The rogue-likes and rogue-lites are finally dying down.
You’d think after something like NeuroVoider, or Dead Cells, that’d be it, but no, you still get the occasional curveball of top-down tedium or side-scrolling smattering with miscreant merchants. Today however? I think we’ve found another nice peak, and ironically, it’s called Descenders.
This is the sophomore title from Dutch studio RageSquid, who released Descenders onto various early access fronts back in 2018. RageSquid first made their name known with Action Henk, a weird Trials-esque game with more of an emphasis on platforming, and now they’ve released todays BMXing beast with the help of No More Robots, publishers of recent kitsch darling Hypnospace Outlaw. More than a sign of quality.
There’s no plot to speak of, unless you want to bring up the usual Rogue-like schtick… In fact, lets do that. You’re the BMX Bandit, former partner of Angel Summoner, who has been imprisoned on top of the Scottish Highlands after the evil scoot master Jeremy Corbyn thinks you’re too cool to be around people. After popping a wheelie to kick some dirt into the guards face, you escape your cell and begin your escape.
In all seriousness, RageSquid have genuinely created a small bite-size rogue-lite in the form of a simple extreme sport, and that’s downhill off-road BMX. From your beginning in the Highlands, to your cataclysmic crashing through the Canyon, to the penultimate perilous precision prerequisites in the Peaks, it’s all fast all the time, all with the likes of procedural generation and temporary upgrades.
Gameplay is a simple mix between the likes of Trials, and the ollie-ing mechanics of Skate 3. You use the Right and Left triggers to accelerate and brake respectively, with the right stick controlling your “pumping” along with your bunny hopping. This all controls how you’d expect in a 3D format: Like a bloody dream, with the weight and terrifying uncontrollable feel of the bike being felt in full force as you barrel down certain hills and areas with nothing on your mind but the sweet release of death.
If you’re feeling exceptionally suicidal, you can always add a bit of flavor to your air-time by pulling off endless flips and spins, in the hopes of getting a high score. It’s not as insanely implemented here as it was in Skate 3, as the tricks are hidden and never expanded upon by the game, which is a shame if you ask me.
If you hold the left bumper and point the right stick in a direction, then you’ll see something more in-line with most skating games, but the game never properly rewards you for using this, outside of one bonus level. Realistically, Descenders has more in common with the N64 classic 1080 Snowboarding more than other obvious examples, with the same focus on dangerous downhill delves, but Descenders finds beauty in simplicity.
Really, it’s the innocence of it all that makes the game such a dead-set winner. It’s what makes the likes of titles like Cooking Mama or Papers, Please so great; it’s tapping into a genre which hasn’t seen a good game– Or a …