When you think of extreme sports, chances are you’ll picture loud rock music, cans of Monster Energy, flame cannons, Jackass and Tony Hawks. What probably doesn’t immediately spring to mind is the solitude and calm of Lonely Mountains: Downhill.
You’re on a serene mountain with nothing but babbling streams and birdsong to keep you company on a mountain bike track that takes you down this beautiful hillside spot. That’s the basic premise of Lonely Mountains: Downhill, a game which swaps the extreme in mountain biking for serene and relaxing.
It’s an unusual concept, but it’s one that works incredibly well. Viewed from above (almost as if you’re up in a helicopter or watching a drone’s video feed) you must guide your rider down the mountain, hitting checkpoints on the way down as you speed closer and closer to the finish.
Minimalism is a core principle of Lonely Mountains: Downhill’s game design. Everything from the way the game controls to its presentation are all designed with usability and cohesion in mind. There are only four commands which control – acceleration, braking, direction and boost – while the UI is so decluttered that your runtime is the only snippet of information that’s shown with any consistency. This commitment to minimalism extends to the chunky polygonal art style and can even be seen in the lack of soundtrack, a decision I was initially disappointed by. Once you get to grips with the game though, it makes a lot of sense, providing players with the raw and unfiltered experience of biking down a mountain.
Time is key motivator in Lonely Mountains. You can focus on beating your own time, or see how you compare to people around the world on the global leaderboards. This is unfortunately the closest the game gets to multiplayer experience, which is a shame as I can picture biking down a mountain with a few different friends being quite fun, but the desire to climb the leaderboard is a great draw to try and try again. Additional objectives such as finishing a track in a certain time or finishing without bailing too many times add variety and replayability to the tracks.
What makes Lonely Mountains: Downhill so special is the depth found in each one of its mountains. At first sight, each course has a clear path to follow and you are often far too intimidated to consider straying. On repeat visits and with more confidence, you start to notice riskier alternative routes. A cliff face might now look a little less treacherous, providing you with the perfect opportunity to shave seconds of your total time. The depth to each level is genuinely staggering, as the developers have clearly created each level with exploration and experimentation in mind.
Experimentation pays off, with the previously mentioned objectives providing players with bike parts and other visual extras. The bike parts unlock new bikes, which have different abilities. One model will be geared towards providing better suspension, while another might favour speed. This is an excellent way of empowering players to pick a bike that fits those particular style of playing. It also provides players with the motivation to replay levels in order to beat those objectives.
All of it feels perfectly suited for the Nintendo Switch, for which the game was recently released. The visual style is clean and clear on the handheld’s screen, while the gameplay is perfect for dropping in for one or two quick attempts at a course, or a longer session to charge up the leaderboards.