Alto’s Adventure is still my favorite iOS game

Design, graphics, and gameplay all come together to create a beautiful package

What makes a good iPhone game? This question has defined the App Store for over a decade now and shaped the efforts of countless developers and studios. Mobile games have never quite replaced consoles or computers, but the popularity and ubiquity of smartphones means that a popular mobile game can easily rack up high profits.

The best-selling and most-visible mobile franchises are cultural icons now. Nearly everyone has at least heard of Clash of Clans, and most people are also aware that it’s possible to play Minecraft on an iPhone. There is also a plethora of infinite runners, a genre that almost perfectly captures the strengths of a phone as a gaming device with simple controls and quick play sessions.

Alto’s Adventure is not the first infinite runner, and it isn’t even one of the best selling games on the App Store right now. It captured my heart when it first released nearly three years ago though, and it’s one of a few games on my phone that I keep coming back to. There’s a sequel in the works (somewhere, at least), and this game has received plenty of acclaim. I truly think it’s the best game to play on a mobile device.

A breath of fresh air

Alto’s Adventure is a simple game with a simple premise. You play as Alto, at first, a llama-herder who has lost his llamas. To get said llamas back, Alto (you) must ski down the slopes, catching the creatures and avoiding obstacles. This is a premise that follows the same mold (if not exact details) as nearly every other infinite runner, but the art style and tight gameplay set this title apart.

First of all, the game is gorgeous. The screenshots in this post show the technical chops off adequately, but the art style becomes even more beautiful when it’s sitting in one’s hand during a run. The slopes are crisp and clean, the small snow trail following Alto’s skis looks great, and the different obstacles that frequently pop up often show off interesting color schemes and shapes. There’s also a day/night cycle, and different weather patterns. All of these elements are purely cosmetic, but they make Alto’s world feel a little more real and interesting as players zip through it.

As beautiful as the world is, the simple-yet-deep gameplay is equally important. Additional characters besides Alto are available fairly early on, and their different strengths and weaknesses adds a layer of strategy to the selection screen. I usually play as “Maya,” a character who is slightly slower but considerably more agile than the rest. Using Maya allows me to more easily pull of backflips and tricks — every jump is a new opportunity.

Perhaps most importantly though, Alto’s Adventure knows the importance of minimalism. As a paid app, there are no advertisements, and everything in the game feels clean and uncluttered. This translates to relatively simple gameplay too, since there is barely anything on screen besides the player and the upcoming obstacles. Many mobile games are filled with bright colors, flashing lights, and a host of other distractions (to say nothing of ads or in-app purchases). In Alto, there is rarely anything except the slope, the llamas, and you.

Lasting appeal

All of these factors make Alto’s Adventure a game that I love to return to. I don’t play nearly as many games on my phone as I used to, for a number of reasons that aren’t relevant to this story. I keep coming back to Alto, though, and it’s always a welcome distraction or moment of relaxation. Apple has been quick to market it as well, and the title frequently shows up in “best-of” sections in their App Store.

I recently found out that there is a planned sequel to Alto’s Adventure, titled Alto’s Odyssey with an unclear release date (there is an update here). Given how much I love the developers’ first foray into this franchise, I’m sure I’ll pick up Odyssey whenever it releases. Until then, there are more than enough slopes to keep me happy.