This isn’t the worst game on Steam, yet still manages to be one of my most disliked experiences since I started gaming on this platform.
Genres: Driving, Racing
Developer: Oscar Brittain
Publisher: Akupara Games
Release Date: 11 December, 2018
Desert Child (DC) is a game I obtained from a monthly Humble Bundle, activating it when it had fairly solid reviews, which is still on display if you check the composite score at the top of the Steam store page. Scrolling down reveals a far worse opinion, which is again contrasted by many YouTube reviews of the game gushing over it, describing it as a masterpiece and marvel of game design. When I first tried it, I realized within 5 minutes that this was going to be one of the worst games I’ve reviewed for Steam, as I was physically repelled by the experience.
I’ve played a variety of racing games, but I don’t recall playing any quite like DC. Unlike many racing games where you deal with left and right turns, making some kind of loop to go around a track multiple times, these races function like a left to right action game, and you’ll weave in and out of oncoming obstacles. Each race pits you against one opponent, against whom you’ll fire if they pull ahead of you, and try to avoid being shot when you boost out in front of them. Another thing you’ll shoot with your firearm is a variety of TVs, which drop such things as money and landmines, while they also fire projectiles at you.
I found two variants on the racing system, which removed the opponent and replaced it with another objective. The first was a high-speed pizza delivery job, while the other revolved around corralling kangaroos by staying on their tails. Although it sounds like this might change up the gameplay, these are minor differences, as the distance driven is roughly the same, tracks change little when it’s always a straight line, and obstacles don’t change very much either. There’s another component to the game, where you walk about town. However, it draws out what could be handled with a basic menu screen, as there’s no events or conversations to have with people. It all revolves around buying items and selecting what kind of race you want to do next to earn more money. The starting area reveals how simple these mechanics are, with the short row of buildings you can walk to containing all you need, before you transfer to the larger area in Mars that is basically just filler.
The game itself recommends playing with a controller, which I complied with. Moving the main character and driving the bike is both controlled with the ‘L joystick,’ but while driving you can only move up and down. Pressing ‘A’ will activate your boost, though you have to pay attention to how much meter you have available. Your ammunition is also limited, which you’ll fire off with ‘X.’ All of this works alright, though the protagonist’s walking speed feels quite slow.
I didn’t get very far in this game, so I can’t say this definitively, but I don’t think this game has a story at all, which is illogical with how its set up. Wandering around town is seemingly an asset of the game, and should be an avenue to world build and outline the main character’s motivation. Even a basic racing game tends to name the main character, outlining a simple goal of competing in increasing levels of races in order to become a renowned champion of some kind. However, having accomplished my first objective of getting to Mars, which may or may not be a big deal since there’s no context for what goes on in DC, I knew nothing about the protagonist, the setting, or any NPCs. The game gives an illusion of wanting to do something in this regard, but covers less ground than an arcade game would.
The visuals of DC aren’t too bad as it incorporates decent pixel graphics. None of the characters really have faces, but the environments include a nice attention to detail and utilize color effectively. While racing, there’s a pseudo 3D depth effect from the bikes shrinking as they go into the background. Gameplay wise I find it hard to track and line up my character against oncoming obstacles, but it’s a solid visual effect. One facet of the graphics that aggravates me is how often the perspective changes as you walk around Mars. Showing different angles of a town would be a good way to develop the atmosphere, but since nothing of meaning is done with this, it only serves as a disorienting factor when trying to navigate. Moving left on the screen won’t translate sensibly when you suddenly take an overhead view, press left which makes the character move forward, and then switch views to a head-on perspective with the main character coming towards you.
When I checked out a playlist for the songs in DC, I found that it has some pretty good music. It fits the general tone and vibe the game was aiming for, as the tempo is upbeat enough to groove to, yet incorporates a soundboard that feels mellow. I suppose that’s why the game’s header and title images involve the main character lying back while smoking. The music doesn’t quite feel otherworldly, but there’s some funkiness to it. The sound effects are more subdued and as expected, and I have no complaints with them.
- I don’t think the graphics were properly utilized, but the art design is pretty decent.
- The game is functional, and may not have any bugs.
- There’s no indicator for the finish line coming up soon, so you have no way to respond accordingly. You just have to hope you wind up in front at the right time.
- Without being completely broken, unplayable trash, this manages to be one of the games I hate most that I’ve ever tried on Steam.
- It doesn’t take long for the gameplay to feel highly repetitive.
- It doesn’t seem prudent to boost forward all the time, as the other racer can just shoot you from behind and being that far right on the screen gives less time to dodge hazards.
- You can use power packs and other gear you acquire to modify your bike’s performance. Prudent arrangement can let you place 2 items in at once.
Some people really seem to like DC, but for me it runs against everything I would want from a racing game, somehow managing to be the antithesis to my preferences in almost every way. A significant problem for me was that there’s no motivation to engage in the tedious, cyclical gameplay. Racers can be repetitive by nature, but there’s meaningful changes to maintain players’ interest, with a range of tracks to race on, a sense of progression with vehicles getting more powerful and tougher AI opponents, and a clear goal to work towards. I don’t think my antagonism toward the game is strictly logical, but it’s nonetheless profound and I truly despise it. NES racing games were better than this, and I challenge those who fawn over DC to give them a try for comparison’s sake.