Remember the thrill of racing down the mountain on a sled in the snow? With the wind in my face and that exhilarating adrenaline rushing through my veins, I used to wonder what it would be like if I was being chased by a giant polar bear or outrunning a huge Avalanche of snow. Those feelings all came back to me when I played the addicting and thrilling web game Avalanche by Nitrome.

In Avalanche you play as a fearless little penguin who loves to snap up fish (for extra points) and zip down the mountain, outrunning a huge onslaught of snow from the left side of the screen. You control your penguin with the right, up and left arrow keys (no mouse). Pressing the ‘right arrow key’ moves your penguin faster (even when he is facing up hill), ‘left arrow’ slows him down and ‘up’ makes him jump. I found very little use of the “slow down” button since this is essentially a racing game, although there are a few times when you need to slow your penguin to be able to capture an item to help you keep going.

With a giant wall of snow looming behind you (the Avalanche) from the left side of the screen, you don’t have much time for decisions so you’ll end up playing levels over several times before you discover all of the secrets to pass the stage. This gets a bit tiresome after awhile because there are very few points of reference along the way. You will undoubtedly end up falling into the endless abyss as you miss a jump or somehow fail to cross a ravine. Having checkpoints or some kind of marker would have been a significant improvement and would have saved me a significant amount of time. I admit this might have been a purposeful design decision because one of the ways that web games make money is by the amount of time people spend playing them. Requiring the player to replay levels because it is hard to anticipate when to perform certain actions that avoid death is one way to get players to log hours of playing time zipping their penguins across the snow.

Speaking of characters, the little penguin and his friends are endearing and adorable. The little animations of birds fluttering away as you zoom right by are festive and fun. The sound definitely adds to the experience. The music strikes that delicate balance between providing tension (because of the impending doom) and adding to the flat out ‘joyride’ feel of continuously moving down a wall of snow and ice.

For a web game there is a considerable amount of playtime. Adventure mode is comprised of 15 levels which progressively get longer and longer. Survival mode is actually my favorite. You simply attempt to stay alive as long as you possibly can, and the game is tuned in such a way that you naturally survive a little bit longer with each successive turn, which keeps you trying just one more time to see if you can beat your previous score. Another small gripe is that I wish I could have seen my score (in Survival mode) while the game was in progress, rather than only after the character died. This provides a sort of anti-climactic moment when you realize you passed your previous high score, when it would have been more satisfying to know the instant you succeeded during gameplay.

Avalanche packs a lot of game into a small package with cute characters, finely tuned levels, mood-enhancing music and a wall of fun. I enjoyed vicariously reliving some of my childhood experiences of zipping down the mountain on a sled or an inner tube, and I greatly appreciate not having to suffer any of the scrapes and bruises!