Snowman’s hit endless runner Alto’s Adventure finally made its way onto Android in February. Since then, Alto the shepherd’s llamas have run loose on over a million Android devices. Having chased my own llamas down a myriad of frosted cliff-faces, it’s easy to explain why this endless snowboarding odyssey lives up to its hype.
First, the visuals are quietly beautiful. The minimalist Patagonian-Alpine landscape gives the impression of a broader world beyond the endless mountains Alto traverses. Levels are randomly generated, but all share the weight and details of the passage of time. As you shush down the slopes, the environment and weather change dynamically — the sun sets, lightning strikes, and rainbows arch over the hills in the distance.
However, this wouldn’t be much of an adventure if it was all shiny Unity visuals and no challenge. Thankfully, Alto’s Adventure’s 60 levels are made treacherous by yawning chasms, protruding rocks, and angry elders that will hop on their own llamas and hunt down whippersnapper snowboarders like Alto. Players tap to jump over obstacles, hop on a grind line or off a rock, or backflip over a chasm. Landing tricks grant a speed boost, and speed boosts let you burst through boulders instead or jump further than normal.
That’s where the strategy comes in. Yes, strategy in an endless runner. If you want high scores, pulling off tricks to gain speed is critical to cross those larger chasms. High scores equal more coins, which equals buying power in the store. It also translates to faster level gains, which means unlocking other characters – that’s right, Alto doesn’t go on his adventure entirely alone. I won’t spoil it for you if you haven’t heard, but there are other characters in Alto’s Adventure that each has their own strengths and weaknesses.
Some endless runners can become repetitive, yet Alto’s Adventure remains as addictive as Pringles. Without doubt its simplicity works in its favor, as the quest for a high score needs little further encouragement. Perhaps it’s the dynamic environments that keep players coming back. Perhaps it’s the hunt for other characters. There is something satisfying about watching your scarf grow with every landed trick as you backflip over chasms and smash through boulders, and Alto’s Adventure provides this brand of salty, delicious satisfaction.
Android players had to wait a year to play one of the best mobile endless runners out, but they also save three bucks, since the game is free in the Google Play Store. Publisher Noodlecake had some experience porting over from that other mobile system – and no we don’t mean Windows — and found that the Android ecosystem is not very encouraging to paid games. Ryan Holowaty from Noodlecake told the Verge, “The vast majority of players do not pay for games.”
That doesn’t mean Alto’s Adventure’s in-game store is a gouge-fest. Ryan Cash of Snowman, the Developer behind the game told us, “I think freemium can be done elegantly. There are a lot of great examples of this, like the free version of Threes!, Crossy Road, TwoDots, etc. I haven’t played Super Cell’s games, but I imagine they’re not gauging players – and instead allowing those that don’t have as much time as some may have, to pay a little bit of money to get ahead. I think we’re over the hump of the evil days of freemium games robbing people blindly, which feels like a good thing.”
I have played a Super Cell game or two. I share his opinion; they’re not too blatant with their gouging, but not worthy of comparison to the tasteful way Alto’s Adventure handles currency. As for the evil days, from what we can tell Android gamers are the frogs in the pot, and the burner’s still on. However, maybe the heat’s been turned down a notch and we do hope that games like Alto’s Adventure prevent the boil.
Alto’s Adventure offers one real-money lifetime purchase in its in-game store for four dollars – the Coin Doubler. All the other items go for coins, not real-world dollars. To gain coins, players can either be a kick-ass snowboarder, or watch videos. A video view can also extend a failed run, as opposed to spending 1,500 coins. It’s relatively painless. Would we prefer to just pay for the thing and be done with it? Of course, but we can’t deny a change has already occurred in mobile gaming. The best we can hope for when it comes to most “free” titles is a fair system that doesn’t damage the gameplay.
On that note, Snowman’s creation is a masterpiece of the endless runner genre and it does employ a fair and painless freemium system. What’s more, its Unity-built graphics are beautiful, it has a few tricks both literal and figurative hiding up its sleeve, and the smooth gameplay is easy to learn but hard to master. So why are you still reading this? Go try it.
But is it Hardcore?
Hardcore as the alps.
It’s worth making storage space for this endless runner.