Reinventing The Wheel

HIGH Finally unlocking the first gate into a new region.

LOW Watching people who are so much better than me.

WTF Why is this in the game preview section?


 

The extreme sports genre hasn’t had a lot of good entries recently, and the sub-category of mountain biking isn’t famous for any hits. Given the aggressive ambivalence towards the most recent releases (I’m looking at you Activision), I was curious how an indie developer like Ragesquidwas going to approach such a stagnant genre.

Descenders is a 3D downhill mountain biking game with trick mechanics that revolve around hitting jumps. The left stick controls spins and flips, the right stick controls angles and tweaks, and then the left stick also performs bunny hops while the right stick slides around curves. However, where the game deviates from similar, older titles is that each level is procedurally generated and sprinkled with a bit of roguelike flavor.

The aim is to complete each level while performing tricks for points (also known as ‘Rep’) and then picking another race until it’s possible to take on the ‘Boss’ stage – a more elaborate level with a challenge at the end that, upon completion, can unlock further maps. Scoring points will add bonuses to the playthrough like wider lanes or more control to spinning mid-air, but the risk is that making an ill-advised jump can result in a crash that causes the character to lose health. Losing all health ends the run.

What impressed me immediately was the speed of Descenders. When at high velocity on steep slopes, the scenery whips past as a blur of trees and curves, accompanied with mainstream drum & bass music that fits perfectly with the pace. Hitting 360 spins off a big jump and then plummeting down a hill into a chicane had me swinging my arms left and right like I was trying to steer my bike with the motions of my own body.

There’s also a great sense of progression. In the beginning I spent most of my time face planting on badly judged backflips, but after a couple of hours of practice I was recovering from reverse landings and bunny hopping to keep my multiplier going. There doesn’t seem to be a ceiling on the skillset either — Descenders offers a variety of extra, random challenges to try and complete during a level to earn extra health, like performing two 360 spins without crashing, or never depressing the acceleration button. Combined with this are certain levels that expect the player to ride with a first-person perspective, others where crashing costs the player double health, in both scenarios the rep reward is also doubled. Being both skilled and smart reaps rewards.

For the best players there are levels that are basically diabolical stunt constructs, requiring the player to climb up exceedingly more difficult platforms while pulling off careful balancing acts. I’m not sure what happens if someone can beat them, though — I’m not good enough, yet.

Descenders  is a great experience, and the only thing that makes me scratch my head is why it’s in the Game Preview (a.k.a. Early Access) section. The title is both stable and fully-featured enough for a proper release to seem perfectly reasonable, and I’d like to see it in the main store page instead of relegated to the section that suggests a promising but incomplete product. I’ve scored this game well and I strongly recommend it, but I also look forward to its future updates — if the developer thinks that this fine work isn’t ready, then I am enthusiastic to see where they want to go next. Rating: 8 out of 10


 

Disclosures: This game is developed by Ragesquid and published by No More Robots It is currently available on Xbox One, PC, and Mac. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the XBO. Approximately 6 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed. There are no multiplayer modes. 

Parents: According to the ESRB‘s website, this game has not been rated. From my experience this game is unlike to be a problem for pre-teens. Some of the crashes are pretty brutal and might glamourize riding recklessly, but there is no gore or unpleasant imagery. May cause your kids to become hooked to go-faster electronic music.

Colorblind Modes: There no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The game is fully playable without sound. The warning for being in danger of crashing your bike when falling from a height is visually represented by a warning signal. There is no real story at present, and no spoken dialogue. Subtitles cannot be adjusted.

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable at present.

 

 

AJ Small

AJ Small

AJ Small is a games industry veteran with over 12 years of experience. He started his gaming on the BBC Microcomputer and switched to being a devout SEGA fan from then on. He currently walks the earth in search of the tastiest/seediest drinking holes as part of his attempt to tell every single person on the planet that Speedball 2 and The Chaos Engine are the greatest games ever made.

He can be found on twitter, where he welcomes screenshots of Dreamcast games and talk about Mindjack, just don’t mention that one time he was in Canada.
AJ Small

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