Compared to their 3D big budget counterparts games, indie titles like the gorgeous iOS puzzler, Monument Valley, the atmospheric dungeon explorer Below, and the mystical woodland side scroller, The Deer God can appear regressive in an era where fully immersive “open world” design rules.
Yet sprite-based 2D and quasi-3D games have earned a devoted fan base for their ability to create and communicate imaginative worlds using only minimal 2D forms, painting between the lines with limited color palettes and relying upon the most primitive of geometric shapes – a visual haven not only beloved by retro and casual gamers, but also cited by designers as entertainingly graphical examples of subtraction and self-imposed limitations as a tool rather than a hindrance. At their best, they evoke the graphic design once used to promote United States National Parks, and is still used today by designers to endorse musical acts in poster format.
The latest game to adopt this simplified aesthetic is Alto’s Adventure, a physic-based snowboarding game with a 2.5-dimensional parallax, never-ending landscape playing field for players to speed down and across, traverse chasms with the grace of a foolhardy X-Games athlete, and piece together combinations of tricks to their heart’s content. While certainly an exercise of casual gaming fun, Alto’s Adventure also stands out for its harmonious color palette, pared down to a handful of hues to communicate mood, weather, and landscape beautifully.
Artist Harry Nesbitt learned to use game development software Unity3D over the span of 2 years specifically to create Alto’s Adventure world for game developer Snowman, crafting eye-pleasing details which result in the title’s ability to create the soothing sensation of carving down a hill and landing a perfect jump while snowboarding. All this is accomplished with the most primitive of tiny sprite-based illustrations representing rider, architecture, and woodland creatures.
Even if gaming isn’t your thing, this snowboarding game can be appreciated solely for its graphic design in motion alone, a reminder the best designs can be fairly simple.