92: Alto's Odyssey

It’s been a couple months since the game’s release, and for some, it may be already forgotten. But many of the initial reviews placed the followup to Alto’s Adventure directly into the pantheon of iOS games. I agreed with those reviews then, and after dozens of hours of flipping, wingsuiting, grinding, and wallriding, I agree with them now.

At least, I agree with their conclusion. Many glowing reviews praised Odyssey for bringing unprecedented nuance and refinement to a “casual” game. But I would argue that these traits break Odyssey out of the casual category and into uncharted territory. Part of what keeps me playing Odyssey is the leaderboard, where I’ve bounced around the top twenty but never broken into the top ten. Sitting down to attempt that feat is not casual at all — a significant chunk of time needs to be set aside to aim for three, four, or five million points when they’re earned by the tens of thousands.

If Odyssey didn’t constantly delight, 40 minutes on the mountain would be a slog. I think anyone who views Alto as a one-button endless runner would feel that way. I’m not going to try to convince you that the balloons, birds, storms, and total solar eclipses make Odyssey the best one-button endless runner ever on iOS. No, that would be Tiny Wings. Why not Alto? Because it is, crucially, a two-button endless runner.

And there, if it lies anywhere, is Alto’s single flaw: the failure to reveal at the outset that the wingsuit and its control scheme is vital to the game. It’s all too easy for a truly casual player to entirely miss its importance, and thereby miss out on the incredible combination play that makes Alto unique and addictive.

Back when tvOS was launched — and Picomac was new! — Alto’s Adventure was hailed as the perfect game for the one-button Siri remote. There’s no doubt that the snowy and sandy environments look stunning on a big screen, but trying to toggle the wingsuit with a firm press is just a recipe for a crash. This is, of course, to Alto’s credit and the Apple TV’s detriment. The lament all along about Apple TV games has been that without a dedicated controller, they are forced to give up complexity and be shadows of what they can be on other platforms.

So if you still haven’t played Alto’s Odyssey, I cannot recommend it highly enough (at least on your iPhone or iPad). Or if you did give it a try and found it too simple, too casual, give it another go. And remember: save up all those coins for wingsuit upgrades. You won’t regret it.