Editorial

Lonely Mountains: Downhill and the Pleasures of Real-Life Biking

Lonely Mountains: Downhill is all about taking a relaxing, yet challenging, ride down a mountain, passing through beautiful and atmospheric scenery. In this case, listening to the ambient sounds and taking in the nature of a brilliantly-lit mountainside is truly enrapturing. The game attempts to give the player the same calming, energizing feeling of biking through real nature, which can be one of the best feelings a person can experience, but at the current, early stage of development, this goal is not achieved.

When heading out on a bike in real life, the rider always has a sense of control, speed, and freedom by using their body to manipulate the bike. The faster the rider goes, the more skill is needed to maneuver, with more precise control being needed. Furthermore, going slowly will give the biker much more control over the placement of the wheels and the tightness of the turning circle. Turning tightly while travelling quickly is difficult because the chances to skid out of control or have the bike’s wheels thrown out from under the rider are increased. In Lonely Mountains: Downhill, turning is not always as precise as it should be considering speed and other variables, making the mechanics tough to master. Even when moving slowly, turns are inconsistent, sometimes being very wide and sometimes tight, without any clear indication of the causes of variation. Due to this unpredictability, the game often feels unfair and unrefined. Similarly, real biking requires the individual to pump the pedals a few times to speed up steadily. However, in Lonely Mountains, pressing the acceleration button will sometimes result in a slow start, but will more often cause the player to zoom off at a higher speed than desired. The inconsistency in acceleration causes problems when coming to a ledge and wanting to perform a drop-in: without accurate control over speed, the player will frequently fly off the edge, missing the drop-in, crashing to the ground, and having to restart. Slowing down and speeding up is key in Lonely Mountains because continuously holding the acceleration button down is not possible without wiping out. Due to the lack of precise control and consistency, the game can feel frustrating because these traits stand in stark contrast to how a bicycle works in real life.

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A timer mechanic amplifies the unrefined controls and other issues by increasing the pressure to do well. Lonely Mountains begins to feel punishing when the player passes through a difficult section, only to be forced to restart. With the unpolished controls, succeeding in an already-completed section may be even harder the next time around—or incredibly easy—making getting through tough areas feel as though it was achieved through sheer luck. However, the multiple hidden paths create replay value because many may not be noticed the first time through. With each new run, the player learns more paths, and trying to master them while avoiding the obstacles and getting that perfect run can be cathartic. Lonely Mountains is meant to be practiced, and a sense of reward is found when a run through a challenging path comes together perfectly.

Often, when people ride, they want to explore, be aware of their surroundings, and move forward while feeling the breeze. Lonely Mountains is counterproductive to this goal of constant motion as a result of the questionable perspective, which frequently results in unfair crashes. The game resembles the original Crash Bandicoot, with the camera in a fixed position, often looking at the front of the biker as they move. This angle can cause obstacles to come up quickly without warning, resulting in wipe-outs, which is akin to problems players have with the original Crash Bandicoot games. To mitigate this issue, the developers could use a wider lens on the camera or pull the viewpoint back slightly so players can more readily see the obstacles coming. A biker always has their eyes forward, taking in their surroundings. This tendency is not just about absorbing the scenery, but also making sure the way forward is clear.

Part of the fun of biking that is lacking in Lonely Mountains is the long straight-aways, downhills, and open paths on which to gain speed, relax, and look around. The game’s paths are universally cluttered and the lack of control over the rider’s weight affects the amount of fun. Having packed trails results in the rewarding feeling of hitting a straight-away or hill after successfully clearing a cluttered area hard to achieve. When an obstacle is in sight, the two options are to either go around or over it. In Lonely Mountains, going over an obstacle is near impossible: hitting a rock at any speed can cause an accident, sending the character flying a few feet, and therefore restarting at the nearest checkpoint. Having control over the rider’s weight, akin to Ubisoft’s Trials games, would be helpful for getting over obstacles. Being able to shift the center of gravity so the wheels land on a rock the right way can be extremely satisfying and make for a more fun experience. A biker often has to lift their front wheel to get over obstacles, and this fine level of control is missing from the game. Adding weight control as a feature would not necessarily make the game easier, but will give the player more to master and likely increase the sense of reward. Controlling balance and having longer, more open paths for gaining speed or taking in the scenery could add much to the experience.

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Despite these issues, Lonely Mountains is enjoyable in many ways. The aural design sells the ambience of the mountain, using the sound of wind, animals, and water to create a relaxing, life-like soundscape. One joy of riding a bike is taking in nature. The atmosphere of riding through a park is calm and serene; listening to the chirping of birds, the running water of a stream, and the banter of animals can be calming and therapeutic. The sound of tires on concrete is different than on a wood-plank bridge or gravel, and sound gives the rider a sense of place and a treat to the ears in real life, as it does in Lonely Mountains. The audio of the game successfully creates a convincing soundscape, creating a serene and low-stress feel. Hearing the wheels slide on gravel as the player leans on the brakes to descend a hill safely is satisfying, as it helps the player to feel the speed. The lack of music enhances the natural, atmospheric soundscape. Lonely Mountains would be a great game to throw on headphones with and go for a ride, taking in the beauty of the world with the sounds putting players at ease. The sounds of nature creates a realistic  feeling that juxtaposes against the borderline abstract, low-poly visuals. The scenery is eye-catching, and the lighting makes the mountain look riveting. The world is sure to look better on release when wildlife—which is sure to make he world feel populated—is added to the game. 

Even in its early state of production, Lonely Mountains is fun and generates satisfaction when successfully making a run. Though not without flaws—some worse than others—with some polish, the title could be a much more captivating experience than at present. Lonely Mountains is worth looking forward to. The control and camera issues need to be fixed or tweaked to capture the style of gameplay the developers are creating. Having more precise controls would make the game feel fairer, but the visuals and sound alone are worth experiencing. Lonely Mountains holds considerable potential to achieve the ultimate feeling of biking in a game. With some more work, the developers at Megagon Industries can surely bring home the joy of biking for those who can not do so in reality for whatever reason.

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