With all the remake buzz around Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 & 2, the downhill biking game, Descenders, arrives at the perfect time on Nintendo Switch and PS4, sending some much-needed love to the extreme sports genre…
The core gameplay formula of Descenders is quite straightforward; careen down slopes at break-neck speeds, then pull off some slick wheelies and air-borne tricks on procedurally generated maps. Awesome concept. But will it hold your interest in the long term? Let’s find out!
Being reminiscent of the classic, 1080° Snowboarding and SSX Tricky, as soon as I saw how arcade-y and fast-paced Descenders was, I felt compelled to give it a shot… And good thing I did, because hot damn this game is fun! There’s pure joy found in the sheer pace of the descent, and shooting towards ramps for crazy air-time is one of this title’s biggest draws. Any unfortunate crash or collision is almost always based on bike skill and proficiency. And thankfully, the bike controls are super tight and responsive.
Players can pull off 5 in-air tricks, in combination with front/back-flips, spins and wheelies as well. But in all fairness, this title isn’t so much about grinding rails and combo-ing into other tricks like Tony Hawk’s, Pro Skater. Rather, it focuses more on speed and surmounting the chaos of the moment. That’s where it truly shines. That being said, pulling off cool tricks and varying up your actions will boost your ‘Rep’ points dramatically. Not just for bragging rights, these points allow you to purchase aesthetic items like new helmets and bikes, plus a new game mode.
Descenders has several game modes available right out the gate too, though they all operate around the same concept – cross that finish line.
Career mode contains a challenging series of procedurally generated levels, over a single in-game day. And the lighting conditions become actively darker, the longer you take to complete them. A very interesting setup.
Whilst traversing around the world map on a series of nodes, you’ll progress through a range of different environments and track layouts, whilst earning new crew members along the way. These guys basically act as level design and stat modifiers that can help remove some obstacles from the path or even make it easier to correct your landing, making those moments when you launch of a ramp completely wrong easier to deal with.
This inclusion definitely helps Descenders cater to different playstyles, as it can even assist with mechanics like off-road friction; helping you to maintain relatively high speeds off the beaten path. This encourages not just bike and extreme sports enthusiasts to play but also caters to a more casual audience – extra options are always good in my book.
Throughout Career mode, you only have a limited amount of ‘health’ as the game calls it, to finish one region before moving onto the next. As more impactful collisions or landings can remove 2, sometimes 3 health, and you only start Career mode off with 4.
Completing bonus objectives like ‘don’t let go of the accelerator’ or ‘get 6 seconds of air-time’ grant 1 health back, as well as completing the ‘Medic Camp’ nodes. Said objectives incorporate an almost, risk-reward element to the levels though, as it’s fairly easy to crash or fall off your bike at high speeds.
In all honesty, this is actually a really well thought out inclusion, that actively promotes fast and focused gameplay.
The kicker is, since you have to unlock new regions by completing the ‘Boss Jump’ node on the opposite side of the map, I’d sometimes play super cautious on the normal nodes and slow down a bunch. Because if your goal is to solely unlock the new regions, you’ll probably have a better chance of survival by pacing yourself and saving your health for the big, final jump.
This does go against the essence of the mechanics somewhat since the game is all about that pacy, downward descent. But as previously stated, there’s only a certain amount of nodes you can complete till nightfall, which results in some seriously limited vision. Becoming exponentially harder to anticipate the overall track layout, compared to broad daylight. So, heading straight towards the ‘Boss Jump’ can save a lot of grief.
Regardless, the changing landscapes, along with the day & night cycles are a sight to behold! The extra camera angles you can switch between (especially the first-person view), really sell the raw speed of the spectacle as well! My palms are sweaty, knees are heavy just thinking about it!
The music too, adds to the dopamine-fuelled rush you’ll feel during gameplay. The 30 licensed tracks from Dutch label, Liquicity, consist of airy, drum ‘n’ bass, electronic-inspired tunes which really fit the expansive, playground-inspired atmosphere that Descenders is going for. The track, ‘Unreal’, by T & Sugah has 100% blown my speakers! I love it.
One of the other game modes called Freeride, allows you to let loose and practise on previous regions you’ve unlocked, and not have to worry about health. There’s various sliders for track steepness, curvature and stunt objects like ramps and treacherous logs to ride on for instance. Perfect for a 10-minute, pick up ‘n’ play session. Try and reach the finish line at night with no paths, and have all the sliders maxed out! Have fun restarting a bajillion times!
In case you’re wondering, there’s no custom map builder or anything, as the main draw of Descenders is inherently its procedurally generated design. Though fans have been requesting a map creation tool for some time since it’s initial release back in 2019. Modders have recently figured out a way to manually introduce maps for PC, and the developers have taken notice by patching some into both the PC and Xbox One versions. Although, it’s yet to be seen if these user-created levels will transfer over to Nintendo Switch and PS4, or allow for some type of map creation tool on consoles.
Descenders keeps you hooked on its adrenaline-pumping, downhill descents for hours at a time. It can be a tad overwhelming on occasion, but I feel it’s worth being purchased for the speed and overall craziness alone. I could definitely see this taking off on Nintendo Switch for its pick up ‘n’ play nature, and it’ll give you an excellent warm-up for the remakes of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2.
Review by Anthony Culinas