It’s Rogue-like month here during June for absolutely no reason whatsoever, so I’m going to be looking at four different lesser-known games with Rogue elements that you may or may not have heard of. Previously, we’ve seen Hellmut: The Badass From Hell and Rico, but today it’s the turn of Descenders.
Most Rogue-likes tend to revolve around killing things. Mostly in the face. But every now and then one comes along that’s a little different. Descenders features all the usual Rogue-like stuff, such as permadeath and procedural generation, but it’s all about riding your mountain bike really fast downhill. Starting in a fairly open field, things get difficult quickly once you’re tasked with pulling off insane jumps before being allowed to continue. Should you crash too often, it’ll be back to the start with you!
Doing well earns you crew members that can make things easier for you by making you able to wobble less at high speeds, or reduce the number of sharp turns in future courses. Honestly, I didn’t notice a huge difference when playing as I acquired these team members, but maybe I just wasn’t paying enough attention. You also earn Rep which unlocks new cosmetic items for you to equip. They don’t do anything, but it’s nice to go cycling with a silly mohawk helmet!
Between races, you are presented with a node-based map to select your next course. They’re rated for steepness, curvature, and stunts to give you an idea of what you’ll be up against. You’ll also get a bonus objective to complete, such as doing certain stunts or finishing within a certain time limit. These are very much optional but will earn you additional health if you complete them, so it’s worth doing them early on. Honestly, you can take it easy with the vast majority of the courses and just try to get to the end, but that’s before you come up against the Boss courses.
At the end of each of the four areas, you’ll be faced with a challenging jump that you’ll need to complete to move forward. You can’t really take your time with these as you’ll need speed and momentum to make it. They’re really quite tough and you’ll likely fail a lot on these stages as landing on the ramp on the other side of the jump relies on you hitting the initial ramp nearly perfectly. If you complete these with their associated bonus objectives three times, you’ll unlock a shortcut to the next area to avoid having to replay the early part of the game. This is nice and saves you a lot of hassle once you get good enough at an area that replaying it is a chore.
There are a few other nice features, such as the courses being sort of multiplayer in that you’ll be able to see other riders taking part in the same procedurally generated track as you, as well as modifiers that can make some courses trickier. Ones where there’s no track at all and you simply need to make it to the bottom are as exhilarating as they are challenging due to the absurd speeds you’ll reach on them. Dodging those trees is more than a little tricky when you’re hurtling downhill at 70km/h.
Descenders is reasonable fun, but once you’ve played it a few times you’ve seen pretty much all it has to offer. There are sponsor challenges to complete and items to unlock, but all that’s kind of fluff to pad out the game. The core gameplay loop alright, but it’s not really been enough to make me want to keep playing it. The crew bonuses aren’t really that exciting, the courses are all the same for the most part, and the only parts that are really enjoyable are the boss jumps that take a little while to get to should you fail. It’s irritating to have to replay the basic and easy early courses just to have another try at the ‘boss’. I get that this is part of the Rogue-like experience but it’s annoying to lose all your hard-earned health and have to replay another 20 minutes to have another try in the hopes you get it right this time. There isn’t quite enough here to make that loop engaging.
The visuals are fine but aren’t anything really special once you’ve seen a new environment for the first time. The sound’s really quite good though, particularly the soundtrack which gives something of a chilled-out feeling to the courses. Descenders tells you in the loading screens to play this in pretty much any way you want, saying “It’s not a race”. Playing it this way whilst listening to the soundtrack is the best way to enjoy this. The crash sound effects are good and meaty, although they don’t sound as though they’re part of the environment, rather that they’ve clearly been recorded somewhere else.
I know it sounds like I’m pretty down on Descenders, but it’s pretty good fun for a little while. I wouldn’t want to commit to finishing it via the most challenging courses it can throw at me, but as something to spend ten minutes here and there, it’s not a bad option. I will say I’m glad that I played it through Game Pass rather than buying it. You might have more luck with it than me though!
What Rogue-like games should I take a look at? I do like a good procedurally generated game with permadeath from time to time, so let me know if there are any I should take a look at over the coming weeks!