Those of you that know me well, will know just how much I appreciate a game that sets itself apart from the crowd through its visual design and presentation. If Desert Child can (and should) boast about one thing, it’s its gorgeous retro aesthetic. Sadly, the game’s structure and its lack of depth holds it back, but, if you’re looking for bite-sized fun that doesn’t demand too much effort and attention, this should be on your radar. That said, I hate to start with negativity, but there’s just no overlooking Desert Child’s weak frame.
The premise is relatively straightforward. Players take on the role of a young and talented hoverbike racer. One that’s broke, yet filled with ambition. The fabled Grand Prix is taking place soon, however, our protagonist needs to scrape together a staggering 10,000 credit in order to participate. Before that, he needs to pull up a small sum of cash to make it to Mars. You see, in Desert Child, the Earth is becoming inhabitable, with the majority of folk moving to the Red Planet to start fresh. There’s a problem to contend with from the get-go, however.
The government are soon to increase the cost of moving from Earth to Mars, forcing our protagonist to think fast on his feet and get that cash together swiftly. This introduction takes place on a single street, with races filling the void in between interactions. When all is said and done, it takes minimal effort and less than thirty minutes to bounce from one planet to the next. When you find yourselves on Mars, this is where the game truly picks up, though, it’s also where the game’s drawbacks come into view like a freakin’ wrecking ball.
The crux of play sees you constantly doing whatever you can to obtain cash, whether it breaks the law or not. These jobs encompass the likes of robbing a bank, rounding up animals, delivering pizzas and so forth. You’re typically rewarded with fair sums of cash depending on how well you achieve your immediate goals. Though, it pays off to store your cash in the nearby bank; not only for added interest, but to avoid police seizure. Yes, the police in this game, if they capture you, will take any money that you have on your person.
I managed to scrape together seventy percent of the needed entry fee for the Grand Prix, only to have it all snatched from my grasp by the law. Mars admittedly makes for quite an interesting location to traverse, despite it being somewhat unbelievable from a design perspective. You’ll maneuver an interconnected set of streets, alleyways, canals and some other useful locations on your way through the journey at hand. Each and every area typically brings with it some unique buildings and structures to help you make more progress.
For instance, in the mecha area, you can access a race that allows you to test out a titan-sized mech’s weapon, as well as buy food to keep your hunger levels satisfactory. However, over in the nightlife area, you can enter a dodgy bar and take on some nefarious tasks to pull in more coin. The flip side here being that you’ll slowly gain notoriety and increase the likelihood of the cops pulling you to one side. I was quite fond of checking out what each location had to offer me, but one irritating design choice made it far less enjoyable later in.
You see, you don’t have any directional control over your character. Instead, depending on the fixed camera angle of each area, you’ll walk in a straight line with no room for deviation. This alone doesn’t sound too bad, but when we factor in that areas are connected in such a way that you’ll usually have to transition a few (slowly) before you get to your desired location, it begins to frustrate. More so due to the fact that you’re always sent to the entrance of the city following each and every encounter. Fun at first, but boring before long.
Nevertheless, you’ll find plenty of things to engage with throughout. Whether you’re buying the latest newspaper to get more world understanding, or purchasing some new soundtracks to add to your collection, there’s, initial at least, lots to engage with. The problem, on the other hand, is that this all becomes fairly dry even after just an hour of play – which, by the by, makes up for the bulk of your time in Desert Child. I managed to complete the game in less than three hours, with no incentive to hit the new game plus.
You main objective always remains the same. Earn cash and save it like a chipmunk. To do this, you’ll need to hop on your hoverbike and haul ass across a range of varying tracks. Though, before we get to the actual racing, I should point out that there’s a thin layer of management thrown into the mix here. Your hoverbike, much like your character, needs to be maintained. You’ll do this through the use of one-click repairs at the expense of some cash. That said, you can also upgrade your hoverbike via plugging in some capability chips.
