There are times when you fire up a game for the 1st time you have an unmistakable sense of déjà vu. Maybe you saw the trailer a while ago and forgot, maybe it is a sequel, or it could be that the game is an homage to something from the past. When I turned on Desert Child by Akupara Games I was immediately reminded of the anime Cowboy Bebop. The similarities of the two intros are too much to dismiss.
You play as a young hoverbike racer that is trying to escape the earth before things go sideways. You must earn money through racing, side jobs, and even helping out the local mob to get enough coin to pay for your trip to Mars and ultimately your entry into the Grand Prix. Along the way you will have to upgrade your hoverbike to remain competitive and avoid the law if you decide to cross the line into crime.
Gameplay is divided into two very distinct sections. Wandering around the planets on foot to find parts for your bike, go to shops, etc and of course racing. The racing is by far the most interesting part of the game. You race your hoverbike, equipped with 1 weapon, against a slew of opponents one at a time. Your bike is outfitted with a boost that can help you speed to the finish line, maybe. The rate at which your boost recharges is tied to your hunger level, so if you are really hungry, you will have to make do without it. There are multiple stages to race on, each with a few obstacles to slow you down, and lots of items to destroy.
Walking around the cities you visit is what you will spend a good portion of your time doing. Navigating the streets is easy as long as you don’t try to make a mental map of the area. In your travels you will encounter shops to buy food, garages to repair your hoverbike, places to pick up odd jobs and other hoverbikes. If you find another hoverbike you can choose to steal a part off of it. There is a fairly simple mini-game to play, then you will have a new part to use to upgrade your bike. You could just buy the parts, but they can be expensive, and you are frequently low on cash.
Upgrading your bike is like a game of tetris, but more frustrating. Each part you insert much be connected to a power cell in order to work. The problem is that the parts can only be inserted one way, so you have to decide which of the 9 parts are most valuable since you have a limited space. The upgrades include things for your gun, more ammo, less damage, and more money. The problem is that there is nothing to increase the speed of your bike. The upgrades you do get can be powered up by diverting power cells to them, but this only helps that 1 attribute.
This game exudes style. Each street you walk on offers a different perspective. This is a nice change of pace from other games that lock the camera to a single angle. Your character can choose to Chill instead of race, and he will just lounge on his hoverbike till you decide to continue. Honestly my favorite part of this game is the music. There are a bunch of records that you can buy to switch up the soundtrack, and almost all of them are winners. For a laugh, turn up the volume before you do the pizza delivery side job – the song featured in this area is great.
This is not a game for a younger audience, even if it looks like it. There is a fair amount of swearing in the text of the game. Normally this isn’t something I bring up, but in this case, I thought it should be mentioned. The use of the F word does not bother me. As a sailor I am no stranger to foul and salty language. What does bother me is the use of another word in the name of one of the other racers. To me, the use of the C word is wildly inappropriate.
Desert Child is available now on Xbox One, Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch and Steam. The title offers some real bright spots with the music and overall design, but just comes up a bit short on the core of the game.