04th Dec2020

‘Descenders’ Review (Nintendo Switch)

by Phil Wheat

For years now I’ve been on the search for that perfect biking game… Yes, I know, its a very niche genre to enjoy and it is – currently – dominated by by the likes of the Trials games and the myriad of clones it inspired. However there have been some great, in fact ONE great mountain biking game, way back in the days of the original Playstation… No Fear Downhill Mountain Biking. A game I fell in love with and a game I, honestly, played more than any other title I owned on the PS1 ever. Ever. So yeah, a very niche genre to enjoy I know. But still, I get excited every time a new downhill bike racer is even teased about… Which is why I was super-excited to get my hands on Descenders, or Descenders: Extreme Procedural Freeriding to give the game it’s full title.

I’d previously played, and reviewed, Lonely Mountains: Downhill, a downhill biking game that offered a more serene, walking-simulator style of gameplay. Of course you could play that game how you liked really – take it easy, cruising down the hills, or cane it as fast as possible trying not to crash whilst completing each “track” as fast as possible. I, of course, chose the latter. But that’s not what Lonely Mountains was made for. Descenders is.

Descenders is also very much in the same trick-style cycling vein as the old-school Matt Hoffman Pro BMX games – making this a double-whammy of awesomeness: downhill racing and stunt-bmx’ing! Plus, like Matt Hoffman and, by extension Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, this game has a bad ass soundtrack that accompanies the frenzied action. In terms of gameplay, Descenders does exactly what it says in the name of the game – offers extreme procedurally generated tracks you can free ride on. It also throws in bonus challenges on every course for that little extra difficulty too. from performing certain tricks and complete courses within time limits, and like the courses, these extra challenges are totally random.

The aim of the game here is to complete all the tracks different tracks, chasing the best times and completing the bonus challenges, eventually reaching the “boss” level – a much tougher, harder to complete course. Sounds simple right? Well, not quite… every time you come off your bike you lose a life; and you only have four lives when you start a run. Though if you complete the tracks bonus objective you get a bonus life. And on top of that there’s the small thing of procedurally generated tracks! Tracks which have plenty of opportunity to do tricks and stunts – yet FAIL at doing those tricks and stunts, or over-egging jumps and ramps and doing one last, one extra flip. The temptation to push your tricks to gain more reputation points is what will actually be your downfall… After all, you can just bomb down each track, cutting corners and NOT EVEN STAYING ON THE TRACK, to get to the end in the required time. But that’s boring. The fun is pushing your use of tricks and stunts. It’s a frustrating vicious circle. Tricks could equal death, no tricks equals no rep points. So what are you to do?

Unfortunately for Switch owners Descenders is not a great port. Not at all. Originally debuting in early access on PC way back in 2018, Descenders has found a strong fanbase in the intervening years. If this would have been the debut platform I doubt that would have been the case. OK, so I can forgive the graphical issues: the glitches, the odd screen tear, the lack of textures and the use of Turok-esque “fogging” to hide the outlying locations you’re biking down. The gameplay more than makes up for those issues… However what I can’t forgive is the loooooong load times!

A game like Descenders is made for pick up and play gameplay, it really is. So why then does it take longer to LOAD a level than actually play it? This is a fast-paced game with sluggish load times that do nothing to help this less-than-stellar port. Which is a shame. There’s a great game here, you only have to play the PC version to see that, but the Switch version has been, sadly, stripped of a lot of what made Descenders great. And as such, if you do want to give this one a go, I’d definitely wait for it to go on sale rather than pay full-price for this one.

Descenders is available on the Nintendo Switch now.

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