I’m a sucker for aesthetics in games. I’m not talking about realistic graphics, poly count, or any of that nonsense. I’m talking about pure visual style and ocular appeal. If a game absolutely bleeds style, it tends to carve out a spot in my heart. Games like Hotline Miami, Deadbolt, and basically anything from Suda 51 are games that feel like interactive art. Actual art too, not walking simulators where you explore an empty house with boring notes scattered about; to hell with those. Desert Child is a visual and auditory treat.
If I was more talented, ambitious, and creative, it’s the kind of game I’d like to think I would make.
Centering around the futuristic hover bike racing scene, Desert Child throws you into a futuristic dystopia filled with shady bean salesmen, criminal nightclub owners, pizza delivery, and loads of ramen shops. You’re gonna be planet hopping from a ruined Earth to a not so ruined Mars. You’ll have to race, take on side jobs, do a few illegal activities, and more in order to win the big Grand Prix and become a rad dude. I’m paraphrasing of course, but you get the idea.
The meat of the gameplay revolves around high-speed side scrolling combat racing. Avoid obstacles and collect boosts to smoke the competition. While you can engage in combat with your opponent, damage only slows you down and you can’t actually destroy or be destroyed, which frankly I found a bit odd. It’s not terribly complex, but the ability to upgrade your bike with various mods and power-ups does allow you to fine-tune your ride to match your play style.
You have to earn, manage, and save your winnings in order to progress. With a plethora of side jobs and missions to help you earn, it’s really a joy to check out all the different opportunities, and it never really gets stale. While there are the basic races, you can also herd kangaroos, chase criminals, and deliver pizza while hearing the greatest theme songs of all time.
Illegal activities are also a good way to earn money. But overdoing this will effect your notoriety level and lead to a police chase. Get caught, and all the cash you’re carrying will get confiscated. That is if you were dumb enough to not store it in the bank and let that interest build.
For a game that’s fairly simple, it has a large amount of things going on. Various foods can effect your performance in both positive and negative ways. Opportunities change daily, as do vendors and upgrade chances. I found myself constantly exploring the city for new or rare goings-on.
Now for what completely won me over; the visuals and music. Where do I even start? Everything about this game feels stylized, clever, and unique. Every store, level, and dialog exchange is worth checking out. I absolutely adore how much character this game has, without really having any actual characters. Even the trophies and settings menu is loaded with charm and satire.
The visuals are reminiscent of the classic ‘Another World‘; the visuals have a retro feel without being lazy as a lot of indie titles seem to be. The animations are stylistically limited and work great with the world. It’s a game that sticks to an older art style without looking or feeling old or dated.
Only adding to the overall aesthetic, the soundtrack is filled with sci-fi, lo-fi that creates a fantastic atmosphere for not only the races but also the downtime of exploring the city. If this isn’t released on vinyl I will personally email the creator, Oscar Brittain, a very stern letter of annoyance. The soundtrack is incredible.
In the end, Desert Child won my heart with its visual design which is overflowing with aesthetics and style, while its simple but interesting game play kept me coming back for more. The quirky and unorthodox presentation is just the breath of fresh air I needed. If you want something new, different, and incredibly stylish, give Desert Child a go.