May 20, 2020
  • Release Date (NA): May 7, 2020
  • Release Date (EU): May 7, 2020
  • Publisher: Thunderful
  • Developer: Megagon Industries
  • Genres: Arcade, Racing
  • ESRB Rating: Everyone 10 and up
  • PEGI Rating: Seven years and older
  • Also For: PlayStation 4
  • Single player
    Local Multiplayer
    Online Multiplayer
    Co-operative
Downhill Mountain biking is not a genre synonymous with being trendy or fun, so will this game prove to be as easy as falling off the proverbial?
Ben Sellwood

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As a kid, I had a BMX. I grew up doing the things kids all typically do, like building jumps and bombing down dirt tracks, but eventually, I found my discipline in flatland BMX. It's just you and your undersized bike with its tiny chainring, you learn its nuances, you know its weight and speed, and you know how to push it and manipulate it for maximum impact. You don't run any breaks at all, it's lighter and faster this way; and your eventual mastery assumes complete control because it's you who makes every motion; action and reaction. Lonely Mountains: Downhill is a very unassuming looking title, which I thought wouldn't offer many challenges and would be a 5-minute play kind of thing. How wrong I was! The second you get in-game you realise that it is simplified to the max, but perfectionist to the n'th degree. Lonely Mountain starts on the premise of hurtling downhill through a series of checkpoints as fast as possible to achieve the lowest times per section and thusly the highest rank possible online. It seems so simple, and really it is, but there is an element of skill to this title, an air of finesse and knowledge required to succeed at this game and blast through the courses to the finish line. This looks like my kind of jam!

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Using ZR to accelerate and ZL to break, you use the A button for a burst of speed and the left joy-stick to steer your nameless, faceless rider to the goal. Initially, you have to choose your steering method and I chose screen-based steering so that pushing up would point my character up, and pushing left or right would twist them accordingly. I tested out the left-right steering method, and honestly, it was carnage. I could not get used to the feel of it; and it kind of reminded me of the weird twisty Micro Machines controller scheme back on the Mega Drive all those years ago. Once acclimatised to the controls you can select a bicycle and a rider, and customise them to your liking within a choice range of body types, colour schemes, skin tones, and accessories. Later on, you can unlock new suits, new bikes and new upgrades too!

Each mountain trail has multiple routes for you to cycle. The path less traveled is often the quickest, and it goes without saying that it's also the most dangerous. It's up to you then to discern the quickest and least perilous route to take, and all the way you can adjust your ideas and counter-act any turbulence you may meet on the way down. You have to tactfully slide and skid around corners, as you gather and attempt to control your momentum, you have to slow right down and balance across narrow rock formations and tight ravines, build speed and jump over gorges and valleys, and avoid obstacles such as trees and boulders at every turn. The freedom you are given is a breath of fresh air, as you explore the unique terrains. But you have to be mindful of the realistic physics at play and remember that gravity is not your friend when audaciously attempting to descend treacherous tracks.

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The unspoiled landscapes that are presented to you are truly a thing of polygonal beauty. I love the aesthetic of the game, it's not overdone nor does it feel lazily made; it's just right. A simple background for you to not get too distracted by as you race through it. The first trails you are given are springtime mountains with lush green pine trees, healthy butterfly-rich fresh grassy banks, small babbling lakes and rocky pathways. Later on, you fly down densely wooded autumnal canyons with picturesque wooden lodges tucked away, snowy peaks, and treacherous boulder laden abysses. You can travel at your leisure if you like, follow the pathways and make it through each checkpoint to the bottom in one piece. Or, if your anything like me, you gun it and realise that your rider can be smashed and crashed into the hilly rock formations to comedic effect in a cloud of pixelated blood. All this accompanied with a horrendous smashing sound of bones and bike hitting the dirt with a small scream or yelp thrown in to make you wince and flinch even more.

