Get Your Ass to Mars in Desert Child

Desert Child is my tale of being young and disobedient, refusing to eat vegetables and subsisting only on cakes and cookies. It’s an allegory about the stubbornness of man and their self-destructive tendencies, meant to be enjoyed with a self-satisfied smirk and a bottle of ironically bad wine. Crap…no..that’s Dessert Child. Stupid mistake. Desert Child is actually a hoverbike racing, RPG game with stylized retro graphics, exciting gameplay and the ever-present drive to earn more money to survive and thrive in a barren wasteland. It’s also so much cooler than my idea.

In this world, Earth has gone to hell. The air sucks, food is scarce, and money is incredibly difficult to earn. Even mundane day to day survival is a huge undertaking. The smart people with some cash in their accounts took off for Mars, a planet whose quality of life far exceeds the old world. The government is even aware of this and has been subsidizing tickets for the citizens to help make relocation easier. The problem is that even the government is running short of funds, and they have announced that off planet ticket prices will be increasing exponentially in two weeks. Thus, it is up to the player to scrape enough cash to buy a ticket, while staying alive.

This is all easier said than done. “Subsidized tickets” does not mean “free tickets.” Getting off world is still expensive. Plus, the only skill our hero has is that of a hoverbike racer. So, the player will need to take on any job they can to earn the scratch. This ranges from easy, but not exactly lucrative jobs like delivering pizzas, all the way to bounty hunting using the bike’s front mounted cannons. Even if the player manages to excel at these jobs, the bike and the hero’s body needs maintenance and fuel. Some cash can be saved through theft, but that carries its own set of risks. Desert Child is basically a high stress simulator of a minimum wage employee set in the future. Still, it’s possible to dig out, and an upgrade bike can mean a chance to win high end prizes.

The racing itself is a challenging, but fun, affair. While it’s done via sidescrolling, the player pretty much has run of the field. It’s a good thing, too, as there are numerous obstacles to slam into at a high rate of speed. Some of them can be blown away with the cannon, but ammunition is limited. When the guns run dry, the player will need to boost onto a truck midrace. These sections reminded me of a more forgiving Battletoads in that the player barely feels in control of at the speeds we are asked to fly, and it will smack down the more careless gamer. It doesn’t reach that level of frustration, however, and offers a lot more beyond “jump, dodge, and crash.”

It’s hard to believe that Desert Child was pretty much put together by one man, Oscar Brittain. It’s not a graphically-gorgeous game, but there are so many interconnected systems rumbling beneath the hood of this title that one must wonder at the brain that put it all together. This is a unique and inventive title, like nothing else on the market. While an “indie game with retro graphics” might be a formula that some might consider to be getting thin, it would be unwise to dismiss this game as just another one of those. Expect it to hit in the third quarter of this year.