Snowboarding is scary. Speeding down treacherous slopes, with nothing but some snow to cushion your fall, is as terrifying as it is exhilarating. But in Alto's Adventure, a new game for iOS, the experience is supremely laid back — careening down a hill, with the sun setting in the background and great music in your ears, is an incredibly relaxing experience. I've taken to doing a bit of snowboarding every night before I go to bed.
Alto's Adventure is essentially an automatic runner, those one-touch mobile games like Canabalt where your character moves on their own while you control their jumps. In Alto, you tap once to jump, and hold down while in the air to pull off a backflip. It's an intuitive, but flexible system, letting you easily grapple with the ever-changing landscape. (Alto's levels are procedurally generated, so you never know what's coming up next.) The game also has a lot of the features you'd expect from the genre: you can collect coins to buy upgrades, complete skill-testing goals to earn rewards, and compete with your friends' high scores.
"We wanted it to be a beautiful experience."
But what really sets it apart from other similar games is its style. Alto takes place on an achingly beautiful mountain, one filled with crumbling ruins, dark forests, and icy slopes. The weather and time of day change regularly, and you'll find yourself chasing (and being chased) by llamas and village elders. It feels like an art game fused with a fun little time waster; like Sword & Sworcery meets Tiny Wings. "We wanted it to be a beautiful experience," says Ryan Cash, from developer Snowman, "but the gameplay and fun factor matters just as much to us."
The two-person studio is actually better known for its productivity software — Snowman has previously made mobile calendar and to-do list apps — and while they've released a few small, free-to-play games, Alto is definitely the team's most ambitious project. In the works since 2012, Alto was built by a small team including Cash, Snowman co-founder Jordan Rosenberg, and artist Harry Nesbitt, a freelancer who eventually joined the studio full-time to finish the game.
While most modern mobile games use the free-to-play model, Alto will be more traditionally priced — $1.99 and with no in-app purchases — so you won't have to worry about seeing ads or buying in-game currency to get that super cool power-up. "We wanted to build a casual endless runner style game that didn’t have any of the usual junk in it," says Cash, adding that "the week that Monument Valley came out was when we knew 100 percent we were sticking with premium." If the game does eventually receive new content, he says it will be along the lines of the "Forgotten Shores" expansion that came to Monument Valley late last year.
Alto is already one of my favorite mobile games, an experience that blends a wonderful atmosphere with the pick-up-and play nature of the best games on the platform. And it's a game that could turn a company known for calendar apps into a great new mobile games studio. "I've never worked on anything so rewarding in my entire life," says Cash. "It feels like the biggest and best thing I've ever been a part of."