In Desert Child, you’re a ramen-eating podracer trying to make a name for yourself on Mars. The city of Olympia boasts a colorful, diverse landscape to explore, with an incredible soundtrack to accompany you along. Gaining fame through action-packed races, the ultimate goal is to win the Grand Prix, which doesn’t take as long as you might think.
Gameplay is centered on racing to earn money. While dodging obstacles and blasts from your opponent, you shoot TVs to gain speed and can boost up to a truck that refills your ammo if you run out. The one man developer has an interesting take on the difficulty setting of the races, it’s decided based on which gun you choose. The fast paced, dodge and shoot explosiveness of the races are fun at first, but with no real difficulty progression until the last race, they soon grow stale. Races occur across different landscapes, which offer aesthetic variety rather than actually varying gameplay. I played on PS4, and ran into some framerate issues when races got heavy.
In between races, you repair your bike and fix your hunger in preparation for the next race. There’s plenty to do in Olympia, from reading the paper to buying all the music from the record shop. You can complete various odd jobs like delivering pizza or herding kangaroos, or participate in crimes in the nightlife district to earn some extra cash. But after exploring, Olympia loses its luster and the grind for $10,000 to enter the Grand Prix begins, repeatedly walking the same path grows tired.
The narrative of Desert Child is simple. There’s one recurring side character that interacts through written dialogue. Gain $600 to buy your ticket from Earth to Mars, then earn $10,000 to enter the Grand Prix. Once you enter the Grand Prix, there are only three races, and the climax is against the hardest opponent in the game. But winning any of the races gives you enough money to enter the tournament again if you fail. And winning the final race rolls the credits abruptly, leaving you feeling underwhelmed.
The time management of the game feels off. With no fast travel, time sometimes feels wasted walking a post-race route repeatedly. The difficulty of the races themselves is easy enough to finish the game quickly, and once you finish the last race it all ends. A better paced game requiring mechanical progress to beat the Grand Prix would lead to a more satisfying ending, and players could feel like they had adequate time to enjoy the game’s world.