We analyze one of the most recommended arcade games in recent months on the occasion of its arrival on Nintendo Switch. A title that makes you fall in love visually and playable.
The world of mountain bikes and mopeds in video games It seems reduced in recent times to the Trials saga, its clones and rivals (such as Pumped BMX) and the official supercross competitions, now in vogue with the Monster Energy franchise. It is a cake already distributed that few dare to approach. Hardly a handful of the brave (Descenders and Shred! 2, the last ones) who never finish bringing anything new and who, when not lost due to their desire for simulation and excessive ambition, do so by repeating the mechanics of the previous ones without too much grace or fortune (empty and guided scenes, lateral displacement, etc.). And anything farter from the reality. Those fans of Mountain biking (at the amateur or professional level) they will know that it is a sport with a lot of disciplines (cross country, freeride, enduro, dirt jumping …), as well as many sensations and mechanics that are yet to be exploited and squeezed in this sector. A good example of this is the game we are dealing with today, Lonely Mountains: Downhill.
For the first time in a long time, we are facing an arcade of the genre that not only pays attention to our expertise at the controls. It is not just a cluster of increasingly complicated tests, nor its interest lies in mastering impossible techniques and hellish circuits. Lonely Mountains: Downhill is also an experience. An experience that enters through the eyes, ears and control, and that it gives you what you ask for, whether it be challenges or moments of calm and relaxation. An unpublished proposal with a brilliant level design in which there is space for exploration and where the word freedom is written in capital letters. It honours downhill discipline, downhill cycling, and transports us fully into nature, inviting us to find our way and our own style of play. It is a small gem created under minimums that comes to compete for said cake, but in its case, instead of doing it imitating others, it does so through its uniqueness and its love for two wheels.
Another kickstarter hit
Behind Lonely Mountains: Downhill is Megagon industries, a German developer in which two people mainly work: Jan Bubenik (programmer and animator) and Daniel Helbig (level designer and environment artist). Founded in 2013, the studio has in its history two mobile puzzle games (… and then it rained and Twisted Lines), after which it embarked on this adventure, which started in Kickstarter back in October 2017. Since then, the title has had two years of development in which you have accumulated a just over 45,000 euros from more than 1,600 different sponsors, figures above the 35,000 euros that were targeted. A new example that sometimes you don’t need big budgets or equipment to do things well and breathe some oxygen and fresh air into a genre.
At first, the game proposal is very simple. We start at the top of a mountain and we have to descend to the campsite on its lap. In other words, go from point A to point B avoiding slopes, jumps and obstacles. The controls are also very simple and easy to learn. We can accelerate with one trigger, brake with the other and sprint with a third button. The rest is a matter of managing the direction, learning to drift and knowing when to let go of inertia. However, and based on these concepts that are common territory in this type of games, Lonely Mountains: Downhill manages to stand out and offer something different, especially thanks to its settings. Because we are not facing a lateral displacement game, nor closed circuits. This time we are talking about a game in three dimensions and with an isometric camera that allows us to choose which paths we take to descend among the dozens of them that are available to us, to the point of allowing us to create our own route.
A fantastic level design
The first time we play each level we are likely to follow the marked paths, those that are more worn, but we will soon realize that the real fun is discovering shortcuts, try impossible routes, and explore endless alternative trails around us. Some will be faster, others safer and there will be those that only serve as a hiding place for rest areas where we can get off the bike and contemplate the landscape. We have been lost more than once. Each descent seems unique and personal, and the feeling of improvising with total freedom is constant, just as it happens in real life when we get on a mountain bike. There are no signs or signals, nor barriers that delimit the path or spectators behind a fence. We’re just us, our bike and nature, surrounded by the solitary and steep peaks of different mountain ranges. An approach to the genre as unusual as it is successful. An authentic adventure.
From there you can imagine. There are 4 mountain groups to descend from, with 4 descents each (16 tracks in total) and their routes are getting longer and more difficult. Also, each track has its own challenges and challenges. What if you go down before X time, what if you don’t have more than X collisions along the way, combinations of both requirements and even a free mode that eliminates all control points and he proposes us to do each descent with the pull, without the possibility of falling (unless we want to start from the beginning). As we pass these tests we will unlock new bikes and cosmetic items with which to customize these and at the same time edit our character (at a very basic level, yes). Some bikes even have their own challenges and have slight playable changes. Some changes that while seeming subtle, seem key in the most difficult missions. Thus, we find bikes that allow longer falls in exchange for less acceleration and speed, for others that although they are faster they have a difficult handling and little suspension. There is 6 different mountain bikes and more than 150 challenges, for the nearly 75 designs and unlockable sets. If we overcome most of the challenges of a level we will unlock that same journey in your night mode, changing visibility and fauna completely (and therefore, almost the experience).
