Friday, August 28, 2009

It Came from the Desert

Cinemaware / NEC

This is one of those "special meaning" games for me, as it was the one I bought along with my Turbo CD unit way back in the day. The motorcycle headlights of Desert's title screen flashing on as the song "Sea of Love" kicked in constituted my introduction to CD-based gaming, and I was pretty blown away by it all. Since that time, I've seen Desert get about as much love as its ill-fated FMV sibling Sherlock Holmes--which is to say, not much. In fact, I think the only praise it's ever gotten has come from VideoGames & Computer Entertainment magazine and famous Turbo expert and Duomazov comrade, Keranu McKenna. Well... I agree with VG&CE and Keranu.

Aside from "Sea of Love," the best thing about the game is its extremely (and intentionally) cheesy storyline, which concerns the efforts of giant ants to annihilate the protagonist's hometown and conquer the world. It's great for laughs, especially early on. As the plot advances and more and more characters get turned into bug-manipulated "antdroids," the whole affair becomes surprisingly eerie. And it plays out pretty well through the grainy FMV, though the style can certainly be deemed archaic.

So the story rules, but the action scenes are usually cited as the title's downfall. However, the save-the-antdroid "shooting gallery" mini-game is really rather cool. What's not to like about a veritable bonus round that has you kill insects eating the flesh off helpless screaming victims, all to the tune of appropriately spooky music?

Overhead-view sequences that call for you to seal the ants' lairs aren't unenjoyable, though they play out slowly and don't feel very polished.

The sidescrolling segments are where the game truly falters, as jumping control is nonexistent and it seems at times that the game can have the hard-charging ants kill you at will.

So sluggish controls and lack of polish detract from two of the three action-based parts, and if you don't finish the ants off quickly, those combat scenes will seem mighty repetitive by the time you reach the end of the game. Thankfully, you can kill the ant queen long before the eight-day time limit has elapsed.

Of course, you'll miss some of the coolest plot points if you move that quickly, but chances are you'll experience them anyway while you're getting the hang of how the game works. It's probably not something you'll be able to conquer right off the bat.

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