'Tis the season for festive, holiday-themed casual games! Sure as snowfall, Nitrome brings us another seasonal, wintry browser offering. Avalanche casts the player as a sled-bound penguin who is just trying to get home to his brood in the face of a relentlessly adversarial natural disaster. A running game reminiscent of Dino Run and Canabalt, Avalanche will test your agility and reaction as you pilot your little Antarctic hero to safety.
The [right] arrow key propels your penguin forward, while [left] slows him down. The titular avalanche is in constant pursuit from the left side of the screen, and you can only move away from it, for it is not your friend. You can jump with the [up] arrow, and holding or double-tapping [up] will execute a tricky double-jump. Use these tools to avoid obstacles, exploit useful features like rocket sleds and ski lifts, and navigate treacherous terrain as you escape the great white onslaught.
Analysis: Leave it to Nitrome to find the cute and cuddly side of ecological catastrophe. The comparisons between Dino Run and Canabalt are obvious to those who have played them, but those games manage to inspire an amount of panicky dread. Avalanche distinguishes itself with adorable little cartoony graphical details in the signature Nitrome style, from the frightful, eye-popping look on the penguin's face when the avalanche gets too close, to the expressions on your fellow fauna's faces as they roll haplessly by in the snowballs that entrapped them, to the cheerful aspect of your welcoming penguin family morphing into alarm as snowy doom engulfs them at the end of the level. It's less apocalyptic and more like a slightly twisted Saturday morning cartoon, and Nitrome deserves kudos for taking an existing formula and giving it a personal twist.
While cute, Avalanche still manages to create a sense of tension as you race away from your frozen foe. The level design earns most of the credit for this. I especially like the levels that are designed so that the avalanche roars right behind you just before an opportunity for escape presents itself. Several levels rely on a degree of timing and anticipation that benefits from a certain amount of course memorization and repeated plays through. These levels in particular would benefit from a checkpoint system, a feature which Avalanche sadly lacks.
Dave Cowen continues to impress with his soundtrack work at Nitrome. His music for Avalanche perfectly fits the mood of the game: tense and energetic but cute, with a glistening icy sheen. Sound effects are somewhat less impressive; most are adequate, but the sound your penguin makes when he double-jumps is particularly grating.
Avalanche also features a Survival mode, in which the setting is an infinite, randomly generated mountain course, as opposed to the pregenerated levels of Adventure mode. Like Canabalt, the goal here is to abjure your inevitable doom for as long as possible. I found the generated elements to be a little repetitive, and not as seamless as those found in Dino Run or Canabalt. Still, it offers a nice break from the level-based play of Adventure mode and adds to the replay value of the game.
Avalanche is a great example of Nitrome's telltale style and gameplay. It captures many of the features that made Dino Run and Canabalt great and presents them in its own unique way. It is a fine example in company with its worthy forebears.