GDC 2018: Desert Child is the Pre-Apocalyptic Racing RPG You’ve Been Waiting For

Nothing puts everyone down in the dumps the way the impending end of the world can, which could be why Desert Child has such a hostile feel to it. Just going into the settings menu the game tells you that you’re “mucking with stuff you shouldn’t muck with” (not their exact wording) but that sarcastic biting attitude is part of the charm. Plus the hub the character was in, at least at the portion that was on display in the demo, looked like a desert and it’s understandable how the extreme heat, dehydration and the coming apocalypse can make everyone not the friendliest.

The premise of Desert Child in a nutshell is the world is going to end soon so the player needs to earn 500 bucks through hover bike racing to buy a ticket to Mars, which kind of forces me to retract a bit of the intro paragraph since 500 dollars for a ticket to Mars to escape the end of the world seems quite reasonable, so it’s good to see no end of days price gouging going on. The challenge comes in with earning and saving $500 as in Desert Child it’s about as difficult as that is to do in real life. Desert Child is a battle racing RPG and it seems to be as fun as it is challenging.

The player needs to do whatever they can to earn money. The most straightforward way is to win races, but also taking part in bounty hunts, throwing races for gambling purposes or delivering contraband are all acceptable means of obtaining finances. The racetracks are filled with obstacles that need to be dodged or shot and there’s also going to be some gun battling between all contestants. Shooting random TVs on the track can get some extra money, and riding on the back of an ammo truck will refill the player’s ammo. Getting good at these races will take some practice since the developers didn’t seem to want to make victory come too easily, but when the stakes include getting to Mars to avoid the end of humanity, there really should be motivation to put some effort into achieving victory.

The hover bike is likely to be battered and in serious need of repair after a race, and the player will need to eat some desert Ramen so early on you’ll be lucky if you end up having a net profit after repairing the bike and putting food in the belly. It was during this portion of the demo the presenters started getting questioned about why the auto mechanic and noodle monger were still going to work when the end of the world was at hand and also how legit is this end of the world. I’ve lived through a few supposed doomsdays and it obviously never happened, so inquiring minds wanted to know if this was that type of situation or if there was some impending disaster or alien invasion. Perhaps an old fashioned bomb fuse at one of the Earth’s poles had been lit and they had to escape the planet before it burned to the end and blew up the Earth. The presenters seemed perplexed by the questions and didn’t give a definitive answer, so we’ll have to wait and see when the game is actually released.

The pixel art style is inspired by beloved anime classics like Cowboy Bebop and Akira, which only aid in creating a uniquely desolate solar system. Like true hover bike fanatics, players will be able to customize their bikes with amplifiers, guns and tasteless bumper stickers. It may be easy at first glance to dismiss Desert Child as simply trying to be a retro throwback, but closer examination reveals that between the art style, soundtrack and overall gallows humor that permeate the game, this title draws from many influences to create a unique world that is worth visiting.

Questions about the specifics regarding the end of the world plot aside, Desert Child is shaping up to be quite an enjoyable experience. The races are challenging and there’s a lot going on in them. Between trying to shoot TVs, shoot my opponent, and shooting and dodging obstacles while trying to catch up to that ammo truck, my poor hover bike took a serious beating every race. But I also think with some practice and learning the finer points of when might be the best time to utilize the boost function, becoming skilled at this game is not at all out of the question. No release date is set, but currently 2018 isn’t out of the question. Desert Child is scheduled to race on PC, Mac, Xbox One, Switch and PlayStation 4.