Sequels are hard. For hit games, it’s even harder: following up something that was beloved by millions of people involves a balance of expanding your idea while also maintaining the stuff that made people love it in the first place. You only need to look at the lackluster receptions of recent big-budget gaming sequels that have dashed themselves to pieces on the rocky shores of fan expectations, like Destiny 2, Star Wars Battlefront II, and Middle-earth: Shadow of War.
On the other side of the equation, there are sequels like Alto’s Odyssey (out today on iOS), the follow-up to the mobile gaming classic Alto’s Adventure. It’s the perfect sequel because it confidently recognizes what made the original work — and then, crucially, it doesn’t mess with that.
The core systems of Alto’s Odyssey are the same as they always were in Adventure. You play the role of a snowboarder, flying down an endless, beautiful landscape. Adventure had players on a snowy mountain, but Odyssey heads for fresh pastures in a variety of desert scenes.
Odyssey doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel. Instead, it lays out more road for the player to explore. It’s vastly bigger than the first game: there are three distinct zones, each packed with a whole host of different procedurally generated areas. Pass through the dunes once, and you might find a buried pirate ship and rows of swaying palm trees. Encounter the area a second time, and it might be strings of hot air balloons bobbing in the breeze. Each run is wholly unique, and elements blend together with enough variation that I’m still running into new things, hours later.
Other parts of Odyssey have been tweaked and refined. The “hover feather” power-up from the first game that made players temporarily immune to crashing at the cost of limiting their speed has been swapped out for a new “lotus flower” item that offers the same crash-proofing without putting on the brakes. Other additions include a wall-riding mechanic that unlocks early on in the game and adds a whole new dimension to how you can interact with the scenery and chain combos together. There are also balloons that you can bounce off for more impressive backflips.
These add up to embellishments on Alto’s already incredibly polished formula. Developer Team Alto has wisely kept the game as simple as possible, instead of falling into the trap of piling on more mechanics and upgrades that dilute what players already love about the game.
It helps that the game is stunningly beautiful. The minimalist animated art style that Alto’s Adventure pioneered is given fresh life in the desert, with gorgeous sunsets, gloomy rainstorms, and wondrous starry skies. Snowman has brought back the zen mode and camera features from the original game, which are perfect for enjoying and sharing the vistas that Odyssey offers
There are a few flaws in Odyssey, however. There’s a new mechanic where players are chased by a lemur instead of angry elders, which caused me to lose a few runs because I simply couldn’t see the tiny avatar of my pursuer. And while the game’s scrolling parallax scenery it incredible, sometimes scenery elements will block your view during a crucial landing.
Alto’s Odyssey is a sequel that never loses sight of what made the original one so beloved. Sure, it’s easy to deride it as a re-skinned version of Alto’s Adventure with prettier graphics and some new features, but sometimes, that’s all sequels need. There’s a compelling argument that Battlefront II would have been better received if EA had just given the original PS2 and Xbox versions a new coat of paint, some new heroes and abilities, and more maps. Or maybe Destiny 2 wouldn’t be struggling with its current chaotic mess if it had simply expanded and refined the original with better visuals, more guns, and some new scenarios instead of Bungie’s redesigned systems.
Ultimately, Alto’s Odyssey manages to expand on the original in fresh ways that matter to the gameplay experience (both from a mechanical and graphical perspective), without compromising the things that made the first one great. Hopefully, more games will learn from Snowman’s restraint here, instead of simply trying to cram in as much as possible to justify a second game in a series.