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Alto's Adventure and the Legacy of Canabalt

This is Alto’s Adventure. It’s an endless runner in which you snowboard down a mountain to rescue your runaway llamas, doing tricks and avoiding obstacles along the way.

I love this game. It plays well, but what sets it apart is how lovely and chill it is. So much polish has gone into the atmosphere and it pays off. There’s the obvious stuff, like a beautiful art style and a soothing soundtrack, but on top of that are so many little touches. The sun moves across the sky, setting and rising as you play, changing not just brightness but color warmth and really selling the feeling that you’ve been snowboarding all night and a new day has dawned around you. Rainstorms come and go, with no effect on gameplay but helping the setting feel more like a living world. The sounds your board makes on the snow or when grinding on bunting lines or rooftops are rich and vivid - for me, they’re borderline ASMR-inducing when I play with headphones. And I love the way that the llamas slide down slopes instead of running once the incline is steep enough.

It all comes together to create a profound sense of joyful speed and solitude, coasting down this starkly beautiful yet somehow cozy mountainside. You’re one with the wind and the snow, and all there is is the descent in front of you. Obstacles and opportunities keep coming and you need to react to them just in time - once you learn and internalize how to respond to each situation that can arise, you do so without conscious thought, faster than conscious thought, the experience flowing through you as you flow down the mountain.

Endless runners are a lot like rhythm games in this way - they create flow by presenting you with a series of rapid-fire cues you have to respond to without taking time to think. But in runners, the cues are procedurally generated, so you can’t memorize them and they can last forever. It’s like a song that never ends but keeps growing and changing. A theme with endless variation.

I’ve played a lot of endless runners that tweak the formula in various ways. But somehow, Alto’s Adventure is the one that most reminds me of where the genre got its start. It’s the one that feels the most like a pure descendant of the game that first popularized endless runners, the first one I ever played: Canabalt.

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Alto's Adventure wants me to wait

I hate how Alto’s Adventure won’t let you keep playing until it uploads your score to the leaderboards, even if the server is slow to respond.

At least, that’s what I assume is going on here. I don’t know what else it could be. I don’t have this problem on PC where I have my firewall set to block the game from connecting to the internet. On Switch, you can’t set that per-game so I have to put the Switch into airplane mode to prevent this.

I wouldn’t even notice this was happening if it didn’t block me from playing. Like how it’s easy to forget how commonplace day-one patches have become until one gets delayed, this problem in Alto’s Adventure makes me realize how bizarre it is that it’s become routine for games to connect to remote servers and upload information without any kind of permission. I never agreed to share my scores and there don’t appear to be any in-game settings to disable this behavior. I have absolutely zero interest in the leaderboards for this game, but it’s acting like there’s nothing the least bit rude, presumptuous, or problematic about it disrupting my play in order to go online and use my bandwidth to broadcast my scores without my consent.

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My Top Ten Games of 2020

Based on how much joy they brought me, not on objective greatness.

  1. Animal Crossing New Horizons
  2. Lego City Undercover
  3. One Piece: World Seeker
  4. CrossCode
  5. Mario Kart Tour
  6. Murder by Numbers
  7. Mana Spark
  8. The Alto Collection (not yet reviewed)
  9. Spyro Reignited Trilogy (not yet reviewed)
  10. Stay?

Honorable mentions to games I’m happy about but that are difficult to quantify:

  • Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning (a buggy-but-slowly-improving port of a game I loved)
  • Super Mario 3D All-Stars (I’ve only played Super Mario 64 so far)
  • Divinity: Original Sin 2 (had a blast playing this co-op with PartialCharge, but scheduling those sessions became difficult)
  • The Jackbox Party Pack games, which I’ve enjoyed a couple of with Allie (we mostly like Fibbage)
  • Sorting Therapy (more of a meditative tool than a game)
  • Colors Live (an art tool, not a game)

The game that brought me the most frustration, rage, and aggravation:

  1. CrossCode
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#video gaming #top ten

Tags: Thought