Its taken a few years, but the sequel to the beloved iPhone game Altos Adventure is coming very soon. After a few delays, Altos Odyssey is launching on iOS devices on February 22nd, and you can preorder the game today. (Theres no word yet on an Android version.) For the team at development studio Snowman, its been a long process of building an experience that can live up to the lofty expectations created by the original Alto. When it first debuted, the artsy snowboarding adventure joined the ranks of iPhone games like Monument Valley and Sword & Sworcery as the rare premium-priced experiences to garner both commercial and critical acclaim. Because of this, the team spent a lot of time ensuring that Odyssey would live up the expectations of fans and the development team. This led to the games delay into 2018, though the team is now happy with the experience theyve created. If the goal is to make perfect, says producer Eli Cymet, its never going to ship. The original Altos Adventure made waves in 2015, thanks to its smooth endless snowboarding action, coupled with gorgeous visuals and a laid-back style. It was a quiet, beautiful world you could explore for a few minutes at a time or lose yourself in for hours. With the sequel, the team is moving the experience from the snowy mountains to a new desert region. According to Snowman, one of themes of the first game was exploring home, as Alto ventured into the wilderness around him on a snowboard. For the sequel, the idea is to take Alto — and players — outside of their comfort zone. Thats one of the reasons the game takes place in a desert, but the theme also helped the studio figure out where to expand on the original game. For one thing, the world itself is much more diverse. While it takes place in a sandy region, Odyssey actually features three distinct biomes, from desert dunes to ancient temples to mysterious canyons. There are real-time weather effects that add a depth to the world; youll see fog and rain roll in and the wind blowing plants around. When youre in the midst of a sandstorm, the world turns dark, with bright flashes of lightning crackling in the background. And while the iconic llamas from the first game are gone, there are new animals to interact with, including colorful birds that will follow your snowboarder around. This expansion of the world was created in part because of the feedback from fans of the original game. We never expected players to fall in love with specific places, Cymet explains. We often had people telling us, I love it when I get to spend time in the forest, or I really like the lanterns that dance around the village at night. We never thought people would contextualize them as a space theyd want to revisit in the game. And I think that is what probably influenced the concept of biomes. Similarly, the game continues to build out the mythology of the world and characters. Its not overly explicit in this regard; the team describes the games as having an implied narrative, heavily inspired by games like Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, which hint at a complex world and story, but never overexplain things. In the background of Altos Adventure, you see this purposeless geography — bridges that go to nowhere, monuments that are half-formed — and as a player, it always created this feeling in me of wanting to go into the background, says Cymet. There are also brief descriptors for each of the characters you can unlock that tease their motivations and personalities. We want to tell you a story about someone learning to redefine their concept of home — but we dont want to hit you over the head with that, Cymet explains. While its technically a sequel, the team at Snowman approached Altos Odyssey as more of a companion to the original game, as opposed to a direct follow-up. We knew we didnt want to call it Altos Adventure 2, says studio co-founder Ryan Cash. (The original working title for the game was Altos Adventure: The Endless Desert. ) The idea is that the two games will sit alongside each other, so that if a new player discovers the series through Odyssey, they can jump back into Adventure with no problem. This meant designing the game with both audiences in mind; Snowman couldnt make Odyssey too similar for fear of scaring off existing fans, but they also couldnt make it so complex that newcomers would be scared off. Altos Odyssey introduces a number a new mechanics, but the core — snowboarding across an endless, procedurally generated world — remains intact. This time around, you can ride on walls and bounce off of hot-air balloons, two seemingly small additions that dramatically expand what you can do in the game. Meanwhile, the more detailed world provides a greater sense of surprise: with all of the different areas and scenarios, you never quite know whats coming next. But this wasnt always the case. During the development, the team toyed with all kinds of ideas to expand on the core gameplay, like adding a grappling hook that let you grab onto ledges and other objects. Ultimately, these additions not only made the game too complex, but they also took away from the distinct, laid-back feeling of the original. It turns out that Altos Adventure with a grappling hook no longer feels like Altos Adventure. Considering the success of the original game, the team didnt want to mess with that formula too much. Since the release of the original Altos Adventure, Snowman has expanded in new directions, adding new team members and turning into something of a collaborative studio, partnering with other creators on games like Where Cards Fall and Distant. (The team insists that this expanded focus isnt the reason behind Odysseys lengthy development cycle.) Over that time, the team learned a lot about the constantly shifting world of mobile gaming. They experimented with a free-to-play release on Android, responded to fan feedback by adding zen and photo modes, and even launched a line of Alto-themed merchandise. But despite all of the changes, they say that the process of making the sequel was actually quite similar. A lot of the decisions we make are based on what we want for ourselves, says Cash. With Altos Odyssey, its been the same. We now have to think, Well, what will existing Alto players want? But I always fall back on, Well, what they would want is the same as what we would want. Thats been our design philosophy all along.
