When I started the downhill biking sim Descenders earlier this week, I didn’t understand its structure. But after spending a solid hour with it last night, I realized that it borrows its progression from the roguelike platformer Spelunky. That’s a lot different than I was expecting, but it also works well for this kind of game.
Descenders is available now for $25 on Steam from developer RageSquid. It is in the Early Access channel for unfinished games, and the studio is planning to add new features like accessories for your rider and bicycle. In terms of mechanics, Descenders has you riding a bike down a hill and over jumps. The idea is to get speed and to do stunts to maximize your score while avoiding crashes at all costs.
Like Spelunky, Descenders has you progressing through stages in various biomes. You start out in the grassy Highlands zone with 4 lives. If you complete 4 stages and then a boss jump, you get to move on to the next biome. If you crash, you lose a life, but you’ll get an extra life if you complete a bonus objective in each stage. In total, Descenders has four major worlds you must complete to “beat” the game. If you lose all your lives, however, you have to start at the beginning.
This is just like Mossmouth’s rougelike, and the structure works so well here because it brings the daring risk-reward balance of that genre to an action-sports game.
You want to maximize your score, but you also want can’t fall down because every life lost increases the probability that you won’t get to the end. During my time with it, this forced me to play much more conservatively and to learn the intricacies of the controls and physics. I was trying to do flips and spins simultaneously, but I’m not good enough for that yet. So instead I tried to perfect my rotations and flips with the occasional tweaks. I also began figuring out the right amount of pressure to apply to the analog sticks.
I was never into Spelunky, but my problem wasn’t the roguelike elements. I thought the game was not fun to control in platforming or combat. But I appreciated the idea of learning more about how the game works to do better in future runs, and now I can apply that to something that I do enjoy playing.
And that’s awesome.