The Alto Collection Review – Endless Zen (PS4)

It may sound strange to be excited for the port of a mobile game to console, but the moment I heard The Alto Collection was coming to PS4, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the zen one-button endless runner snowboarder on a huge screen. The Alto Collection brings Alto’s Adventure and its sequel, Alto’s Odyssey, into a single package. The sidescrolling snowboarding (sandboarding in Odyssey) games are simple adventures, and on paper, it sure seems like they are a better fit for mobile. The visuals don’t require a big 65-inch 4K screen, but they sure look great once they are there. Sometimes it’s the games with the simplest visuals that can look the most stunning in big bright high resolution, and The Alto Collection is a gorgeous showcase of color and sound, both relaxing and energizing all at the same time.

Narrative is rather thin in The Alto Collection. Alto is a llama herder whose llamas have escaped and run down the mountain. Alto sets off on his snowboard to recapture them. While that’s the premise of Adventure, Odyssey has even less story, presumably just Alto getting tired of the cold weather and angry village elders that chase him down the mountain so he changes for sandier scenery. Story, however, is not what you play these games for. The endless procedurally generated mountains are just a little bit different each time, through unexpected combinations of hills to ride down, rocks to jump over, and lines of flags to grind. And to navigate it all, you only need a single button: X (Cross). Pressing X allows Alto—or whichever unlocked character you are playing as—to jump. Holding X will make you spin backwards, and landing backflips counts as a trick which grants speed boosts and brief invulnerability that can break through rocks. Later you can also unlock a Wingsuit, which can be activated with Square and adds a bit of complexity to flying down the mountain, being both difficult to use but rewarding to pull off correctly.

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The Alto Collection exudes an addictive simplicity; so simple that you can’t help but play one more run, and one more run, and perhaps just one more run. Whether chasing high scores, longest runs, or trying to complete objectives to “level up” and unlock additional characters, there’s always something more to go after on the mountain. Each tier of challenges includes three goals, often relatively simple in nature. Early objectives might ask you to reach 1,000 M in one run or land three backflips from a grind. Later ones get a bit more involved in both difficulty and random luck, like bouncing off a rock onto a grind or collecting six llamas in a single village area. Both involve some level of luck on how the randomized layout of the level presents itself, which can either make them easy to complete early in a run, or much more difficult (or even impossible, in some instances).

The Alto Collection PS4 Review – Challenge the Mountain

Every ten challenge tiers (called Levels) unlocks a new character with slightly different abilities to help with your individual play style and completing future challenges. For example, Maya can flip faster, guaranteeing you land backflips, but she has a harder time building up speed. Paz is very slow to flip, but he gains a ton of speed and momentum just by riding along the ground. Izel gets huge speed bursts from doing tricks, but can’t flip quite as fast as Maya. Choosing the right character for the challenges at hand can make a huge difference in how easy or hard they are.

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However, once you complete the three challenges for a given level, you cannot proceed to the next trio of challenges until you crash and start another run. This aspect was rather annoying as it often forced me to choose between going for long runs and high scores or chasing challenges. I understand only three challenges being available at any one time, but I wish completing a set of them opened up the next level regardless of if you crashed or not. For Trophy hunters and completionists, the types of people who will be drawn in by The Alto Collection’s high score and goal chase, quality of life features that didn’t segment the experience so much would have been welcomed. Perhaps forcing a stop between challenge tiers on mobile is ideal, but for the console release, I really just wanted to keep going on each run while being able to continue making progress.

This is especially aggravating for a Trophy in Alto’s Odyssey that requires you to complete all 180 challenges in less than 100 crashes. Given that you already have to crash 60 times to proceed through each trio of challenges to the next, this only gives you a margin of error of 40 total “mistakes.” If you surpass 100 crashes, you have to entirely reset your progress and unlocks in the game to try for it again. Trophies like this one feel tacked onto the experience without optimizing the game to actually make the chase for it a meaningful in-game goal. Stats for how many crashes you’ve had are buried in the menus. Even the leaderboards, arguably something that should be rather prominent given the game’s “high-score chase” mentality, are found in the settings menu. And the menus in the game are rather cumbersome for as simple as they are and don’t feel entirely optimized to console. UX between touch screen and controller experiences often can’t translate 1:1, and there’s certainly room for some changes to a series of menus that were originally design to be easily tapped with your finger.

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These aren’t the only optimizations the game needs either. While the experience is really smooth for the most part, there are occasional frame skips and freezes when the game seems like it’s trying to load something. Most often these happen just before encountering or escaping sleeping Elders, which will give chase down the mountain. My best guess about these freezes is that it’s the game procedurally loading up the Elder encounter or preparing to despawn him once you escape over a chasm. However, these skips and freezes have been enough to end a number of high scoring runs, either with incomplete backflips, late jumps, or smashing into rocks.

The Alto Collection PS4 Review – One More Run

And yet through these issues and lack of console optimizations, I can’t help but play one more run. I can’t help try to complete that challenge for escaping two Elders in a single run or surviving through both rain and snow or just grinding for a total of 500 M. The dynamic day/night and weather cycle means the game’s visuals and sounds are constantly changing, and despite the core “sameness” of the gameplay, it’s design is so simple I can’t help but play another.

Thematic differences aside, there are some slight differences between Adventure and Odyssey, mostly fixes that allow Odyssey to ultimately feel like the “better” game. It’s soundtrack is more of an undertone without a “beat” to it, so it doesn’t get grating. It features small changes like switching the floaty feather—which causes a number of collision issues in Adventure—with a lotus flower that just grants a shield. There are now whirlwinds that launch you up when you jump through them, and rail grinds are attached to hot air balloons that move slightly up as you grind them. At their core, however, these are more or less the same game. You aren’t going to encounter any mechanics in one that are radically different from the other.

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The Alto Collection console release is more or less a straight port of the mobile titles made to work on a big screen with a controller. That’s not a bad thing at all, as the mobile releases were deservingly award-winning games, but it’s a missed opportunity to make some slight UI and gameplay optimizations that could have really polished the experience on console. Still, The Alto Collection is deserving of your attention, a peaceful mountain adventure that’s designed to be played in short spurts, but almost impossible to put down once you get going. “Just one more run,” never looked so beautiful or felt so zen.

The Alto Collection review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PS4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.

8.0Silver Trohpy
  • Simple yet addictive gameplay begs for one more run
  • Plenty of challenges to chase
  • Gorgeous visuals on a big 4K screen
  • Misses opportunities to optimize for console release
  • Occasional stutters and skips when Elders give chase

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