Let’s start the tone of this review from the outset: Lonely Mountains Downhill is one of the best games I’ve ever played.
If the Switch were in sleep mode (99% of the time), it would either be Lonely Mountains Downhill in play or Minecraft (my daughter).
Returning to the Switch menu wasn’t an option; just one more go was the mantra in my head; to set a new time or perhaps unlock that elusive new custom paint job for my bike.
Without further ado…
….A Lonely Mountains Downhill Switch Review
In my youth I was a bit of a bike nut, stripping down the parts on a mediocre mountain bike to update another ill-fated bike to be less mediocre: my Raleigh Bastard.
Back then, it was all hardtails (no suspension), but these days it’s all about full masked helmets and more shocks than a Game of Thrones whodunnit party.
Lonely Mountains Downhill offers the best of both worlds as you begin with a hardtail and work your way up to sturdier wheels.
There’s even a road bike thrown in for roadies.
However, sounding like a bike nerd now, these sort of bikes aren’t unusual ‘in the game’ and called cyclocross. I have one, and they’re pretty awesome.
Anyway, the downhill in the title is precisely that: you start at the summit and work your way down to the bottom – often in the fastest time possible.
As a member of the Wuss Bridgade, the thought of high speeds puts me off, and I’m more of a fan of the singletrack/exploration model.
Lonely Mountains Downhill has that option too!
The Long Winding Road
You begin with one trail and work through a series of challenges, step-by-step, to unlock new tracks, outfits for your cyclist, a new paint job for your frame and new bikes.
At the start of each trail you have a quick free roam ride, followed by a series of challenges to unlock new goodies, so expect to play the same track again and again.
But it never gets old.
There are four stages to each trail:
- Explorer – explore the trail at your own pace; find shortcuts and familiarise yourself with your surroundings.
- Beginner – complete the track in a certain amount of time without crashing past the limit.
- Expert – the same as the above but the time is significantly cut, and crashes less common.
- Free Rider – Uber riders who practice witchcraft and rewarded with a secret reward.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that beginner is a cakewalk: it’s not.
Each trail is broken down into checkpoints, so if you crash, you’ll respawn at the most recent one.
And you will crash.
Respawning is very swift, but one of the very many selling points in Lonely Mountains Downhill is that the timing sections relate to each checkpoint; crash and the timer stops and shifts back to the time when you reached the checkpoint.
With this method, you can keep repeating a section until satisfied by pressing the B button to respawn, at the sacrifice of crashing, thus getting a decent time.
Despite playing the same tracks over and over, you find yourself locating a new racing line or perhaps a shortcut you’ve never noticed before that shaves off a tenth of a second, but gets you on the leaderboard or that enviable new outfit.
Just like real cycling, it’s all about marginal gains.
Megagon Industries clearly know their stuff as it’s the subtle movements of the rider as they shift their weight behind the saddle when descending, or a nuanced over-the-shoulder look as you’re about to tackle a tricky line that makes Lonely Mountains Downhill gratifying.
But most importantly, the bike handling in the game is a dream.
Handle With Care
Lonely Mountains Downhill plays out like an elegant Paperboy, only with that much autonomy, it looks like you’ve been hanging out with Hans “No Way” Rey (ask your dad or an older person who might still sport a ponytail).
The speed in which you travel down the hills (especially when pressing A to sprint) is juxtaposed with the tranquil settings that use a toy-like camera – you know the ones; blurring out the top and bottom of the frame, putting more emphasis on the centrepiece.
Camera angles are spot-on, and while you can’t manually control them, it’s not needed – aside from the odd angle where a branch or similar obstructs your viewpoint.
But more on the controls as I’m getting sidetracked.
There are two options, and admittedly, they’re a challenge to get used to initially.
The first is using the stick left and right to steer in their respective directions, i.e. no matter where the bike is facing, turning left on the stick will ensure you turn left.
Alternatively, you can opt for the screen-based option, and here you’re effectively directing the bike by controlling the movement of the front wheel.
This is probably the choice most gamers will be used to/go for.
You also have the A button to sprint, though it’s reliant on a stamina gauge and varies depending on the bike you’re using.
It’s testament to how great Lonely Mountains Downhill is when you’re repeatedly playing the same tracks.
Maybe it’s the unlocking of goods on offer, establishing yourself on the leaderboards or simply because it’s that much fun.
For me, it’s everything apart from the leaderboard, though I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t chuffed when I would rank in the top five for a checkpoint – though the rest of the sections would be dire.
I won’t be setting any records any time soon, but that’s not going to stop me trying.
Though Lonely Mountains Downhill isn’t a Switch exclusive and already available on other platforms, it’s the first time I’ve played it and subsequently hooked.
Perhaps there’s an element of my interest thrown in there, but that bias is void when you consider just how perfect the controls are, how zen-like the atmosphere is and even after the umpteenth crash, you dust yourself off and get back on the bike.
Or explode in pixelated confetti.
My experience of the game was predominantly in handheld mode.
Despite looking gorgeous in its simplistic polygonal aesthetic on the big screen, I preferred playing in handheld.
Whether that’s because I’m focused more when the screen is a few inches from my face or the controllers in use, I don’t entirely know.
In docked mode, I used an 8BitDo SN30 Pro, whereas my handheld experience was the Hori Split Pad Pro, and it felt a little more comfortable.
Regardless, the controls are tight and responsive and if you hit the deck, chances are it’s your own fault.