The best course of action is, of course, to take your time, learn the trails, and then speed up once you're confident. Yet with such a range of unlockables available depending on your abilities, I always feel that its best to go for it, because if you're not first, you're last. My technique comes from years of being overly cautious and now I believe that if you attack anything with gusto you can at very least complete the task ahead of you competently, and my goodness; it works for me. Holding the ZR trigger throughout and only using the brake to prevent a fatality at the last moment has become my default setting, boosting my speed on flats or straights with a brisk hammering of the A button. I get a small endorphin rush every time I see "Personal Best" pop up at the checkpoints, and it drives me to do better. The checkpoints are spaced out evenly through the course, but the timing method is quite clever. The time starts the second you start peddling, and the checkpoint captures your time from point A to point B. If you crash you do not incur a time penalty, just an increment in the number of crashes, and you get placed back at point A and the timer starts again. This means that you can effectively replay the checkpoint 20 or 30 times in a row and only your full run from A to B without a crash is logged. Hitting the Y button actually ejects your rider meaning you can bail out and try again from the start. The only issue with incremental death tally is that some challenges rely on you getting from the top of the mountain to the end within a set number of crashes. It's tough on your trigger fingers but it's entirely addictive to play!

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This game looks and feels like a mobile phone game, but thanks to the shoulder buttons and joysticks it's clearly more perfectly at home on the Nintendo Switch than on a phone. The physics engine used gives you a variable amount of leeway in terms of ability to land your jumps or style out mishaps by the skin of your teeth. The key to this is to twist your bike into the direction you're moving, pull back slightly, and hold that break to slow your descent when your rear tyre touches the ground. As a result of understanding this, I have managed to pull off some unruly drop-offs that even I didn't think was possible to survive within this simulation. But doing so means you can cut valuable seconds off each checkpoint. The feeling of knowing the stages, knowing the quickest course, and putting it all together into one perfect run is nothing short of exhilarating. However, messing up one section can mean you have to purposefully sabotage your run, by ejecting with Y, to start again for it to not count against you.

Of note, this title tracks your statistics extremely well. You can monitor quite literally every aspect of your playtime and play style from your total playtime through the extras unlocked to any resting places you may have found. Though you are encouraged to hit it hard and get the best times, you also have the option to take it easy and go for a sedate ride to discover beauty spots. What's more, it doesn't matter which way you play, its all completely safe indoor fun!

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Lonely Mountains: Downhill is simply a heck of a lot of fun. It doesn't force you to do anything whilst allowing you to be exploitative, and though speed and aggression are encouraged it also nurtures an unhurried and relaxed playstyle if you so wish. The organic nature-scapes and soothing sounds of the wild that accompany your thrill-rides are so engrossing, it's extreme sports adventuring escapism at its finest. Sure the camera angles can be a little awkward at times, and it's frustrating as all hell when you cannot judge the height or width of a surface sometimes, but trial and error (or downright cat-like reflexes) will see you through. I cannot express just how good this game actually is, but I can highly recommend you give it a second look if you like casual racing, extreme sports or explorative gameplay. Though I feel that £17.99 is a little highly priced for what it is, you have to see that there is plenty to unlock, heaps to see and a leaderboard to crack open and brag against. I hope the developers build on this game and flesh it out a little more to give us a little more bang for our buck, then it would be a no-brainer of a purchase.

Verdict
What We Liked . . . A clean art style, and well-observed range of landscapes The simple control scheme is easy to pick up The addictive gameplay is impossible to put down Online leaderboards give you the impetus to win What We Didn't Like . . . Camera angles can be a little awkward at times No tricks to pull or multiplayer or ghosts to compete against The price is a little steep for a casual game
8 Presentation
With a clean art style and minimalist graphics, more than enough detail is conveyed to let you know what is going on even at high speed. The less is more mentality keeps your focus on the action and not on the surroundings which is ideal for this type of game.
8 Gameplay
Hugely enjoyable even through the repetitive nature of a racer; Lonely Mountain is a pleasure to play and I found it extremely addictive. The thrill of drifting around corners perilously close to the edge and somehow making it is absolutely captivating.
8 Lasting Appeal
LMD has plenty of unlockables from skins, bikes, new trails and routes to find. The challenges also give you entertaining tasks to complete which kept me entertained for a long time. With the addition of leaderboards, you also have the entire world to compete against, but I can't help but feel like ghosts could have made it even more competitive and compelling.
8
out of 10
Overall (not an average)
I didn't think I would spend so long playing this game, and yet I find myself slinking off to a quiet room to get stuck back in and unlock more goodies. The leaderboard also feeds my compulsion to rise through the ranks; and I can't wait for my friends to get this game and try to give me a run for my money.
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