If you’ve ever stumbled upon downhill mountain bike racing on YouTube, you know that generally you’ll be sucked in to watching a run, and you’ll also be at the edge of your seat the whole time in hopes that the bicyclist doesn’t hit a random outcropped rock and go flying off a cliff while you watch it all through their GoPro. Downhill mountain bike racing is wild and intense. It’s also mega dangerous, so for those of us who rather have our butts firmly planted on our couches while at the same time experiencing some of the thrill the sport provides, Lonely Mountains: Downhill for Switch looks to be just the fix. But can a game truly capture the thrilling essence of the sport accurately, or will it be closer to a Sunday ride through town on a tandem bike?
Lonely Mountains: Downhill (I’ll call it LMD for short) has you traveling to the fictional Lonely Mountain regions. The four mountain zones you’ll have playable in the game feel inspired by real locations, such as the Sierra Rivera looking similar to the Hangover Trail in Sedona, Arizona. You’ll begin the game at Graterhorn, which clearly is inspired by the Matterhorn range in the Alps, with only a starter bike and the most basic of tutorials, which primarily teach you how to move and steer.
LMD immediately shines in its gameplay and representation of the sport. You’ll start atop a trail with your singular goal being to reach the finish line somewhere. The only caveat is that you’ll have to cross through a few checkpoints, and if you miss one, you won’t be able to finish. Simple enough, right? Surely this would be a breeze!
As you start zipping downhill, there’s a generally well carved out path that you can take. Taking this trail is the equivalent of the predictable Sunday drive, but even these paths become intense and challenging to navigate as you progress. What makes LMD infinitely more enjoyable is that you can find your own secret paths down the mountain thanks to the trails being semi-open and a bit more freeform. We’re not talking a totally open world experience, but you’ll discover that there are a lot of partially carved out paths, shortcuts, or variations on how to achieve your run. Of course memorizing a trail and learning the shortcuts become crucial if you hope to be successful.
Controlling your mountain bike feels great, and through an unlock mechanic you are able to earn a total of six bicycles, each with varying degrees of stability, durability, and overall control. Since steering and navigating the treacherous runs is absolutely your key to success in this game, you’ll be offered two methods of steering – either a left/right rider point of view control, or an omni-directional screen control method. I chose the latter since it felt the most similar to playing an isometric dungeon crawler, which I was personally comfortable with.
There’s a pretty aggressive and sensitive physics system at play, but I felt that it was appropriately tuned to what one might expect in an arcade representation of this sport. It does take a bit of experimentation to get a feeling of what your rider and bike can handle, and even then it may come away unpredictable at times. I would find myself sliding down a cliff face successfully, but moments later, would go barreling off my mountain bike because I accidentally clipped the side of a small rock. I would find myself chucking at times because of a hilarious misstep, and equally as flustered because the smallest incorrect move would have me faulting as well. Really, I feel this is still accurate to what I’ve seen in the sport, and I appreciate the physics system they have devised here. However, there is a fine line between biffing a run because of an obvious mistake you made, and the game seemingly crashing you over something so tiny that it was almost impossible to notice.
LMD takes this intense gameplay, and then packages it all up into an unlockable progression system, which I felt changed the whole dynamic of the game into an even more white-knuckle experience. When you land at a mountain, you’ll have four trails to take on, however only the first one will be unlocked. Every trail is then broken out into four Challenge Tiers. The first one, entitled “Explorer”, is a single challenge that simply requires you to cross the finish line. Completing this then unlocks the “Beginner” challenge group. Here you may have to cross the finish in a certain time, or only crash a certain amount of times, etc. The next tier is “Expert” and these are some seriously aggressive challenges. When I mentioned earlier that learning a trail is crucial, this is where you’ll have to bring your A-Game. In order to get the best run times, you’ll need to master speed, efficiency, and learn the trails’ best shortcuts to ensure you can meet these intense time requirements. I found myself quickly struggling to complete Expert Challenges just a few trails in with the bikes I had available to me.
Completing challenges not only unlocks new trails and new mountains, but it also can reward you with cosmetics such as bicycle paint jobs and rider outfits as well. Certain challenges also may unlock a bike part. These are essentially the currency to purchase new bikes, and are generally hard earned in the game. I really appreciated when I had saved up enough to purchase a new mountain bike, which in turn I would then take on previous trails to try and complete outstanding challenges I couldn’t before.
Just when you think you’ve mastered a trail however, the final challenge tier per trail is called “Free Rider” and similar to Explorer, this just asks you to complete the trail and cross the finish line. Doing so unlocks night mode, which allows you to then take on a new set of challenges, but race down the trails in the dark with only a headlamp attached to the front of your bike. If you thought a trail was tough before, this felt downright bonkers on some of the later mountains! That being said, there was some graphical glitches I encountered in this mode, so I’m hopeful they will be patched at a later date.
The final area, which LMD stands out uniquely, is that the game is presented in a very vibrant mid-poly style. At first, I was hesitant that this would work out given the subtle movements that one must take when zipping down a mountainside, but it works! And it works beautifully. The game’s four mountains all have a unique color palette that’s vibrant and high contrast. The mid-poly look is equally well crafted within the environments, and it’s one of the few games that utilize this art style very well without cheapening itself. The audio for the game is clean and subtle, and the crunches and skids of my tires shredding down dirt or gravel was highly satisfying without ever being audibly overwhelming.
LMD is intense and it’s certainly a game that’ll have you jamming those control sticks as you careen down fast-moving trails, and jumping across rock gaps. There’s a challenge similar to the Trials games here, but tied to a free-flowing mountainside instead of a linear level. I really enjoyed that if you did want a frustration-free ride just for funsies, you could just happily ride down your trail with no cares, but if you wanted that sweet new outfit that required you to complete a trail in a little over a minute, you had to be calculated, precise and have your wits about you. Not many games allow players to enjoy playing in this dynamic sort of way, and Lonely Mountains: Downhill not only accomplishes this, but also has me craving DLC in the form of the Megavalanche Run in the snow. Maybe add in some AI opponents just to shake things up even more to make the game a little less lonely?
Lonely Mountains: Downhill Review
- Graphics - 8/108/10
- Sound - 7.5/107.5/10
- Gameplay - 8/108/10
- Lasting Appeal - 7/107/10
Final Thoughts: GREAT
Lonely Mountains: Downhill captures the intensity of downhill mountain bike racing in a clean, vibrant and accessible way that I generally thought wouldn’t be possible. With semi-freeform trails that allow players to carve out their own paths, and challenges that’ll have you white knuckling down a mountain to beat a time limit, there’s a lot of intense fun to be found here for a very reasonable $19.99 price tag.
Alex has been actively gaming since the release of the Nintendo. Turning passion into profession, he’s spent just over a decade in game development, and is currently the Creative Director at a studio.