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My favorite game this year just got a major update

A recent update to Ski Safari makes my favorite game for 2012 even better.

Ski Safari
The original let you ride a yeti down a mountain at top speed. What's not to like? Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Ski Safari (99 cents) challenges you to swoosh down a powdery mountain to avoid an avalanche, with animal friends and other vehicles along the way to help you with your escape. This distance game quickly became my go-to time-waster on both my iPhone and iPad, so when an update was announced last week, you can bet I was at the App Store immediately. The update adds a new mountain you can choose for your run, a new animal to help you along your way, and added achievements to keep you coming back for more.

Deviant Development didn't stray too far from the popular original and the controls remain the same: simply touch the screen to jump and touch-and-hold to do a back flip -- but it's still your timing that makes the difference in how far you'll get. The cartoonlike graphics make the game cute and easy on the eyes, and the update adds the all-new mountain to the mix, but you'll have a hard time noticing as you get farther into your run and need to be perfect in your execution.

The original story for Ski Safari is simple: an avalanche is coming and our hero is rousted from bed in his tiny cabin to start his journey skiing down an endless mountain. But with the latest update to Ski Safari, the folks at Defiant Development have added Howling Hills, a mountain with an entirely different theme, unique obstacles, and even a new animal to ride. You'll still know how far you've gone by passing distance signs along the way and you'll still need to avoid small rocks, large boulders, cabins, and other obstacles designed to let the avalanche catch up with you. But now you'll have more opportunities to stay alive with both a new animal and other fun perks.

Ski Safari
Howling Hills has a kind of sunset theme, but don't let the warm tones fool you -- the obstacles are cold and treacherous. At least you'll have a wolf. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Just like the earlier version, you'll still have the help of the animals that live on the mountain, with some new additions add to the fun. You'll still have penguins, yetis, eagles, and snowmobiles, but on Howling Hills you'll be able to ride a wolf. Unlike the yeti, the wolf doesn't allow you to slide, but he's a much faster runner, and you'll be able to taxi up to two penguins for more protection (compared with one on the yeti).

Passengers are important because whether on a yeti, wolf, or snowmobile, they serve a very important purpose. When you crash while riders are onboard, you'll lose the rider, but you'll continue to ride the yeti. Same with the snowmobile and wolf; having passengers serves as a shield that lets you keep your momentum and your score multiplier.

The achievement system was very well thought out in the earlier version of the game and you'll now have several more challenges with the new update. You'll be challenged to do things such as ride five penguins in a row or cloud-surf 10 times. Once completed, these challenges give you stars that unlock higher levels. The best thing about this system is you'll unlock levels that let you start from your cabin with one of the animals, giving you an early advantage. In the update to Ski Safari, this is even more important because you'll now be able to choose which animal you'll start with (from the ones you've earned so far).

Ski Safari
Once you earn some coins, you'll be able to buy outfits, gizmos, and power-ups. I recommend the Rocket. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

To round out this major update, Ski Safari finally has a place to spend those coins you've been collecting all this time. Formerly mostly for show (and points), you'll now be able to buy new characters and outfits in the store, and also purchase gizmos (like a second chance jet pack), and power-ups (such as rockets, that add launchpads and a very fast ride down the mountain for a limited time). Fortunately, any money you've collected so far in the original game can be used in the shop, so people who have already played the game will probably be able to make purchases immediately.

In the end, the original Ski Safari was already an excellent time-waster that I would recommend wholeheartedly, but this update and the new features have definitely breathed new life into the game. Anyone who wants to try a very well-made escape game should download the latest version of Ski Safari.