When first playing Desert Child during PAX East this past year, it held a lot of promise. The slick pixel art, cool music, and fun hoverbike racing all drew me in. Unfortunately, there isn’t a whole lot more to the game than those strong pieces I just listed.
In Desert Child, you play as a wannabe pro racer who is trying to enter and win the Grand Prix – the mother of all races. To do so, you need money. To earn money, you gotta race… or deliver pizza, or any number of side jobs that are available to you. The experience is just as much about the everyday grind as it is about racing.
When not racing, you’re walking around a town (first on Earth, then Mars) exploring what’s available to you. There are odd jobs such as the aforementioned pizza delivery, as well as hacking into banks, training a rookie, or chasing bounties. Despite how vastly different those all sound, it’s still the same racing you always do, but with a different spin.
Unfortunately, Desert Child doesn’t do a very good job explaining what it is you have to do in these jobs. I could never complete bounties no matter how much I shot at or caught up with my target. And hacking made no sense to me whatsoever. Pizza delivery was good, however, especially because it has its own rad music attached to it.
Get Busy, Desert Child
And that brings us to what is probably the best part of the game. The music in Desert Child is phenomenal and catchy as hell. The funky, lo-fi jams exude cool by a hodgepodge of small music artists, the biggest of which includes Mega Ran. You will have to use in-game currency to purchase music and have it play while you’re out in the game world. Trust me when I say this is one of the first things you should spend your money on.
When not buying music, you will be spending your hard-earned cash mainly on managing repairs and hunger. Hitting obstacles during your races will eventually require you to hit up the repair shop. Getting hungry will also have an adverse effect on your performance. Luckily there are places to grab ramen, pizza, or even mysterious beans if you’re feeling adventurous.
The first area you get to explore is very small and limited to one street. You will soon enough find yourself on Mars, though, which is considerably bigger. There is more to explore and random events can occur such as opportunities to steal bike parts. Doing this can bring the heat on you and police may occasionally give chase.
This is sadly the way Desert Child mixes up its experience… by having you do the same type of racing gameplay over and over. If it sounds like I’m running out of things to talk about, it’s because there’s little offered by the game itself.
See You, Space Cowboy
There was a lot of potential in Desert Child, but the slick presentation and amazing soundtrack only seem to mask what ends up being shallow gameplay. Racing feels good at first, but an entire game where that’s the only thing you do gets tiring pretty fast. And while the simulation aspects do indeed provide a needed mix in the experience, there’s just not enough to chew on.
Desert Child is that kid you knew who watched a whole lot of Cowboy Bebop thinking it’d be cool to dress like Spike Spiegel in school. We appreciate the effort, but looking cool is different from actually being cool. This isn’t the poser of video games, but it gets close to it.
A review code was provided by the publisher.
David has been involved in games media since 2012 running his own blog, YouTube channel, being a founding member of RETRO Magazine, and now as host/producer of ARGcast – Another Retro Gaming Podcast. He also dabbles in voiceover and is occasionally a stunt double for Jude Law.