Alto's Adventure is snowy, llama-chasing fun

Here's the scene: It's a lazy winter day. Snow is gently falling and you're sitting back, enjoying the great outdoors. Your llamas are in their pen, just chillin' and standing around. Suddenly one of the beasts breaks free and sprints down a nearby hill. The rest follow and your relaxing day is over. Hop on your snowboard and chase down those miscreant llamas!

Alto's Adventure for iPhone (US$1.99) is the latest app from Snowman. It's an endless runner-style game that has you snowboarding through seriously gorgeous, dynamic settings. You'll capture llamas, collect coins, pull off spectacular tricks and avoid the angry elders, who aren't happy with a whipper-snapper like you snowboarding all over the place. Here's our look at Alto's Adventure.

It's Monument Valley-level pretty

Alto's Adventure is set on a snowy, mountainous landscape. Windmills, tile-roofed structures and viaducts dot the scene. Tall pines rise from the icy terrain. What's really cool here is the use of optic flow: the mountains in the background appear to move at a much different rate than your snowboarder, much as you'd experience while driving past large, distant objects in a car. The result is an effective sense of depth which, paired with the lovely 2D art, is quite nice.

The art itself is well implemented and dynamic. As you play, the time of day changes slowly and subtly. The moon sets in the west, the sun rises in the east and the stars slowly "turn," following the moon's path, much as you might have seen in a time-lapse video of the Earth's sky. The weather changes too, from idyllic and clear to pounding snow and rain, complete with thunder and lighting. 

The music brings all of this together to create an effective, atmospheric gameplay experience. It's light and fun, but with a medium tempo that compliments your high-speed antics. Put on some headphones for this one.

Now, all that is great, but how does it play?

Playing Alto's Adventure

As I said at the start of this review, your main goal is to capture escaped llamas. But there's much more to Alto's Adventure than llama wrangling. For instance, you'll be scoring points in two ways: distance traveled and tricks executed. Distance is measured in meters and the further you go, the better. Points are scored by:

  • Pulling off a trick
  • Collecting coins
  • Capturing llamas
  • Jumping chasms
  • "Bouncing rocks" -- timing is everything
  • Completing goals

Pulling off a trick is a lot of the fun. You can do a full 360º flip while jumping a huge chasm or a steep hill (two if your lucky) or bounce off of jutting rocks, provided that you hit them just right. Successfully executing a trick results in a temporary speed boost. Sliding across ice also gets you moving a bit faster. That's cool, but my favorite trick is grinding. 

If you time your jump correctly, you can land on top of those viaducts and grind along their edge. Tiles go flying as you move, littering the ground. Likewise, decorative flags are strung between large columns, and you can grind the line that displays them. Grinding also results in a speed boost and extra points. But what about those coins? 

Coins are littered throughout and are used to make purchases in the Workshop. There are three Workshop items to earn: the magnet timer, the hover timer and the wingsuit. The magnet pulls coins to you, so you needn't touch them to collect them. The hover timer turns your snowboard into a hoverboard, Michael J. Fox-style, so those pesky rock obstacles are not longer a problem. Finally, the wingsuit lets you soar above the ground. It's pretty awesome, though buying it and implementing it are two different tasks. 

To buy the wingsuit, you simply need to earn enough coins. To execute it and start flying around, you must perform a number of awesome tricks. Each time you perform a trick, your scarf grows a little longer. Eventually it reaches a critical length and presto! The suit is engaged. Jump to start sailing around. 

It's important to have goals

Alto's Adventure has several achievements, or "goals," for you to attain. I'll let you discover what they are, but they let you unlock a new snowboarder. Each character has his or her unique strengths and weaknesses. I have a definite favorite, but I don't want to spoil anything. 

Respect your elders!

Finally, I've got to mention the elders. As you're boarding along you'll occasionally pass a small campfire, a tent and a sleeping elder. As you whip past, undoubtedly tossing snow into his fire and/or face, he becomes understandably cranky. Mounting his horse, he begins to chase you down. You've got to stay ahead of the elder or he'll give you a serious smackdown with his whip, ending you run. Execute all the tricks you can to stay one step ahead. There's a way to end the pursuit for good, but I'll let you discover that on your own, too. 

Strap on your board, this one is a winner

I've been playing Alto's Adventure for weeks and I can't find a fault. Honestly, I tried. It's a fantastic marriage of theming, game play, art and music. What I really like is the feeling that you're just out snowboarding. It's quiet, there's no one around, maybe some snow is gently falling. The sun sets in a blaze of orange. An occasional flock of birds takes to the sky, startled by your approach. Soothing music accompanies the sound of your board against the snow. If this game had a "Zen Mode" that just let me go and go, I'd be even happier. 

You can download Alto's Adventure from the App Store here. It's $1.99.