Fun with style

‘Desert Child,’ race, ra­men, re­peat

The Gulf Today - Time Out - - YOUNG WORLD - Kevin Tucker/Tri­bune News Ser­vice

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.

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