Lonely Mountains: Downhill is a game full of boundless charm, that has honestly taken me utterly by surprise.
Lonely Mountains: Downhill – previously released cross-platform (on PC, PS4 and Xbox One) in Oct 2019 – has now launched on the Nintendo Switch. Developed by Megagon Industries and published by Thunderful, a publisher with a colourful library of unique games. I have to admit, I went into this review not quite knowing what to expect. The icon on my Switch screen displayed a glimpse of a guy on a bicycle in an art style that I could get behind. Sure, biking and mountains were to follow, but could this make for a compelling game?
Fortunately, from the moment the game boots up, the background music kicks in and everything becomes peaceful. The first thing that makes Lonely Mountain stand out from other titles is the sense of serenity that calmly washes over you all at once. Bird song beautifully tweets along in the background, a distant river rushes far off somewhere as the wind rustles through the trees. It truly is captivating. This first screen beautifully sets the tone for the wonderful adventure that is this game.
In Lonely Mountains: Downhill, you are an intrepid cycling enthusiast. Cycling your way down various mountain paths from top to bottom. Passing checkpoints, discovering shortcuts, going “wheeee” in your head as you pick up speed, and dodging nefarious (yet lovely) trees and rocks as you go. The controls are wonderfully simple, right trigger is go, left trigger applies the brakes, B auto-kills and A gives you a small boost of speed (and respawns when the time comes). That’s it. And it’s brilliant! Only using 4 buttons and a joystick makes the game incredibly easy to pick up and play for anyone.
Gotta Go… Slow?
You’ll start the game out going as fast as you can… but soon learn that applying the brakes can really be your friend, as you beautifully, gracefully fly off the side of your chosen mountain for the twelfth time. It’s in these graceful plummets that the game really hooks you in, as you tell yourself: “I really will jump that gap THIS TIME”… Or perhaps slow and steady will win the day after all, and you take the long way round. There are numerous shortcuts to be found in every route and it is an utter delight to try them all.
Lonely Mountains: Downhill starts you off with 1 bike and 1 mountain to take on. You are eased in with a straightforward trail where you can take as much time as you wish, just soaking it all in and getting the lay of the land. As you progress, you’ll unlock more routes and challenge levels – these challenges again start out simple; complete the run in under 3 mins; die less than 21 times, but they quickly ramp up in complexity and challenge. The simple combination of exploration and rewarding challenges will keep you coming back for hours.
The first thing you’ll notice unlocking from these challenges, is the only thing I felt this game lacked from the first 30mins of gameplay…customization options! I am a true sucker for character customization options, but deep down, who isn’t? The medium challenges reward you with outfits for your avatar and different, brightly coloured paint schemes for your bike. I was instantly sold on the outfit named ‘Cheetah.’ I felt like a speedy big cat on a bicycle! You can freely pick your skin tone, hair colour, styles (none of which are gender locked, fabulous!) and gender at any time, something I have really come to appreciate in modern game design. The advanced challenges reward you with bike parts which can be spent unlocking other bike models. New bikes have improved stats and really open up your adventuring options, with that rocky outcrop now becoming another shortcut to take advantage of.
The Sounds of the Outdoors
Sound design is strong at every turn. From the serene backing sound effects (that would fit into any ambient chill playlists), to the on-point bicycle sounds, and slightly more comedic sounds to highlight when it’s time to respawn after bravely diving off the side into some rocks.
If that wasn’t enough to keep you entertained, you’ll also unlock additional mountains, all of which have very diverse, inspiring, new colour palettes and scenery.
The graphical design of Lonely Mountains: Downhill is absolutely topnotch. It has a simple, elegant style, which keeps the focus on gameplay. Even so – every now and then – you come across a scene that is so beautifully rendered, you pause your pedalling misadventures just to soak it all in. The colours pop, it’s always clear what’s going on and some of the nature is stunningly designed.
As for the sound, it maintains the peaceful atmosphere throughout and is again, high quality. It evokes the sense of being alone in nature; just you, wildlife and your trusty bicycle.
Performance wise, as this is a Switch, my time with the game in handheld mode was very enjoyable and easy to pick up and put down (and pick up again). However, it is in docked mode where Lonely Mountains shines. Everything feels more fluid and you can really take in the beauty of how well put together this game is. It’s almost a work of art in itself.
Finally, something that deserves a paragraph all of its own – the physics engine. It is absolutely superb! You’ll build speed downhill, try your best to steer away from the edge and jump those jagged rocks. And it’s thrilling, yet also very grounding. After flying 500m off the side, I managed to land, but as I did my little avatar broke and some blocky blood popped out, the sound effect played and it was time to respawn. After countless games playing superhero-esque people doing the impossible. It’s refreshing.
Lonely Mountains: Downhill is a beautiful, masterfully put together game. With relaxing vibes that will instantly put you at ease as you careen around each mountain corner. Exploring nooks and crannies as birds chirp away, and you keep picking yourself back up and going again. While also picking the game back up and going again too!
This is another brilliant example of an indie game that ticks some boxes and scratches an itch (maybe on a scabby knee from your last fall) where AAA titles miss the mark. Sure there’s no story or cinematics – but the game doesn’t need them. Afterall, we came here to go downhill, which Lonely Mountain has finely tuned.
Soothing, easy to pick up, and fun to play but hard to master. This captures the outdoors wonderfully in a video game like never before. It feels perfect to play in times when we all used to be out and about more. It’s an effortless:
5/5 – ESSENTIAL