Thursday, December 13

Review: Desert Child [Nintendo Switch eShop]

There’s a thing in movies and television where a specific character or bit works very well and is entertaining in small doses and they try to make it into something bigger. While there have been some cases where the result has met with success more often than not what worked in small doses collapses when they try to turn it into something more. That kind of sums up my experience with Desert Child, a game that looks great visually and has a reasonably entertaining futuristic racing element to it, but that quickly exhausts itself and then throws other ideas at the wall that for the most part fail to stick.

The core of gameplay is the racing, which is side-scrolling in nature and has you riding a hoverbike and trying to outrace an opponent. You’ll see what appear to be televisions peppered along the way that you’re able to destroy for ammo or money. You’ll need to be careful to try to minimize the damage you take by dodging obstacles and avoiding enemy fire since damage will reduce your performance. The thing is your ammo is limited so you’ll need to be smart with it and then either stock up with a truck that will typically show up mid-race or get good at boosting into objects that will give you a bit of ammo in return. It’s a reasonably fun and challenging few minutes but the problem you’ll quickly discover is that it’s just about all the game has to offer.

At the start things actually aren’t too bad. You’ll have another racer who’ll slowly dole out some info as you go through some initial races, you can go to the shop to repair your ride, grab some ramen noodles to keep your hunger down, and trade in power cells you win through races to slowly build up some cash. You’re then given the tip that you really want to go to Mars for a pretty reasonable fee and it doesn’t take too long to get what you need and off you go. It’s from that point on that it all really falls apart unfortunately in terms of being engaging or even cohesive.

Once on Mars you’ll suddenly find the tight and convenient strip of stores you dealt with replaced by a pretty sprawling multi-area metropolitan area with all sorts of things. There are multiple shops to get repairs, get something to eat, or even do things like buy new tracks to listen to as you play. There are also upgrades you can buy, though equipping those on your bike is a mess as you try to arrange them in a puzzle-esque mini-game that isn’t really explained at all. I was given the opportunity to try to steal something from another bike randomly once but this mini-game wasn’t explained though it was pretty easy. I got close but failed and that set off an alarm that seemed like it would summon the cops but I ran a few areas away and nothing seemed to come of it. There’s a place to pay to get the cops off your back but I couldn’t think of why. There’s a bulletin board and also a store that allow you to play variations on the race mode delivering pizzas, herding kangaroos, or trying to capture a criminal. There’s a league that seems to be what you’re aiming to get into but the price of admission is high and with the somewhat disorganized mess of new things that are generally not explained at all mixed with what simply becomes a grind of races and alternative modes that all begin to feel the same it’s hard not to lose interest very quickly.

There seems to be a seed for what could be a decent game in Desert Child but it honestly feels unfinished. If the focus had been on the action of the racing and slowly layering more elements to that action with some progression I would have probably been fine just stopping there. At least it would have had a clear focus and the central activity could have remained interesting through slowly and smartly evolving. Instead you’ll quickly find yourself wasting your time walking around a city for no really good reason beyond demonstrating some artistic flair with different angles in each area and playing through variations on the same theme over and over again. Perhaps an audience can dig in and find the enjoyment but with so many better conceived games on the eShop it’s hard to give Desert Child a recommendation.

Score: 5

  • Some great pixel art
  • The racing is at least interesting at first

  • Once you hit Mars everything begins to unravel
  • Nothing in the game is explained very well so you’ll start an activity not knowing what to do and then complete it without understanding whether you did it well or not most of the time
  • The desire to show off in terms of visuals seems to have overtaken the desire to be interesting or fun