The very best games mix together an effortless class and a compulsion loop that keeps you playing until your eyes are sore, your fingers are chafed, and you can't remember the last time you saw any sun other than a digital one. And that's why Alto's Odyssey ranks among the very finest experiences you can get on the App Store.
More than that though, the game is a brilliant example of how to do a sequel. It doesn't slavishly adhere to the formula of its predecessor, but it doesn't stray too far from what made Alto's Adventure great either. It's a balancing act of the very best kind. And it's also a whole heap of fun.
The game is all about sliding down the side of a mountain. This time round though, you're making your way through a desert, rather than speeding through the snow like in the original. It might not sound like the biggest change, but it offers up something that no sequel can do without.
And that's a look all of its own. Where before the snow was white, and a frosty expanse rolled off into the distance, here the world is filled with vibrant shades of red, purple, and gold. Everything piece of scenery you slide on, every view you're treated to, feels like it's something special, something unique, something just for you.
If you're going to call your game Odyssey, you need to make sure that it feels like a journey, but more importantly that it feels like a journey that's specific to the person playing. Sure we might all be chasing the same challenges, but we're getting them at different times, in different places, and with different sunsets cutting through the desert sky.
And on top of that the game layers a simple set of mechanics that allow almost anyone to jump in and enjoy themselves. Controls that we've seen many times before are implemented with charm and vim, and anyone digging a little deeper will find tricks and twists that will get them farther down the hill.
When people think about mobile gaming, they often think about how easy it is, and how the challenges it presents are designed to be passed with little or no difficulty. But that's not the case, and Alto's Odyssey is a prime example of how mobile game design actually works.
It's all about the different levels of challenge, from the ones you're putting on yourself to the ones that the game offers up. You're playing against yourself as much as you're playing against the elements, and that means you build your own narrative around a game that tells its story in whispers and board slides.
Alto's Odyssey sits atop the pile of casual games that have been released on the App Store over the last six months. It oozes class from every orifice, but more than that it oozes intelligence. If you're a student of game design, then you need to look at it, understand it, and see how it sets itself apart from the rest of the pack.
Sure, some mobile games are easy, and some sequels rest on their laurels and end up staid and boring. Alto's Odyssey doesn't do any of that though. It's as sharp now as it ever was, and as engaging. But perhaps most importantly of all, sliding down its treacherous slopes is some of the most fun we've had all year.