Imagine the beautiful tranquillity to mountain biking through peaceful and lush low poly mountain ranges. See the birds take flight, take in the waterfalls and camping views as you discover different trails. Then mash it up with a just one more go Trials like point to point racing game and you have Lonely Mountains: Downhill.
It’s easy to lump Lonely Mountains: Downhill into the Trials genre of game but those games keep you on a 2D plain no matter how beautiful the graphics are. Lonely Mountains goes 3D in a mildly isometric camera angle. Reminding me of Micro Machine games you pedal up, down, left and right around the screen as you make your way down the mountain trail. This really does make the game feel different because if you hit a tree, stone, cactus or log incorrectly – you’ll have a bloody nose as quick as you can say ‘no!’
Lonely Mountains: Downhill has four mountains with four trails to complete on each and they are expertly crafted. Each trail has its own unique sections but often dovetail across other paths. It gives you some excellent visual clues of what’s to come and offers insights into future shortcuts too. When you first play a level your goal is simply to get down it. You can go at a leisurely pace, restarting at checkpoints usually 20-30 seconds apart from each other to master the sections you’ve got wrong. Then come the beginner, normal and expert challenges. These task you to get down the mountain in a certain time or with only a few crashes. Completing these will unlock the next level of customisation parts. Do well enough on those and you’ll unlock a freeride to explore the mountain and find relaxation spots.
The game does a fantastic job of drip-feeding you improvements. Each checkpoint you race is baselined against your personal best as well as an online leaderboard. That is helpful to spot where you can shave time off if you can see your leaderboard position dips in a specific sector. Different bikes will handle differently but every bike can complete every level which means the skill is in your hands. I felt the handling was perfectly responsive and even if you are restarting over and over, I felt like it was my fault and not the game’s physics. Occasionally you’ll catch some air that makes you shout ‘really?!’ but it is very rare.
If I were to have any negatives it would be that 16 trials is a tiny bit too small. I’d have loved a 5th mountain with another 4 trials on but what’s here is superb. I’d have also liked some kind of local multiplayer option to pass the controller and race my mates’ ghost. I don’t think split-screen would work well for the game itself because the camera is in constant motion making sure you get specific views. Cutting down the screen would make the game needlessly difficult. Also, I really love the minimal nature-focused sound design. As you pedal all you can hear is your bike, the ambient animal noises, the wind and the water. It really focuses your mind on the riding and omitting music was the right choice.
(PS4 Version Tested and bought. Also available on Switch, PC and XBoxOne).
Lonely Mountain: Downhill
Lonely Mountains: Downhill grabbed me on the first go and hasn't let me go since. I've been sucked into its charming, beautiful world and find every crash, every run and every improvement in time an absolute joy to invest in. A real sleeper hit for 2019.
Just one more go gameplay done to perfection.
Handling and physics models are a treat to play with.
The sound design focuses the mind.
Reactive camera means that you can see your path.
Beautiful low-poly graphics.
Leaderboards per sector as fascinating for stat lovers.
Could have done with one more mountain.
Ghost racing mode would have been the icing on the cake.
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