Fun with style
‘Desert Child,’ race, ramen, repeat
The most popular video games on the market today are huge openworld titles that gamers can sink dozens, if not hundreds of hours, into. Judging by the amount of money these sort of games make, it’s understandable for developers to believe that massive, utterly engaging experiences are what all players want. It’s just not true, though. Sometimes we want a game to relax with, something that doesn’t ask to be taken seriously because it doesn’t really take itself seriously. Sometimes making a game with simple mechanics allows the overall experience to shine, giving gamers the chance to enjoy what they see instead of focusing on what comes next. It’s not an approach seen often, and yet it’s exactly the sort of approach Oscar Brittain seems to have taken with his retro-throwback racer “Desert Child.”
Even a cursory glance at the “Desert Child” trailer will reveal that the game is all about style. Solely developed by Oscar Brittain, the game’s pixel-art trappings are clearly meant to be the highlight of the show. It looks very much like an old PC adventure title, perhaps with a little bit of 8- and 16-bit flair to be found here and there. One might even compare it visually to “Another World,” the “cinematic platformer” released by Delphine Software back in the early 90s. It’s a unique look, and it’s very much unlike a lot of modern games, including modern indie games.
“Desert Child” drops players into the shoes of a small-time hover-bike racer. The opening scene sets the stage for the game’s high-speed racing mechanics and teaches players the basics before dropping the hero onto the streets of a barren earthbound city. Before too long, the hero’s one-time racing coach and fair-weather friend invites him to unchain his game by heading over to Mars, where his racing instincts and street sense will be put to the test.
Though it wouldn’t feel quite right to say that “Desert Child” is primarily focused on racing, it is certainly one of the game’s chief focal points. Brittain’s title employs a remarkably simple racing system: two racers have to get from the start line at the left to the inish line at the right, and they can earn the irst place position by boosting to pass their opponent or by shooting them to slow them down. Floating TVs hover about the tracks just waiting to be destroyed, and some of them offer money or ammo while the others drop hazards or outright shoot at the hero.
Each race is very short, maybe around 60 seconds long, which is probably a good thing considering how many races players will have to complete in order to progress through the game. They don’t seem to get old, though; races really are a matter of getting in, winning, and riding away with as much money as possible. They’re unlikely to be terribly engaging to most players, but they’re just fun enough to keep the player ’s attention in short bursts. This is especially true for other race variations, like herding “cattle” or iring pizzas at hungry customers.
Beyond the racing, the rest of the time spent in “Desert Child” will involve roaming the streets of New Olympia. This Mars colony is largely similar to urban cities on Earth, complete with newsstands, nightclubs, police, pedestrians, and passers-by.