When Alto’s Adventure, a side-scrolling, endless-runner snowboarding game, was released in February 2015, it quickly won over fans. The popular game and movie reviews aggregator website Metacritic scored it 92/100. Users and critics called it a beautiful blend of compelling visuals and refined gameplay. Three years later, its sequel, Alto’s Odyssey, garnered similar reviews. On 16 July, a new special edition of Alto’s Odyssey—The Lost City—released on Apple Arcade, the video game subscription service from Apple. Will it see the same success as its predecessors, which remain Editor’s Choice apps on the Google Play Store? Odyssey even won the Apple Design Award for 2018.
It has everything going for it. The Lost City has been designed exclusively for Apple Arcade by Team Alto, an ongoing collaboration between the UK-based studio Land & Sea and the Toronto, Canada-based indie studio Snowman.
In Adventure, players took on the role of Alto, the game’s central character, who snowboards across scenic slopes. Odyssey featured the same game mechanics but the players transitioned from snowboarding to sandboarding, with the game moving to the dunes of an endless desert. What can players expect in The Lost City? “It will be exciting for players to discover it on its own,” says Ryan Cash, Snowman CEO, during a video call from Toronto ahead of the release. “There’s a little bit of mystery to it.”
According to the game’s official description, apart from soaring above windswept dunes and traversing thrilling canyons, players can now “venture deeper into the endless desert than ever before and uncover its best-kept secret”. The Lost City promises a new biome (a new world to explore) but largely involves the developers revisiting the classic Odyssey title.
The gameplay in the Alto series isn’t too complicated. Players tap on the screen to perform tricks and backflips, avoiding obstacles as the landscape in the background changes gradually—including procedurally generated environments, dynamic lighting and weather effects. You complete goals and challenges on the way, using the one-touch trick system. Other minute visual details give the game a unique standing—for instance, the more flips and tricks you pull off, the longer Alto’s scarf becomes, often resembling a comet’s tail.
Harry Nesbitt, co-creator, lead artist and developer for the Alto series, says they wanted to retain the game’s original essence. If you are a returning player, says Nesbitt, you will notice that the base of the game remains the same. A new player will find this new edition a definitive version of the game, he adds.
“It has been an interesting challenge going back to an existing game and looking for ideas to expand and elevate on what’s already there. It was a similar challenge in some ways to going from Adventure to Odyssey,” explains Nesbitt during a video call from Devon, England. “While we see it as a special edition, it is kind of an enhanced version of Odyssey. It’s pretty much Alto’s Odyssey at its core.”
A key part of the Alto series is the enchanting music and background score accompanying the stunning visuals. Composer Todd Baker, who worked on the music and audio design of the original game, has gone back to that track and built it up with a more “playful” and “human feel” to it, says Nesbitt. “The Lost City is like a living, breathing city. It’s not like an old ruin or empty wilderness…. It’s very vibrant and alive. That is reflected in the style and design of the environment (in the game) but also the music,” he explains.
The best way to experience the soundscape in the Alto series, in both Adventure and Odyssey, is in the game’s “zen mode”, where players have no challenges or goals to complete. It’s just a free-wheeling mode which comes with the recommendation that you use headphones to enjoy the music. Cash says the music was always going to be a big part of the experience. In fact, a key inspiration came from an earlier iOS classic game called Tiny Wings. “I grew up playing games like Halo, which had an iconic theme song. But with Tiny Wings, it was the first game I played where I felt the music can actually calm you down and help you relax. It made me feel like I was on a beach,” says Cash.
The Lost City comes nearly a decade after Temple Run, probably one of the best endless-running genre games in recent memory. Published by Imangi Studios, Temple Run spawned just one direct sequel, Temple Run 2, and a few other spin-offs but it still saw millions of downloads.
The genre’s enduring popularity can be gauged by the fact that the Alto series has garnered over six million downloads in India on the Android platform. Cash says the country is one of the largest Android demographics for the game series, next only to the US and Russia. While he never really tried Temple Run, Cash did experience similar games, such as Subway Surfers and Running With Friends.
Cash believes the endless-running genre is here to stay. “It has certainly become a dominant and ever-lasting genre that continues to be iterated on,” he adds. “Now you see games adopting it as a variation of their core game mode. The great thing about any endless runner is that you can forget about the world around you and really get into the game flow. The gameplay lengths can be anywhere between 30 seconds to many hours. It’s just a perfect fit for mobile.”