These can be purchased from a nearby vendor or stolen from parked hoverbikes. There’s almost no difficulty to the stealing aspects of the game, being that you simply need to hit a button at the right time; four times consecutively. Once you have your part, you can fit it to your hoverbike, but there’s a limitation involved here. Parts will come in varying shapes and sizes, and all of them will need to connect to the core power source – which can be expanded through mini-chips. This is all relayed through the use of a small squared grid.
You’ll connect your part and ensure that it’s connected to the power source, and will then add as many more as you can before you run out of space. There’s more parts in the game than you can possibly add to your vehicle; lending the game a degree of varied customization. Once you’re happy with your build, you’re off to earn more money to eventually hit the Grand Prix. I’ll commend the game for its decent serving of races and objectives, but it all plays the same regardless – each job taking less than a minute to run.
Pizza delivery is by far the most uninteresting aspect of the game. Here, you’ll make your way from one end of the track to the other, throwing pizzas as little red stick-men as they appear on the course. The soundtrack during this segment is the most annoying soundtrack that I’ve ever heard. In fact, most of the tracks in Desert Child are irritating. So much so that I muted the game’s music early on. If I wanted to bleed my ears through listening to a shitty Pizza-specific song, I’ll listen to Macaulay Culkin’s ‘The Pizza Underground’, thank you.
During any given race, you’ll always start on the left side of the screen with forced movement towards the right. You’re free to move up and down the width of the track, which is oftentimes necessary to avoid obstacles, waves and the occasional enemy. Outside of that, you can boost and you can fire your weaponry. Though, utilizing these latter functions will largely depend on what sort of race you’re taking part in, meaning that it’s not always beneficial to throttle at full speed and blast anything that sits in your immediate path.
Take, for example, if you’re required to lose a race to make another racer look good, you’ll want to hold off on boosting yet blast money banks to gain additional cash. If, on the other hand, you’re tasked with beating an opponent, you’ll want to hit your boost as much as you can. The game does well to toy with its few mechanics, oftentimes demanding swift reflexes and aggression. Your supplies are not limitless, you will need to get the occasional pick-up to refill either your boost or your weaponry, but this doesn’t take much effort either way.
Once you’ve made enough cash to enter the Grand Prix, you’ll be as shocked as I was to find that it equates to little more than a few races – three in total. Yes, you read that correctly. This massively anticipated Grand Prix is actually just a cheap, short tournament knock-out. The game comes to an abrupt halt once you’ve won these easy races, informing you that you have completed the game and congratulating you in the process; roll the credits and voila, the end. I sat there in disbelief for the better part of the credits, feeling utterly trolled.
The shame in all of this is that with some more refinement and a better structure, one that actually gives meaning to the journey at hand, Desert Child could have been much more than what it is. Instead, it’s a few hours of being a gofer and then three short races on top of that. There’s fun to be had, but the game never really capitalizes on this to stretch it out. Racing itself is easily the best portion of play here, in which it remains precise, fast-paced and fluid from the get-go, but it’s broken up too much by needless toing and froing.
This is further held back by the fact that, despite the varying objectives, it’s too hard to shake the feeling that your last few minutes of play feels far too much like your first few minutes of play. Some added depth and diversity would have helped here. Indeed, there’s an option to enjoy some local multiplayer, but I would hardly push that forward as a selling point. The only real difference in all of this is the game’s gorgeous and varying designs, which I will gleefully point out, are some of the most stunning retro-like designs I’ve seen.
The level of detail is wonderful, with bright color popping the screen on a frequent basis. I particularly enjoyed the sights of Mars’ city, despite it all getting too old a lot faster than it should. Don’t get me wrong, if you’re looking for a racer (if we can call it that) that offers bite-sized fun, and indeed you favor simplicity and repetition over depth and substance, Desert Child is for you. If, however, you seek something more robust in a game of this type, you would do well to understand that Desert Child offers pretty much anything but that.
Desert Child suffers greatly from its poor interconnected structure, which is a shame, because the game oozes potential throughout. I’ll credit the game for its gorgeous retro aesthetic and its brief moments of excitement, but ultimately, much of the game’s fun is bogged down by its constrained flow. Furthermore, the game constantly builds to a fabled event, one that turns out to be puddle deep and underwhelming.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.