Descenders Early Impressions
The Descenders is a Mountain Biking-themed rogue-lite. No really! It is. I almost went as far as to say rogue-like, because there isn’t really much you unlock that helps you on subsequent runs. All the ‘stuff’ you get is cosmetic. But then I remembered you can unlock shortcuts to the later zones, so rogue-lite it is.
… Alright, I might’ve jumped several steps here.
Obviously, the focus of the game is on your skills as a virtual biker. The amount of control you can exert is impressive. I played with a controller, and everything felt very responsive.1 Left-stick controls your steering and, as such, is your primary directional control. Right-stick controls bike/body position. Flicking down then up, for example, allows for a bunny hop. Left or right allows to ‘tweak’ the bike into a slide. Or– if you’re in the air, you can hold the left button and move the right stick to perform a trick; meanwhile, the left stick still allows you to combine this with a flip, rotation, tilt, or other.
Even with all that control, I still, more often than not, find myself in this sort of position: On my back, wondering how it is more people don’t die in this sport.
The campaign maps are procedurally generated, with a series of characteristic modifiers that adjust the overall experience on them. Those being Slope, Curves and Stunts. Beyond the first map of your campaign run, you will be able to see the weighting of these stats when picking your next node to tackle. Those, combined with the biome you’re currently in, can have a fairly significant impact on the difficulty.
Every so often, you’ll encounter a ‘Fire Node’ which maxes all of these characteristics at the same time.
Doing one of these, at least with my skill level, is a pretty good way to end a run. You see — each run, you have a limited amount of health. Most of the time, bailing from your bike will just reduce your health by one.
But… if you bail quite spectacularly, be it from a high speed, high altitude jump, for example, you can wipe out two health in a single go.
As you might imagine, combining intense slopes with intense stunts is a pretty good way to see this happen.
Most of the time, I’d rather work my way around such a node, even if it’s a longer path. But every once in a while, I’ll crack my knuckles and see if I can get through it.
Your ultimate goal is to make it to the ‘boss’ node of each biome, in which, will be a particularly difficult ‘boss jump’. The title image used for this post is the Highlands boss jump, where it tasks you with getting over the bridge, with a speeding train going along the top. Go too slow– well, the results of that are probably obvious. Go too fast, and you’ll miss your ramp on the other side, and given your altitude, no amount of ‘counter pump’ action (twitching the right stick to bring the bike up to your body the moment you land) is going to save you.
Alternatively… *cough* …You can just sort of… Go around. This is valid, particularly for getting started or if you’re attempting to make it on a single continuous run from Highlands to the last biome, The Peaks.
The game will even acknowledge your efforts in bypassing some of these. *cough*
You can gain health back along the way, too, though. After selecting a run, it will roll a random bonus objective for you. This might be getting a certain length of airtime, performing particular stunts, completing the map in a certain time, or things like completing the level without letting go of acceleration.
If you manage it, at the end of that level, you’ll be granted +1 health. So it becomes a matter of balancing out the risks you’re willing to take to gain the health you’ll need to make it through.
All this, though? Barely scratching the surface of the Descenders package.
The procedural maps are fantastic, and you can even create a set of parameters and select a biome you’ve unlocked to create your own freeride experience if you want.
But sometimes you just can’t go past that handcrafted love, and Descenders has you covered there with the concept of Ride Parks.
The styles range from Fallout Guys style rotating platforms and foam padded batons trying to give you a splash down into the water below, to recreations of mountain bike parks with multiple routes of varying difficulty, to city-scapes inspired by locales around the world.
I spent a fair amount of time in Stoker Bike Park, trying out the different routes ranging from General/Beginner to Danger/Expert and there was really something to be said for the hand-placed rocks and terrain elements giving a whole new breath of life into how Descenders is experienced.
Descenders isn’t a game I’d normally cover here. It isn’t even one I’d normally play a great deal of. The reason for covering it now is that it is part of September 2022’s Humble Choice bundle, and UnwiseOwl has a community project running to, as a blogger community, cover the games included each month.
But that wasn’t the reason I played it. In fact, I already owned a copy of Descenders well before this month’s bundle. I bought it with a specific use case in mind, though: It’s a game that’s fun to watch and is appropriate to watch for a younger person. My youngest enjoys watching me play games from time to time, so having a set of games that I don’t mind playing or letting him watch that he’ll want to watch is fairly important.
I haven’t, before today to refresh myself on the game before coming to write this, played much of it on my own just because I wanted to.
But the extra couple of hours today was fun. I gained myself a sponsor; I unlocked a bunch of new cosmetics — all of which are obtained by gameplay only, I might add, no MTX or DLC packs for them here at all — and most of all reminded myself on why Descenders sits at Overwhelmingly Positive for both overall and recent reviews.
If you’re the type of gamer to enjoy racking up points and unlocks through the execution of rather technical stunts, meanwhile racing at breakneck speeds down the side of a mountain, I think you’re going to have a pretty good time of it.
Would I have picked up this month’s Humble Choice package for Descenders alone? Probably not, but I don’t think it’d be a silly decision for someone more into this style of game!