A wind howling in between evergreen trees. In the distance a toad croaks and a woodpecker drills for its dinner. Cold air going through the nose and making itself cozy in lungs. Heartbeat getting faster until it’s finally time. It’s time to put a foot to the pedal and ride all the way down. It’s time for a rapid descent in Lonely Mountains: Downhill.
Faster, faster, faster
As you might have gathered from the last paragraph, Lonely Mountains: Downhill is about mountain biking. Players control a biker going down a trail full of bends, drops, forks and shortcuts to get through all of the checkpoints and to the end. During their adventures the players unlock new bikes, different paths and even whole new mountains to ride down.
Each trail has a similar formula to it — first run, meant to familiarize the player with the track, and then a set of beginner and expert challenges. Once all of those are done the map is available for free roam. And while the beginner challenges are meant to test you without too much hassle, the expert ones require good knowledge of the mountain and the skill to make some jumps and get to the finish line on time. Every time faster than the last, your skill improves.
It’s lonely on the top
Lonely Mountains: Downhill earns every part of its name. The lack of music and well placed ambient sounds such as wind howling, birds and the wheels hitting the road make the experience so much more immersive, making the player feel like they too are on the top of a mountain. It’s just them, and nature. Beautiful, dangerous nature.
The starting screen shows you a wonderful serene landscape. And if you decide to stop in some sections, there are similar views waiting. The developers spared no expense in making the mountains (as there’s four of them) both a beautiful, lush environment and a deadly trap waiting to see you drop from a ledge or crash into a tree at a high speed.
They look great not only in the set pieces. The tracks look great overall and the game uses the low poly style masterfully, adding visual effects such as focus or motion blur to heighten the experience. The character, while quite indistinct, truly becomes an avatar for the player with some customization options.
And the Downhill part of the name is pretty self-explanatory once you start playing.
A story with no words
Widows’ Ravine, the first map, quickly teaches the player how to control the bike (after letting you choose the type of controls) — how to accelerate, how important it is to brake from time to time and how to sprint and make big jumps. All of this can be quickly picked up, but takes a while to master, especially while trying to overcome the obstacles of the trail.
Very poetically the trail becomes a character in itself. A femme fatale that lures the riders with the looks only to crush them — a force of nature to be reckoned with. I feel that in a very similar way to Celeste, Lonely Mountains: Downhill tells a story about persevering and showing that you can do it, only this time the way is down a mountain.
And all of this without any story — those are all observations that I made while trying time after time to make a jump, tumbling down a ravine and restarting at a checkpoint. If that is intentional, then Megagon Industries have mastered the art of “show, don’t tell”.
There is progression in the form of unlocking new mountains, trails and bikes — ones with different stats. The starter bike is pretty decent overall, but if you want to do big jumps and drops it might not be as good as a later one, same with handling, speed and the ability to go off-road. Some of the challenges requires you to ride a particular bike, which means going back to earlier tracks to finish up the expert level and unlock the free ride mode.
Keep on riding
I feel that developers really hit the nail on its head with Lonely Mountains: Downhill. The mechanics are well made, the steering is tight and precise and the nature lush and beautiful. I am sure that it will invite me over and over again only for me to keep failing — but persevere through it all to enjoy it so much more.
Lonely Mountains: Downhill is available on Steam, Xbox One and Playstation 4, with a Nintendo Switch version in the works.
Games with ambient sounds and no music always were interesting to me. Using naturally occurring sounds to create an atmosphere is always weirdly immersive for me