Any attempt to articulate the challenges of 2020 to another person feels a lot like shouting at the seatmate next to you on the plane that is threatening to crash. Suffice to say, we’re all facing the same dilemma. If there’s anything that we share, it’s that recent months have brought a fair share of frustration and difficulty. As such, any game that offers a sense of calm, focus, and peace is worth its weight in gold. If you share my desire for entertainment of that variety, then whether you’ve played it yet or not, Lonely Mountains: Downhill is like hitting the motherlode, especially as the game prepares to roll out its biggest expansion to date.
If you’re new to the game, Lonely Mountains: Downhill is a mountain biking game in which you navigate winding paths down idyllic mountainous terrain. As the soft sounds of birdcall and gentle wind fill your ears, the gameplay rides a delicate line between beautiful and gradual exploration of a gorgeous nature setting, and breakneck jumps and drops through highly vertical geometry. In my original review from 2019, I recalled the way Lonely Mountains: Downhill brought to mind the old classic Marble Madness and its isometric descents, but mixed with the careful practice-makes-perfect vibe of games in the Trials series. Even at release, it was a lovely and engaging game.
In the months since, the developers at Megagon have only improved what was already a great experience, tweaking almost all of the issues that frustrated me in that original release. New mountains and trails are now easier to unlock and discover, even as the challenges in those environments remain as tricky as before. A new bike part unlock system ensures that players have far more flexibility to start using the bicycles they want at a more measured pace. And, among other small additions, a night mode offers a way to experience each mountain trail in a whole new (and challenging) light.
On top of all that, Megagon is preparing to release its biggest expansion to the game on October 22. I had a chance to play an early build of Eldjfall Island this week, and it’s easily the most diverse and entertaining set of trails, leveraging the best ideas for level design and artistic presentation that were a part of the core game, and making them better. Eldjfall is a brand-new mountain (really, a small range) that includes four lengthy trails, spread across a particularly striking and varied landscape. On one, a thunderstorm lashes the island landscape, and you race to the base amid pouring rain and flashes of lightning. On another trail, you start at the peak of an active volcano, and pedal along past molten streams before dropping down cliffs and switchbacks to eventually hear the calls of gulls by the seashore. And, on top of this massive new space to explore, the expansion also brings a wealth of new unlockable cosmetics, from backpacks to helmets.
The Eldjfall Island expansion is a great motivation to hop in, especially if you’re a player who enjoyed the game in the past but you’re ready to return. However, the real reason to play Lonely Mountains Downhill right now isn’t all the new stuff – it’s the way that the game is like a video game balm for the rash of current events. Its quiet and Zen-like aesthetic is a welcome relief from the constant political refrains we hear on the news right now. The intense focus required to successfully navigate the trails pulls you into a flow, making it easy (if only for a time) to set aside concerns about viruses, masks, and infection, and instead embrace the freedom and careless joy of rocketing your little virtual biker off a cliff, and hoping you nail the landing. And the time trials, challenges, and leaderboards welcome engagement from both you and your friends; it may be a lonely mountain that only features single-player play options, but the developer has crafted a rich interplay of leaderboard tracking across the game, making it a great choice for friends looking to compete during a time that most of us must stay far away from one another.
There’s no shortage of awesome new games on the horizon, and the latest consoles are now only weeks away from launch; we have plenty of novel things for a gamer to be excited about. But thanks to some robust support from its creators, Lonely Mountains Downhill is in the best place it has ever been, and is much improved since its launch last year. If you’ve found yourself distracted and troubled by the events around you in the real world, you’re not alone. And, to be clear, those troubles aren’t something I’m recommending you run away from. But if all you need is a game that gives a moment’s respite from concern, Lonely Mountains: Downhill is as perfect a place to find it as I’ve encountered.