The first thing I noticed as I flew through Laya’s Horizon‘s surprisingly vast world is the mobile game’s visceral sense of speed.
Whether I was gliding over mountains or cutting it close as I skimmed the tops of buildings, generating ample yellow ‘Sparks’ thanks to my dangerous flying, it’s been years since I’ve played a game that feels this fast on any platform, let alone mobile. Part of this stems from Laya’s Horizon‘s unique control scheme and how well it works on a smartphone’s touch screen, a rarity in the mobile gaming space.
In Laya’s Horizon, down and up are inverted, and pulling Laya to the left or right is controlled by moving one thumb up and the other down, and in reverse. This allows for the subtle adjustments required to navigate around objects at a breakneck pace. There are also unique gestures for stopping and speed boosts that add layers to Laya’s Horizon‘s gameplay. While I admittedly found this system confusing and frustrating at first — particularly the up/down inversion — within 10 minutes, the control scheme clicked and became one of the most natural I’ve experienced.
“One of the one things I’m interested in as a game designer are controls that are what I call kinesthetic — they feel like something. It feels like even though you’re just moving your thumbs, there’s a brain-body connection. And that could be a simple thing like in Super Mario games when you hold the button for longer to keep your jump higher — the longer you hold the button in Mario, the higher you jump, and if you let go, he falls faster,” said Jason Medeiros, the game’s creative director and the head of design and engineering at Toronto-based Snowman, during a recent interview with MobileSyrup.
Compared to Snowman’s other titles, Laya’s Horizon is both very different and, in some ways, strikingly similar. It’s not a pixelated 2D platformer like Lucky Luna, a puzzle game like Where Cards Fall or even an endless runner like the games the developer is best known for, Alto’s Odyssey and Alto’s Adventure. Instead, it’s an ambitious 3D wingsuit game that tasks players with flying through various diverse biomes and completing straightforward goals like reaching a specific distance, diving under bridges and navigating through wind tunnels. During each run, you’ll learn a little more about the game’s world, help out a character, and, hopefully, become slightly more in tune with controlling Laya.
If this sounds somewhat similar to the Alto series, you’re on the right track. After spending several hours with the game, it’s difficult not to notice the similarities between Laya’s Horizon‘s list of tasks, movement, and stunning but simplistic visuals, and Alto’s Adventure and Odyssey. That said, Ryan Cash, Snowman’s co-founder and CEO, says this mostly comes down to the fact that Snowman’s in-house developed games often emphasize movement and offer players a calming experience.
“I think you’ll see that DNA in a lot of the stuff we do. It’s about the elegance of motion, getting into a flow and a rhythm… We’ve heard a lot of feedback from people who have used Alto as a bit of like a meditation tool. So you can get lost in the rhythm of what you’re doing, and maybe stop thinking about things for a while, but there’s just enough there to keep you busy,” said Cash.
What Cash describes is precisely what I’ve used Alto’s Adventure, and eventually Odyssey, for over the past several years. Sometimes I want to shut my brain off but still be doing something fun that doesn’t require that much thought. Given how my two-hour wait for a recent flight back to Toronto from New York felt like 10 minutes while playing Laya’s Horizon, Snowman seems to have once again nailed that calming, physics-based formula with its latest title.
This sense of zen is amplified by Laya’s Horizon‘s calming, original soundtrack that shifts based on your in-game actions in a unique way.
“The sound actually adapts to what you’re doing in terms of speed, how close you are to the ground and how far you are from the ground…” said Owais Akhtar, the lead producer on Laya’s Horizon and a producer at Snowman.
“Maybe you’re doing a mission in a biome, and you’re going really close to the ground — you’ll have a more exciting experience sonically. So not only is every flight different visually and gameplay-wise, it’s also a different sonic atmosphere depending on the time of day [in the game.]”
While it might not seem like it at first, the soundtrack kicking its tempo up a few notches or intensifying under certain circumstances helps immerse the player in Laya’s world and lock the player into its zen-like experience.
I’ve only just scratched the surface of Laya’s Horizon and still have a long way to go given I’m only at level 10, but I’m already hooked on its progression system.
It offers players various ‘Capes’ that change Laya’s handling in subtle ways, including one that slows fall speed (this comes in handy when you need to move precisely), and ‘Trinkets’ like the ‘Turtle Shell,’ which prevents ‘Sparks’ from being lost when you inevitably miss that turn and crash. The team at Snowman told me that as I continue to move through the game, I’ll unlock more items that subtly shift the way Laya flies through the air in her wingsuit.
As far as mobile titles go, Laya’s Horizon is one of the best I’ve played in recent memory. It features all the key ingredients that make games work on the platform, including a unique control scheme and a deceptively simple pick-up-and-play mentality.
Laya’s Horizon launches on iOS and Android simultaneously through Nextflix’s gaming platform on May 2nd. As long as you’re already a Netflix subscriber, the game is free.