Lonely Mountains: Downhill is an incredibly satisfying indie experience that ties together white-knuckle mountain biking with a relaxing kickback feel. It’s one of the more addictive indie experiences I’ve played in the last couple years, with lasting power that should carry it through much of the next year.
Before giving the pedal its very first push, I fell in love with the art design for this game. It’s beautiful blend of polygonal claymation and depth blurring is appealing to the eye. It’s simple. The color palette is pastel in nature, but muted to the point where gameplay always takes center stage.
Furthering the cathartic experience is a minimalist soundscape that doesn’t try to force its way into the game. Instead, it enveloped me in an environment that put me at ease. Much like Flower, Lonely Mountains: Downhill creates an audio experience that is simple, refined and perfect for its needs. Soundtrack aside, the sampling used for bike tires tearing down a mountain side is spot-on and immersive. It pulled me in and kept making me want to jam down another embankment. The ambient sounds of wildlife and nature behind the rubber roaring down a hillside is wonderful.
On the gameplay side, this is not a game for the faint of heart. It’s challenging, but in the best way possible. Trails come in all shapes and sizes, and there is no perfect route to the finish. Challenges along the way add the ability to unlock new bike parts with improved shocks for steeper trails, as well as wheels designed for speed on straightaways. It’s a balancing act that Lonely Mountains: Downhill perfectly pulls off.
The aforementioned challenges can come in a number of forms. For example, users may be asked to limit their crashes. Or, time trials can be initiated. In either case, challenges don’t seem forced or stressful. They add little suggested nuggets into a game that could have gotten by on level progression alone.
Completing each course and the challenges along the way will unlock new courses and new outfits for your biker. The outfit changes are minimal, but are a nice addition nonetheless. The courses get trickier and trickier as you go. Patience is key if you hope to have any chance further along in the game.
The only gripe, if you could call it one, is the mechanics for this game can sometimes feel a bit wonky. Steering down a mountain with the camera angle the game is shot in can be tough. Depth perception on these slopes can get really tricky. Add in the fact the user is sometimes driving right at the camera and disaster is imminent from time to time. Still, the developers provided a few different ways to control your bike down the course and there’s probably one that fits best for everyone. From this chair, the left-right analog mechanic worked best as it was simple and consistent.
Doubling back on course constructs, the developers did an immaculate job creating malleable worlds that quite clearly weren’t one size fits all. There are obvious routes to each checkpoint, but the mountain is a vast, open space with a great deal of shortcuts, diversions, nooks and crannies for any adventurous racer looking to find a faster way down the course. Hell, if that’s not your style, and you’re cheeky enough, riders can brutishly force their way down most of the rocky terrain. But again, patience pays. The mountains are flexible ecosystems that seem to incentivize you to explore and forge your own path. The route you decide probably speaks volumes to who you are as a human being.
Lonely Mountains: Downhill is so incredibly close to being a masterpiece. The game feels like an incredibly refined mobile game that you find yourself playing for days, weeks and months on end, unapologetically getting sucked into its experience in search of finishing “just one more level today.” It’s a game you can pick up for 15 minutes or 15 hours and be satisfied either way. Aside from some wonky camera angles and dodgy steering mechanics at times, the game hits every mark. It’s a winner in most every sense of the word.