We want a sequel
Without coming across as short, it is clear that Lonely Mountains: Downhill could be a lot more generous when it comes to content. Overcome all tracks the first time it can take us about 3 hours and the rest of the duration depends on our eagerness to complete and how eager we are to overcome all the challenges. As usual in the genre, thanks to its gameplay (intuitive and highly polished), its respawn system (which will make us reappear immediately every time we fall) and its more complicated challenges (which at times require a surgical precision), the result is tremendously addictive And that first number will most likely shoot up and go away until 10-15 hours with ease. We also have to have very complete online markers, which although they do not have ghosts, allow us to filter times for each mountain, route and control point, or by month, week and day if we do it by dates. But what was said, without ending up looking short, could have even more content (Some stations and biomes are missing, more bikes, more variety in the challenges and, why not, cooperative or online modes). We are aware of the developer behind and the budget, and we repeat that in general, the result is more than remarkable, but there is room for manoeuvre to get a saga out of here and launch a second instalment even more ambitious and complete, which we would love. The authors themselves shared in their kickstarter several ideas that they would have carried out to raise some more money, such as the presence of wild animals and a new snowy mountain with its own tracks (although the latter seems to be coming via DLC).
The same thing happens in the playable section. Achieving the best times and overcoming the most difficult challenges requires knowing each track by heart, knowing all its secret paths and putting into practice some drift and landing techniques that require a lot of practice, patience and skill. The developer has filed and polished the gameplay as much as possible. The result is bombproof, with the exception of the odd trick of the camera. But even with all that, while being outstanding at the controls and being tremendously polished, Lonely Mountains: Downhill could have even more evolution and depth if it included mechanics related to, for example, shift the weight on the bike or with doing manoeuvres in the air. Who knows, maybe you can even let us add our own markers and checkpoints to save and mark our favourite routes. It is clear that it is not a Trials nor does it intend it, and it is above the average in everything it raises, but at times it has seemed to us that could raise something else. Sometimes we have felt that the differences between bikes do not matter much, nor do we learn which one is best for each terrain, and the difficulty of certain tests is more a matter of memorizing the correct path than technique and skill. If we had had to pay attention to more mechanics, perhaps it would not have been so. In any case, its developers already made it clear on the kickstarter page, “It is an arcade experience, not a simulation, our vision of gameplay consisted of creating a fun, non-realistic game” In that sense, objective accomplished. The title is entertaining, original, fun and very addictive.
A crush at first sight
Visually, Lonely Mountains: Downhill is one of those immediate crushes, love at first sight. Made with the Unity graphics engine, the game is all colours and polygons. An explosion of cartoon-like stimuli whose mountains, inspired by real peaks, have been crafted and manage to come to life thanks to the abundant presence of fauna and flora. But it is not only showy but also varied. There is day and night levels, they are set in spring and autumn, in forests and deserts, between waterfalls, rivers and sandstorms. We also have some cute light effects and particles like the ones our bike gives off when braking and skidding on the mud. Water, wind … Even the animations, simple as they are, have been based on real athletes, like Danny MacAskill or Kenny Belaey. We have to recognize some very very specific jerks, but in general lines, the title performs well and gives off care and care.
The whole game goes in the same line: simplicity. Lonely Mountains: Downhill has among its main objectives to be nice and simple, relaxing. In the graphic and playable it is already intuited, but if this decision is evident in a section, that is the sound. There is not a single melody or song. The title only has very careful ambient sound capable of transporting us to nature if we close our eyes. The wind, the flapping of bird wings, the croaking of frogs and the song of cicadas, the chains of the bike … We can identify many effects and nuances. A decision is of the author very consistent with the rest of the set that shows how clear its developers had the sensations and emotions they wanted to evoke, and which go very consistent with the discipline of mountain biking and the experience and liturgy that surrounds this sport, pure environment. Sometimes, simply, less is more. We are tired of many of the genre’s proposals filling their soundtrack with low-budget themes, often few and repetitive, exhausting, that force us to put our own playlist on while we play. This time it is clear that it is not always necessary and that it is worth more chase a good idea or an emotion, and row with all the sections of the game in the same line.
Although it has been developed with very few resources and minimal equipment, Lonely Mountains: Downhill deserves the attention and the spotlights of the big stages. It is a game that exudes freshness and approaches the world of mountain bikes in a radically different way from what the genre had accustomed us to. Here it is not all technique and skill, that too, but words like exploration and freedom seem key in the experience. Its level design allows us to discover and choose between dozens of different paths, which make each descent something unique and very special. It is a title that is very much enjoyed both “tranquis”, passing the levels without more and listening to a podcast in the background, as in a competitive plan, fighting against the established times and the maximum number of falls. All with simple, bomb-proof gameplay capable of hooking us for hours. As if that were not enough, the proposal enters the eyes with an explosion of colours and landscapes much more cared for than they might seem at first glance, and with a very elegant sound design that rows in favour of the whole set. There are very few drawbacks that can be put to Lonely Mountains: Downhill beyond that there is still some margin for future deliveries with more content and depth. Hopefully, they will be realized someday.
- Visually, the game is love at first sight, and in sound, it is as elegant as it is intelligent.
- The slopes, the feeling of freedom they offer and the exploration of all their routes.
- It is the experience that you choose. It can be enjoyable, relaxing and calm, or addictive, frantic and challenging.
- Simple and well-polished gameplay.
- A tad more playable depth wouldn’t hurt.
- Without looking short, you could be more generous (and varied) in content.
Game with a remarkable finish that we will enjoy and remember. A good purchase, highly recommended for lovers of the genre. It is well cared for at all levels.