After Trials Rising last year, I thought I was done with the physics-based/trial and error style of racing, the genre (or at least the series) having lost that special something that made it so damn addictive. It felt like this type of game had run its course. I was ready to move on… that is until Lonely Mountains: Downhill landed on my lap, a game that has seen me crashing, tumbling and wrecking for weeks now with no signs of wanting to stop.
Lonely Mountains: Downhill is a biking game where you’re tasked with simply making it down a mountain trail as fast and as accident free as possible. The game is played from an isometric-like view with the camera moving during opportune moments offering a more scenic view of your surroundings.
Controlling the biker feels strange at first not due to its complexity – in fact everything is relatively simple with the control stick steering and buttons handling accelerate, brake and sprint. No tricks and no leaning here, rather the game is focused on your ability to read the terrain and guide yourself safely around. Instead the initial difficulties stem from the camera angle at which you’re viewing the action, something that definitely taking some getting used to.
Lonely Mountains: Downhill sees you racing down four different mountains each with four trails apiece to master. Every time you tackle a new trail, your only goal is to simply reach the finish line, times and challenges removed entirely from the equation. This is where the game is at its most relaxing offering you a chance to get acquainted with your new environment at your own pace and the many hazards and shortcuts it holds. The fact the game features no actual music instead relying on the sounds of nature to accompany your riding may sound disappointing but I found it lent itself well to the solitariness of the game. It helps make it feel like it really is just you versus the mountain. Once you’ve completed the initial run you’ll then take on a series of increasingly tougher challenges based on time and number of crashes. Succeed with these and you’ll unlock more challenges, bike pieces, new colour schemes for your bike and rider, new trails and even the ability to ride at night.
The fact much of the game is locked behind rather challenging tasks felt limiting to me at first, the game essentially forcing me to replay trails over and over. After a while though it all started to click. Since I was so focused on one trail at a time it meant I was able to learn their layout more easily. I knew when each and every turn would be coming up or if a jump was doable or which route would prove fastest essentially leading to my times and number of crashes continuing to drop. Furthermore thanks to how quick the game is to put you back on the track should you fail, rarely (if ever) does frustration set in. Checkpoints never feel too far apart. To be honest you’re never given enough time to dwell since you’re right back in the action ready to (hopefully) learn from your last mistake. To put it simply by the time I’d finished with a trail, I felt like an expert. Had the game unlocked everything from the start I’d have likely been jumping between mountains taking less time to analyse each one on its own.
The one thing I do wish was streamlined however was the way you go about unlocking new bikes. Obtaining each of the five extra rides is done by earning enough bike parts, these only awarded by completing challenges. The process proves a little too long especially since each bike has differing stats that can alter the way you approach a trail. Some are built for speed while others can take larger drops without forcing you to bail. In a game so focused on experimenting how you tackle a mountain; it feels like this process of earning new bikes goes against that.
The game has a rather striking polygonal look about it that combined with the varying environments that include the likes of dusty looking deserts and forests awash with autumn browns, reds and yellows create a truly beautiful and unique world. Compared against the other PC and console versions, the game stumbles a little in terms of lighting and a few other areas but overall it doesn’t detract from the experience. Most importantly the game runs smooth both docked and in handheld.
Lonely Mountains: Downhill is one of those prime examples of a game so simple in its concept but executed so well. There’s a constant force pulling you back in for one more death-defying ride that fans of the Trials series will be no stranger to. Unlike Ubisoft’s loud and goofy rider though, Lonely Mountains: Downhill is a beautiful experience – often times tranquil – that proved an obsession of mine for weeks, the call of the mountain too strong to drag myself away.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Thunderful