularly difficult one, the lack of progression can start to wear on you. I know that to some degree, at least early on, the goals are spaced out in a specific way as to show you the ropes. But later on, it would have been nice to be get a new goal each time you complete one, so you’re always making progress. They also don’t work retroactively, so if you already, say, travelled for an entire day in one run before you were given the goal for it, you’ll have to do it again. The goals and level design were my biggest complaint with Adventure, and the same holds true here. With the characters locked behind goals that are to some degree reliant on the procedurally-generated landscapes, it makes an otherwise enjoyable game stressful at times.
Early on, it also felt like a bit of a grind to collect enough gold to unlock items, especially since there are more of them this time. I focused on saving up for the wing suit, since I missed it after having it in Adventure, and then was short on cash for the radio and compass. Since the compass allows you to choose a biome to start in, instead of letting the game take you where it wants, it’s useful for achieving certain biome-specific goals, such as backflipping between two wall jumps. The compass also doesn’t tell you before unlocking it how much it costs to use it. The “small fee” that’s mentioned is actually 1,000 coins, and after spending 4,000 to get it in the first place, you might not have enough to even use it. I think that could have been clearer, or perhaps even cheaper or free to use. Later on, when you’ve unlocked all the permanent upgrades and don’t have much to spend your coins on, it won’t be as much of a problem, but early on it felt like I just threw out valuable coins that could have been used to upgrade my wing suit or Lotus Flower, which replaces the old Hover Feather and allows you to smash rocks and avoid normal crashes for a brief time. I’m also not a big fan of the consumables that were added to Adventure later on and made their way into this game as well. You can buy single-use helmets or pickaxes to protect you from a regular crash or chasm crash. It means someone with more time on their hands and more patience for tedium can stockpile a ton of gold and then buy the power-ups to help them last longer. Thankfully, there’s no in-app-purchases (IAPs) in the game, but I still think the consumables dilute the high score aspect of it a bit.
Something else I should mention is that there are times where your character will be hard to see, making it difficult to judge whether they’re fully upright before landing. At night and during sandstorms, they’ll blend into the background. And at times, there are even rock formations in the forefront that blocks your view. The original had some skinny trees that did this, but I never found it to be as problematic as the wider objects in Odyssey. I think these are all intentional to make the game trickier, but just beware if you’re someone who doesn’t like playing with inhibited vision. The game also doesn’t save mid-run. So if you pause a long game and take a break, you may lose your progress. While I would usually play a game in one sitting, it would be nice to have mid-run saves, as I am playing on my phone and there are likely to be interruptions.
That’s it for the complaints. Let’s get back to the good stuff. I spent time with the game on my iPhone, iPad and Apple TV, thanks to flawless iCloud sync. I prefer my iPhone, just because it’s light and less likely for me to mess up due to needing to rebalance my device on my lap. On my iPhone 8, I can also press into the screen using 3D Touch to activate the wingsuit, whereas on iPad you have to tap the icon to the left. I learned that I don’t mind that on the iPad, since there’s more space for my hands and it’s not a problem to keep my left hand ready and near the icon. But I’m glad my iPhone has the alternate controls for it, as I usually try to keep my left hand out of the way. As for Apple TV, I haven’t spent that much time with it because it’s my least favorite way to play. Instead of just gently tapping to jump or flip, you have to click the remote. I find that gets tiring faster and it’s also less precise. But it is a nice way to show it off to friends and family. Again, you don’t have to choose a single device to play on, so having more options is always nice. It means you can give each device a chance and stick with the one that feels best to you without losing progress.
As for the characters, the first five are the same ones you met in Alto’s Adventure, with the last one being the mysterious Sumara. I’m currently on level 45 with three difficult goals to complete, but I’m really determined to unlock her and see what she’s like. I mean, look at that silhouette. Is that a Bird of Paradise on her shoulder and a lemur at her side? Is she an animal whisperer? I really hope I can persevere and manage to unlock her. Until then, I’m mostly playing with Maya and Felipe, who each have skills that make them easier to play.
Now, let’s say you love the audio and visuals of the game but really hate the challenge. You just want to relax and sandboard through the different biomes without worrying about goals or coins or scores. Well, the Zen mode that was added later to Adventure returns here and is available from the start. I think it’s a great alternative for those who find the game too difficult but still want to enjoy it. It means, even if you learn you’re not very good at it, you didn’t necessarily throw your money away. That said, it’s going to be a much more rewarding experience to complete goals and unlock new characters.
Despite a few complaints, my experience with Alto’s Odyssey has been a very positive one. It’s been holding my attention better than the original because of the new mechanics and environmental elements. I’ve also been more determined to succeed at the goals and unlock new characters. It’s genuinely exciting to pull off some difficult challenge or reach a new high score. And again, it’s an audiovisual delight, making it that much easier to jump right back in for more. At the end of the day, if you liked the first one enough to want more, you’re going to enjoy Odyssey. It may take a bit of time to get interesting, since it assumes no prior knowledge and eases you into things slowly. But give it a chance, as once you start unlocking more items, biomes, skills and characters, it really opens up and surpasses the original. If you didn’t like Adventure for any reason other than lack of variety, you might want to skip this one. But if you haven’t played either, this is a good place to start. You don’t need to play the first game to understand it and this one has much more going on to keep things from getting stale. If this all sounds good to you, go grab Alto’s Odyssey from the App Store and get some sand in your hair!