The endless runner genre of games seems inherently stress-generating to me, since it implies running, without end. But Altos Adventure, the 2015 game from Toronto developer Snowman, provided an endless runner that was actively and profoundly relaxing, thanks to a mellow, immersive soundtrack and graphics that seem drawn from some kind of new-age zen meditation video. Getting Alto, the titular character, to the bottom of the mountain while scooping up his lost llamas along the way actually isnt about getting to the bottom, but just about what its like to love the trip down. Three years later (almost to the day) Alto is back with his next journey, Altos Odyssey, out February 22 on iOS and Apple TV (you can pre-order now to have it ready to play as soon as it goes live). Its an iOS-first launch, since Snowmans team tells me Apples hardware is the best showcase for their work, but itll come to Android, too, eventually. The new game, which Snowman has been teasing for a while now (the first teaser trailer dropped last February), but building something thats a successor to the Alto franchise while not being a straight sequel is a challenge that took time, and great care, according to Snowmans founders Ryan Cash and Jordan Rosenberg. The games producer Eli Cymet also took to heart the responsibility of building on the success of the original, while still avoiding the pitfall of delivering a rote sequel, and making sure that Altos world still felt like Altos world. In an interview, he explained that this responsibility and the decision to make sure Altos Odyssey struck the right balance is what stretched out the games development timeline – and why the new game feels distinctly different from the first one, while at the same time also feeling reassuringly familiar. So what does it mean that Altos Odyssey feels different but the same? After playing through and unlocking most of whats on offer in terms of bonus characters and features, I think I have a good grasp. Basically, it still feels like Altos in terms of control, physics, mood and the brain space you occupy while playing it, but Snowman has added a lot in terms of new mechanics, set dressing and challenges to make sure that even Altos Adventure diehards wont feel like theyre already Odyssey pros, too. The new game features three complete biomes – each equivalent in content to the original mountain from Adventure. Theres the Dunes, the Temple City and the Canyons, and each come with their own environment features, slightly different play style and atmospherics. You dont move through each sequentially, as you would in a traditional level-based platformer – instead, you transition smoothly between them procedurally, with features from one environment fading into the next as you shift subtly between. For players, the different biomes offer different kinds of experiences in terms of mood, with varying ambient lighting effects, but also significantly different gameplay elements, including waterfalls, pools, rock wall faces and more. These change how you play the game, with wall riding (once you unlock the board, early on in gameplay progression) being the most significant. Each environment can provide elements better suited to beating some challenges, too, so theres the added gameplay complexity of surviving a run until you make it to the next one in order to get something done. New ambient lighting effects, including sandstorms, solar accents, rain and more add up to a lot of variety of experience in terms of what youre looking at, too, which helps Odyssey feel different to its predecessor. UK artist, designer and developer Harry Nesbitt, who worked with Snowman on Adventure, is back again and really stretching his wings to build on the visual style of the original. For the most part, the new effects and visuals are amazing, and deepen the experience while remaining true to the look and feel of the original. Snowman and its graphics team did a lot of work to ensure that even when things can get confusing on screen, effects like a contrast color highlight for your character ensure you know whats going on. Even so, I still felt the game was a mid muddled in places in terms of the look, and I indeed found myself longing for the rare breaks in the game when its perfectly clear out, with full mid-day sun, because the weather and other visual occlusions really could be a bit much at times. It resulted in a feeling of being overwhelmed I never experienced in similar situations with Adventure. Despite sometimes feeling a bit over-busy on the graphics-side, the game is otherwise well-balanced and a true joy to play. The soundtrack is a fantastic, soothing companion to gameplay, and the reward loop is perfectly balanced to make sure you never get too frustrated when in pursuit of your goals. I put in plenty of hours during my pre-release time, and plan to put in plenty more when the game is out. When Snowman first began teasing Altos Odyssey, it felt to me like it was going to be a major departure in terms of gameplay and mechanics. In the end, the game feels like an expansive addition to the continuity of the first, which is both good and bad. In some ways, it doesnt feel different enough, but at the same time, the teams decision to make sure that fans of the first wont feel like theyre not playing an Alto game is an admirable one.