The year is 2071. The Earth has seen better days. There isn’t much in the way of jobs, infrastructure or security. It isn’t all doom and gloom as there is still money to be made. If you can survive on Earth, it’s a living, but the path to success and riches lies in the planets beyond Earth, particularly Mars.
To get there, you need a ticket, and in this future, a ticket to Mars doesn’t come cheap. How players will make it is their hover-bike. It is their best friend and companion, capable of performing many jobs. How players will make that money is up to them.
This is Desert Child from Anapurna Studios. Desert Child is an adventure RPG that highlights Afro-futurism unlike anything else seen in games. I initially played the game at E3 this past June and greatly enjoyed the demo. Now that is here, I can say that Desert Child features a wildly imaginative futuristic visual presentation and a pure hip-hop soundtrack, all set against exciting racing and chasing in your hoverbike. Desert Child is a mesmerizing experience, though perhaps best enjoyed in short bursts.
Desert Child puts players in the role of a young man, David. With dreams of making it to Mars and beyond, David needs to collect money. Players do this by participating in races, bounty hunts, corporate deals, hacking and even giving lessons. Players will use their bike for all of these activities and much more.
At the beginning of the game, the bike can be outfitted with a primary weapon, but over time, players can acquire power cells and parts Grabbing power cells is the easy part. Throughout each successful bike activity, players an achieve power cells, and also small bonuses. After some time, the player can obtain a part and use that part to increase their bike’s attributes, such as attracting more money via a magnet or holding more ammunition for their main weapon.
The racing and combat in Desert Child take a bit getting used, particularly with balancing speed and firing. When players run out of ammo, they must speed up to a small cargo truck in front of them. Once players get used to the easy-to-learn controls, the bike activities in Desert Child are quite fun.
However, riding hover bikes is part of the experience. In Desert Child, money is everything, but so is hunger and the damage their bike sustains. This is where players can freely explore the towns they are in, seeing the different shops and vistas. The developer of the game, Oscar Brittain, based the visual look of Desert Child on his hometown in Australia, and popular authentic sci-fi anime, such as Cowboy Bebop.
As players work their way in the game, their hunger will increase, along with the damage for their bike. They’ll need to spend money on repairs and food. Some foods do add certain benefits but players need to be mindful of the cost of food and bikes. Also, players can purchase vinyl to accompany the game;’s soundtrack form the in-game record store. In this sense, Desert Child becomes a wise game about balancing and investing money. Players can place some fund in a bank and watch their investment grow, but players will need to remain active in activities and events. This is where Desert Child does expose some flaws.
The gameplay can become repetitive in long stretches. You partake in an event, spend money, save money, and wisely balance out the lifestyle. The pause money does display the goal of each chapter, such as raising money to enter a Grand Prix, in order to advance to the next chapter. However, players will find themselves doing the same activities. Occasionally, they will have to avoid law enforcement, and they will be chased down, but that occurrence is every-so-often. Players use their bike, eat food, save money, and continue.
To that end, some may argue that Desert Child is a shallow experience. However, Desert Child is great in shorter bursts and is more of a grounded take in science fiction, which is to be commended. Balancing money may seem like a chore, but Desert Child’s purpose is to put players in a believable and authentic take of the future 50 years from now. To that end, it succeeded. Desert Child will last several hours and is filled with trophies, as well as New Game +, for completionists.
I cannot speak highly enough of the visual interpretation of Desert Child. The camera perspectives, animations, color palettes, and pixelations are all absolutely incredible. The sci-fi world in Desert Child is authentic, dented, edgy, but filled with style. The player walks among cities filled with rust makeshift homes, as well as neon-lit building and walls filled with graffiti. It’s an unclean world but filled with life, once again drawing inspirations from Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and Cowboy Bebop.
This is further compounded by an incredible hip-hop soundtrack. featuring pulsating, thumping beats and incredible mixes. One artist I recognized was Philadelphia-based Mega Ran, who has created incredible tracks inspired by Mega Man, Chrono Trigger, and World Wrestling Entertainment. Seeing him and hearing his music while playing Desert Child was quite a delight.
Overall, Desert Child is an incredibly unique and refreshing experience filled with a lively sci-fi universe and fun gameplay but just held back from the shallowness of the gameplay and lack of variety. Desert Child has accomplished a game that boldly highlights the unique style fo Afro-Futurism and embraces it with fierceness. Desert Child feels like a personal telling of imagination from Oscar Brittain and despite the limited gameplay, it feels great. Desert Child is an adventure worth shooting for the stars for.