April App Review: Alto’s Adventure

♦ This post is one of the Best of 2015 ♦

App: Alto’s Adventure
Developer: Snowman
Price: $1.99
Platforms: iOS

I love this game.  The gameplay is simple, yet challenging, the graphics are beautiful, and even the soundtrack is great.  There’s something wonderfully addictive about endless runner games, and this one has really got me hook, line, and sinker.

Alto’s Adventure is a really simple game.  Alto’s llamas are escaping, and the best way to catch them is (obviously) by snowboard.  Slide down the mountain, catching llamas, grinding on wires, and doing backflips.  The controls couldn’t be simpler: tap once to jump, tap and hold to rotate backwards.  For some reason, backflipping is particularly gratifying.  As you go along, you’ll encounter various obstacles, from rocks to large chasms you have to jump over.  Alto’s Adventure is an infinite runner, meaning the level is randomly generated as you go along, and the goal is to simply go as far as possible before wiping out.

Alto’s Adventure is a ton of fun right off the bat, but there are other things that make it more interesting and complicated.  There are two power ups: the hover feather (lets you float over rocks and recover from failed backflips), and the coin magnet (picks up coins as you get near them).  These coins can then be used to purchase upgrades to make the power ups last longer.  The other thing you can purchase is a wingsuit (see image 5).  After doing lots of tricks, you’ll charge the wingsuit, which allows you to fly over obstacles and do loop-de-loops.  It’s really quite fun.

The last obstacle in your way are the Elders.  After snowboarding a certain distance, you’ll wake up a sleeping Elder.  This guy will chase you as to go along (see image 6), and if you’re too slow, he’ll knock you down and you’ll wipe out.  This adds a certain bit of adrenalin to the game, but it’s nice that you’re not being chased the entire time.  If that were the case, the game would be stressful, but as is it’s really not.  Elder chases add a nice bit of difficulty to make the game more interesting.

There are several objectives to Alto’s Adventure.  As a mentioned before, you could simply go for the longest distance.  You could also go for highest overall score, a combination of distance and tricks.  Finally, there are many “goals” in the game, things like “Land a double backflip,” “Land a 5x combo,” or “Slide on three ice patches in one run.”  Goals come in sets of three (see image 7); completing a set moves you to the next level and a new set of goals.  These are “levels” are purely a measure of skill, they don’t affect the actual game in any way.  Every tenth level earns you a new character.  These are fun to play around with, as each one has different strengths and weaknesses that may help you with certain goals.  For example, Maya is slow, but she can flip much easier than any other character.

The last thing I want to talk about are the graphics and soundtrack.  The graphics have a beautiful, muted, almost pastel tone; very simple and nice to look at.  As you play, the background progresses from day to night, and sometimes it starts to rain.  These little touches make the game a little less monotonous (not that it is at all).  The soundtrack is also good.  A simple keyboard score, it does a good job of setting the overall mood of the game – fun, but not stressful.  It’s really quite nice.

In conclusion, Alto’s Adventure is a game that I enjoy more than most iOS games I’ve ever played (even more than Threes! and Monument Valley).  If you haven’t checked this game out, I highly recommend you do.  I have easily gotten my $2 worth of enjoyment out of it.  What’s also nice is that, after paying $2, the game will never ask you for money ever again (you can’t even buy those coins I talked about).  My current high score is 99,096 points.  Beat me?  I’d love to hear what your score is, as well as any tips you’ve picked up.  Leave a comment or shoot me a tweet @NickFoster56 and let me know what’s up.  Happy snowboarding!  ••


December App Review: Monument Valley

App: Monument Valley
Developer: ustwo
Price: $3.99
Platform: iOS, Android, Kindle Fire

I know Monument Valley came out last spring, but I hadn’t actually played it until a few weeks ago.  Monument Valley recently jumped back into the spotlight after they released an expansion pack, Forgotten Shores.  The extra press Monument Valley got was enough to convince me to buy the game, and I must say that it’s the best $4 I’ve spent on the App Store in a very long time.

Monument Valley is a puzzle game that involves moving the environment around you, the buildings and bridges, to reach your goal.  Monument Valley isn’t particularly hard, but it’s delightful.  That’s not a word I use often, but in this case, it’s not one I use lightly either.  The graphics are beautiful, and the soundtrack is just as good.  Most importantly, Monument Valley has this M.C. Escher thing going on with it (see images 2-4).  I’m constantly thrilled and amazed when two objects that shouldn’t line up somehow do.  It’s really neat.

The original game includes 10 chapters for $3.99.  Forgotten Shores, an expansion pack, was recently released as an in-app purchase for an additional $1.99.  When this happened, some people got rather angry.  They felt that, having purchased the game, they should get the additional levels for free.  ustwo, however, put a ton of time, effort, and money into Monument Valley, as well as into Forgotten Shores.  I think it’s perfectly fair for them to charge for new levels; I for one happily paid another $2 to get more levels of a game I had already greatly enjoyed.  Unfortunately, the way app store pricing currently works, it sometimes seems you have to make your app free in order for anyone to download it.  Free apps are great, but I also support people like ustwo who make quality apps and aren’t afraid to charge for them.  Monument Valley has met with huge success; a testament to the fact that other people share this appreciation for quality.  (If you’re interested in hearing an excellent interview with one of Monument Valley’s developers, including conversations about Forgotten Shores pricing, listen to this episode of the Inquisitive Podcast.)

There is also one final chapter of Monument Valley, Ida’s Red Dream, which is a part of the (PRODUCT)RED campaign.  (PRODUCT)RED is a charity working to fight HIV/AIDS in Africa.  Apple has participated in (PRODUCT)RED for a long time, offering special red iPods and other products.  A portion of the proceeds from these products, available only in Apple Stores and on Apple.com, go to (PRODUCT)RED’s charity.  For several weeks, many apps on the App Store have released (PRODUCT)RED versions.  These apps feature special red app icons, and most include special in-app purchases.  Proceeds from these purchases go to (PRODUCT)RED.  If you purchase Monument Valley during the (PRODUCT)RED promotion (November 24-December 7), you’ll get Ida’s Red Dream for free, otherwise, it’s an additional $0.99.  It will not be available after December 7.

Overall, Monument Valley is a really fun game.  It is short, but it’s so beautiful and enchanting that it’s definitely worth playing.  Now if I could just pull some M.C. Escher folding trick on the roads around here to make my commute to school shorter…  ••