Alto’s Odyssey Review

I place the first game, Alto’s Adventure, high in the echelons of great iOS games. Alto’s Odyssey builds on the simplicity of Adventure in just the right ways. While I still greatly recommend the first game, after playing all the way through Odyssey I’m starting to think you should skip it entirely.

The core difference between the games is the terrain, there are three new “zones” Dunes, Canyons, and Temples. Each have their own unique set pieces and corresponding tricks you can do in that zone. For some examples: Canyons has cliff faces you can do wall rides on, it’s really satisfying to chain these however if you’re not paying attention you can end up beginning a flip and soon crash. You can only wall ride when in the standing orientation not in the middle of a flip like the wing suit. In the Temple zone there are waterfalls who’s water runoff is similar to the ice flow feature in Adventure. Sometimes, at the end of these flows are pools which act as trampolines if you land in them with enough force. The Dunes are pretty plain but has many air balloons which have lines you can ride between them, being non-fixed points the lines oscillate, making them a little more challenging to land on. The variety of landscapes is simply a joy to endlessly ride through, where going over 20km in Adventure becomes quickly repetitive, 20k in Odyssey is a cool breeze on a hot day.

The next three paragraphs are for if you have played all the way through Adventure. There is a potential spoiler about an unlockable character’s abilities in the second paragraph.

If you have played all the way through Adventure, be prepared to do it all over again with the same characters and similar power-ups. For having completed Adventure you get nothing, I was hoping for maybe some extra currency, maybe half of the power-ups I’ve already grinded for or not having to go through roughly the first 10 levels of essentially the same challenges all over again. (Let’s face it, you won’t use anyone but Maya until you unlock the final character or a challenge requires someone else.)

In the theme with swapping old mechanics for new yet similar ones, instead of disturbing elders who then chase you, there are lemurs you startle. (I guess that cements the game’s setting in Madagascar?) The chases are shorter but more dangerous, the lemurs are a bit faster, can run on rope lines, and will jump at you even if you aren’t on the ground. However, the final character is immune to these leaping lemurs! A great addition to the game, Elder chases are the number one reason why my runs would end in Adventure and it’s a relief I don’t have to pull the same acrobatics to avoid late-game lemurs here.

There are no more llamas and I miss them. Birds of Paradise will fly with you for a minute or two and nearby collect coins, but it’s not the same as wrangling a herd after running over a horn in the first game. A radio beacon replaces the llama horn, running over the radio drops some vessels with coins and power-ups in them, if you level the beacon up twice it can be significantly lucrative.

Adventure is still a joy to play to this day, only until the final character was unlocked did Odyssey replace that for me. I expect I’ll be playing it as much in the coming years. The early drafts of this review were rough on Odyssey, perhaps it was that I could not get fully used to the new and sometimes unfair terrains, or maybe the grind of getting all my characters and power-ups back soured me, but once you get through it Odyssey becomes much more rewarding to play than Adventure. (It’s so tempting to end this review with “See you on the slopes!“ but then again I guess I just did, sorry.)

What iOS Lacks, Android’s Advantage

I’ve been using a Nexus 7 and an iPad on and off for the last two months. I was never against Android, but after using it on a tablet I’m seeing some major holes in iOS. Here are some critical things Android has and iOS totally lacks.

  • Fast typing. I have to look at the keyboard more, but in portrait mode swipe typing is the unrivaled native keyboard. In contrast the split keyboard in iOS is really nice in any orientation, and I wish that was in Android. Swipe typing is really nice because you only need one hand, any iOS keyboard always takes two hands to be effective split or not.
  • Widgets. In iOS I suffer from “What should I do next on my black rectangle?”. I somehow end up opening every app and checking the status of everything from Evernote to Wunderlist. This wastes time. Android abbreviates that process with widgets. I have a little window on any of my home screens for all the quick info I need. For example I have a Wunderlist window for everything I need to do this week and recent notes I’ve written in Evernote. iOS has something close to these widgets, but it’s hidden away in the notification center, it’s really just for stocks and weather too. When was the last time you actually opened the weather app in iOS? I never do, the “widget” in the notification center tells me what I need to know much quicker and easier. Other issues with the notification center lead to my next point.
  • A useful swipe down menu. What do you actually use the notification center in iOS for? Besides the weather, emails, and text, when was the last time you intentionally swiped down from the top of the screen to get some notifications? I practically never do. Perhaps if there was more functionality in that little menu. Let’s look at Android’s swipe down menus for a second. Yeah menus, plural, there’s more than one and does it save time. On Android tablets, swipe down on the left half of the screen and you get notifications. You can get rid of all of them with a single tap too, as opposed to several clicks of a tiny “x” button in iOS. Swipe down on the right half and you get some quick settings buttons. WHOA, I don’t even have to open the settings app to turn on Airplane mode? Turning on and off any of my antennae are aways a click away.

In short Android’s workflow is just quicker. When I use my Nexus 7 I usually manage to get some stuff out of the way work wise. I would conjecture the iPad offers me more distractions because it lacks these little bits that make everything flow together. iOS 7 is going to be announced sometime in the next six months. Based on this list I would like to request two things of Apple.

  • Widgets. How do the weather and stock apps in the notification center work? Make it so developers have access to that pipe, and I’ll intentionally swipe down much more. Badges are a short form of this already but they only tell me the quantity of work I have, not what the work is. The settings swipe-down menu in Android is nice, but too much to throw in iOS right now. The design language would have to change a bit in iOS before that could happen. The settings swipe-down fits Android’s holo, or Windows Phone’s live tiles themes much better.
  • Faster typing. Our descendants will laugh at us because we hunt and peck on our digital keyboards so much. Apple already changed the perception of a functional touch screen keyboard when they unveiled the iPhone. They should try to do it again. Fixing how the split keyboard affects content at the bottom of the page would be nice too but that’s another post.