It’s easy to be interested in Desert Quest when looking at screenshots of it. We can’t deny that it has a unique art direction, but this is a game that is at its best in the form of a still image. The game doesn’t move well, it has an uninspired narrative, and it’s a total chore to play.
The very first thing we noticed in our time with the game is the player character’s walk animation, which is terrible. The upper body doesn’t move at all, as it’s apparently wholly reserved for the similarly unimpressive attack animations. The legs just cycle through a really lame animation, which is less evocative of a living thing in motion than it is of someone spending 5 minutes or so in a 3-D modeling application.
Just like The Giving Tree.
Clearly, Desert Quest was going for a cave painting-inspired aesthetic, but the way the game moves just looks cheap and stiff rather than crude or primitive. When the otherwise interesting-looking non-player sprites move, their animations are so transparent and unsophisticated that we read them as images skewing, translating and scaling, rather than trees swaying or animals walking around.
The game’s developers have certainly done something different with the graphics of their game, but it makes the desert feel very small to look at. The horizon is in the middle of the screen, leaving no room to suggest the humbling, boundless expanse that is a real-life desert. The iPhone certainly isn’t a processing giant itself, but the game’s look feels like a dated solution to the processing power of decades-old machines.
You’re about to get rammed.
The product as a whole certainly isn’t saved by its gameplay. The visuals are a treat compared to the mind-numbing premise of the game’s interaction. The main goal of the game is to gather keys that are scattered around the level so you can open doors, which are often hard to distinguish from the rock walls that they’re a part of. The problem is compounded by the fact that the doors aren’t shown on the game’s map. There are also a handful of puzzles that– although they seem shoehorned into the game– are more enjoyable than the lifeless tedium that is the main thrust of the gameplay.
The RPG element that has been integrated into the game falls woefully short of its potential, as well. You can buy equipment and learn spells, but the list of things you can buy is so short and mana is so hard to come by that this entire part of the game might as well not exist. Towards the end of the game, you’re just sitting on a huge pile of money and no mana. The simple feature of being able to spend money on mana potions would have made the endgame so much better.
Desert Quest is weakly designed and poorly executed. While playing through the game on an iPod Touch 4G, we encountered a lot of lock-ups and glitches. We were also unable to complete the game’s penultimate level because keys we picked up vanished from existence rather than went into our inventory. As weak as the game is on paper, its technical failings and lack of polish make it nearly impossible to recommend.