Being given the chance to go where you want, when you want, is nothing new in gaming circles, for choice and decision have been a big part of what makes the world go round for an age. In that respect Lonely Mountains: Downhill on Xbox One is nothing new either, but the way the teams at Thunderful Publishing and Megagon Industries have gone about creating this brilliantly relaxing downhill racer ensures that it is most definitely one to take in.
Lonely Mountains: Downhill places you at the top of a mountain peak, with just your pedal-powered bike as company, before tasking you to make your way down – as fast and as safely as possible. But why? Well, just so you can beat the clock, nail some challenges, unlock better gear, and prove yourself to the rest of the world.
Being crowned downhill champion is no easy task though and Lonely Mountains can initially feel like a bit of a grind, particularly as you go about learning the ways of the mountainside, attempting to discover shortcuts, hidden rest areas and the best way of getting down to the bottom in one piece. With just the one initial mountain and route available to you, you’ll be left to work your way through four difficulty levels, with the easiest (Explorer) requesting you just make it to the end in one piece – no matter what your time, nor how many crashes you take in. From there though the next stage – Beginner – will deliver more challenges, all centred around nailing the course in a specific time, or making it to the end with less than so many crashes. It’s then pretty much a case of rinse and repeat until you’ve proved your worth on a specific course through the similar but slightly trickier Expert challenges, before running as a Free Rider.
Each challenge you complete rewards you with a variety of items; some unlocking extra trails and then ultimately new mountains to test your skills on, others providing parts for new bikes, whilst more still will send some basic new skins and costumes your way. With just a standard hybrid bike to hand to start things off, you’ll need to utilise all your skills in order to pick up parts for faster road-styled bikes, or full suspension themed two-wheelers with better traction, agility or shock absorption abilities, in order for you to then go back through things once more to take home the trickier challenges. In fact, without unlocking the better bikes, I’m pretty sure that completing the harder ‘Expert’ challenges is nigh on impossible. This element of repetition does see Lonely Mountains delivering a fair old bit of grinding need, but the actual gameplay is so damn good and intense that it’s rarely an issue going back over old ground.
It is this gameplay which is the meat and drink of Lonely Mountains: Downhill and without a well reacting bike and control scheme, this game would be nothing. Thankfully Megagon Industries have utterly nailed this part of the experience and holding down the right trigger to accelerate away, and ‘A’ to sprint, before letting gravity do the trick and seeing you utilise your brakes when the need arises never gets tiresome. With differing surfaces of each mountain providing a number of terrains to work through – pathways providing plenty of grip and gravel seeing you carve round bends – there is some real skill needed in becoming a downhill winner in Lonely Mountains.
This is emphasised further by the breaking down of each stage into smaller, more manageable parts. See, as you work your way down each route, checkpoints have been cleverly placed to ensure that any crash you take in – and you will – will see you thrown back to the previous point, your time from before that intact, and given the chance to go again. This means that when you’re looking at taking home the speedrunning challenges which are in place, you don’t have to worry about your number of resets, free and able to hunt out shortcuts without the worry of having to start from the very top of the mountain each time. It works wonderfully well, and sees minutes turn to hours as you go about taking in the wonderfully created, rather relaxing drops.
A neat physics system holds all this in place and, if you can time it right, leaping over boulders or dropping down crevices to shave seconds off your best time is more than doable. It doesn’t work perfectly every time though and there are moments when Lonely Mountains: Downhill lets itself down with some finicky collision mechanics – rolling ever so slowly into a small rock occasionally requires you to reset when you think you should be safe. For the most part though, it’s all spot on, no matter whether you are working your way down the tightest ravine, across large open jumps, or down through and across the wildest of rivers.
It is all helped massively by some rather lovely visuals and audio too. Whilst we’re not seeing and hearing stuff that is going to be winning Lonely Mountains: Downhill any end-of-year awards, the simple blocky nature of the visuals works extremely well, with decent definition between the various elements and your glorious rider and bike always being a joy to look at. The sound effects are equally as important as you wind your way through each stage, emphasising the feeling of grip when needed, whilst still being notified of the lack thereof when you’re about to plummet over the edge of a cliff. It’s all helped along by a delightfully relaxing atmosphere for good measure.
Lonely Mountains: Downhill on Xbox One delivers a lovely two-wheeled experience that is unlike any other. Odd collisions and the need for a bit of a grind aside, there is little to not like about this game, with the speedrunning elements, the visuals, the well-worked challenges, and the open feeling of carving your own route all coming together to create something rather wonderful.