I am quite certain that Lonely Mountains: Downhill would have been one of my games of the year for 2019 had I played it properly on the Xbox One. But I knew a Switch port was coming and decided to wait for that.
Boy, was it a long old wait. The initial release on PS4 and Xbox One was in October of 2019 and the wait for May of 2020 has been a drag. Thankfully the time has now come and the wait… it has been worth it.
From the very first moments you spend with Lonely Mountains: Downhill, you feel a sense of calmness and clarity thanks to a wonderful low-poly look that has a certain softness to it. This is complimented by a sound-track, well lack thereof anyway, that relies totally on the ambiance of being on the mountain. Alone. Just you, your bike and the mountain trails.
You hear every single moment your bike is in contact with the ground, as the wheels move over the different surfaces. It is hard to explain, but you really do feel it too. You apply the brakes and the sound of your bike skidding never and I repeat NEVER gets old. It is so satisfying. As is that wonderful feeling when you try to jump across a gap and you nail the landing.
The lack of a music tracks really benefits the game and just helps with the immersion. As someone who loved the Codemasters classic ‘No Fear Downhill Mountain Biking’ which offered a similar idea of no music during gameplay and I felt it really helped. Yet Lonely Mountains: Downhill takes this to a whole other level.
The viewpoint can be a little disorienting to begin with, especially as you start with screen based directional controls. Yet being able to switch to standard left and right controls really helped me get a feel for things. I won’t say one way is better than the other though. That will all come down to player preference. It is the same as deciding between inverted and the correct way in other games (I kid of course).
The first run is done with a certain trepidation as you try to respect the mountain and are fearful of what happens if you push things too far. Before you reach the bottom of the mountain though, you start to gain confidence, probably too much confidence. I for one, couldn’t help but try and be a little less risk averse and see if I can get through things a little faster.
I mention respect, because if you do not respect the mountain, it will chew you up and spit you out. Then soon, Lonely Mountains: Downhill goes from being a serene journey down a mountain to something that is akin to playing Red Lynx’s Trials games. I’ll circle back to that though.
Lonely Mountains: Downhill is split across four different mountains, each of which has numerous trails available as you progress through the game. Each trail then has a series of challenges for you to attempt to complete.
Starting with the simple task of getting to the finish point. Crash as many times as you want, take as long as you need. Doing so will unlock the beginner challenges, which need you to beat times and get to the bottom with a maximum number of crashes.
Do those and you get to do the expert challenges which are harder variants of quicker times and less crashes. Including doing both in the same run. Once those are done, you get the free rider challenge, which has no time goal, but there are no checkpoints either. So make a mistake and you go from the top.
The challenges start off easy enough, but they can and do become brutal after a while. Later trails and later mountains offer more and more challenge. The times you need to beat feel almost out of reach at times and getting through without mistakes? Yeah, even Red Lynx aren’t that harsh.
I exaggerate of course as despite the difficulty further into the game, it never feels overly frustrating and I never once wanted to just get through and move on. I’d happily spend an age on any one trail. Not to improve my times, but just to enjoy the feeling of being there.
Oh and if you do start to find the trails a little bit easy, you can always play them at night, with a whole bunch of new challenges. Which the game has the gall to label as ‘beginner’ early on.
Going down the same mountain at night is completely different to doing so in the day. I strongly recommend playing this mode more than any with headphones on. You’ll want to hear everything and rely on that for knowing where you are on the mountain. You single front light does very little for lighting the path.
Just making it to the end feels you with a sense of accomplishment and utter relief. As Lonely Mountains: Downhill goes from serene jaunt down a mountain in the day, to one of the most tense experiences you will have. At points having to 1005 trust your instincts over every other sense.
It again why I spoke about respect for the mountain. Learn to respect it, learn the layout and you can then start to push a little further. You’ll understand where you can skip entire sections by discovering a shortcut.
And unlike other games, shortcuts are by no means marked for you in anyway. You may think they are, as you look for visual clues. Such as a patch of grass on the slope, or a gap in the trees. Yet if you are willing to take a risk or tow, you start to see where you can take advantage.
On one trail on the second mountain is where is really became clear to me. I was struggling to get near an expert time and kept trying to push myself through difficult sections with as much speed as I could. Then on one run, I misjudged a turn and started to veer off the side. Instead of hurtling into a rock or tree and ending up in a tangled mess. I landed and carried on, realising I had missed a tough part and saved a good few seconds.
Yet the brilliance here, is that you can’t simply uncover that shortcut and nail it every time. Instead I kept crashing at that point and thinking that maybe I had glitched it somehow that one time. Yet, I could see where the landing was possible and tried to do it again and again. Eventually seeing the best way to do it. Yet I understood what I had to do and that if I get it right I could make it.
This is where Lonely Mountains: Downhill gets things spot on. Usually when you find something like that, it becomes the only way to do things. But when one of the challenges has you beating a time, within a certain amount of crashes… well it becomes risk vs reward in its purest form.
There is so much to love about Lonely Mountains: Downhill and on the Switch is has found a perfect home. I have lost hours to this game already and I look forward to putting on the headphones and escaping to the mountains after a long day.
My only real criticism? There isn’t enough of it. I’d welcome a daily challenge of some sort at the very least. I’d throw money for some DLC to just bring me more. Some time based, single run events and whatever else can be done to add more to the game.
There is a level of polish to Lonely Mountains: Downhill that puts some AAA titles to shame. The balance of the aesthetics, the ambiance and gameplay itself is a perfect balance. Easily one of the games of this, or any other year.