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The video game desert is a vast, hot and dry place, usually with Egyptian-style pyramids. It can be a big part of games set in a Scavenger World. Thankfully, heat stroke and dehydration are usually not a problem.

Some desert worlds have stages that take place in or on the Pyramids; others may include oil refineries as part of the stage or in the background. Cities and towns in this world are often Arabian in appearance, even if the people do not quite fit the distinction. The music will also usually be Middle East inspired.

Enemies in this world usually include vultures, snakes, scorpions, huge sandworms, giant antlions at the bottom of sand traps and other Big Creepy-Crawlies. Also vaguely Arabian-style bandits -- turbaned and scimitared versions of whatever Mooks the Big Bad hires. Expect homicidal animated cacti, even if the desert is clearly not American. Be sure that any attractive underdressed women that you meet are planning to poison you, stab you, and set you on fire.

Provided you manage to enter the desert without having to accomplish some kind of quest beforehand, you'll have to deal with Quicksand Sucks. Also common are rivers and whirlpools of sand flowing into Bottomless Pits. Camel may be found around here, usually to ride. Watch out, they spit!. Flying carpets and dust devils are another common mode of travel. Be assured that you will going to a Temple of Doom at some point. The nongame varient is the Thirsty Desert.

Named for the Desert world in Super Mario 64.

Examples of Shifting Sand Land include:


  • The desert in Act Raiser has a pyramid hidden in the sands.
  • The Despair Desert in Alundra.
  • Desert Buttes of Backyard Baseball. No quicksand, though, as it's a sports game.
  • Gobi's Valley in Banjo-Kazooie.
  • In Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean, late in the game, one of the optional sidequests place the characters in a desert, where shifting to a new screen uses up one of your supplies of water. If you lose it all, you collapse and end up back at the entrance. Luckily, you are given several opportunities to stock up on water before entering and while in the desert through oasises; however, some of these oasises are mirages.
  • BIOMETAL has the second stage.
  • Breath of Fire games each have a Huge Desert in them. The one in 3 is unique because you can only cross it by using the stars to navigate and walking during the day saps your health. It takes at least a week of game time to cross the desert.
  • Reptilia in Bug!!, an American desert filled with cacti, scorpions, literal army ants that fired grenades, cowboy snakes, green chameleons (don't ask), and the ever-annoying Invincible Minor Minion horned lizards.
  • This is the theme of two levels in Castle Crashers. Here you find scorpions, men wearing turbans, men wearing weird chainmail helmets, a giraffe animal orb as well as the shovel item, some aliens (sure, why not?) and a giant sandcastle. You spend the last part of the desert area playing volleyball with the badguys, which makes you wonder if the desert is both a desert and a beach.
  • Sandy Grave and the Forgotten City in Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin both start in the desert and lead into pyramids.
  • Sand Zone from Cave Story is the game's local reservoir of sand[1]. Also a location of red flowers storehouse.
  • Fiery Sands, the third dungeon in Children of Mana, is one of these
  • Earth Dragon Island in Chrono Cross.
  • Sand Ocean from F-Zero.
  • Chrono Trigger: While not an entire desert, the underground cave where Chrono and company defeat a sand-creature so that Fiona can rebuild the forest is full of whirling sand that act as super-fast moving sidewalks for the characters, and all of the animals there are weak to water/ice.
  • Aegis in Contact is an island that has sand, pyramids, tourists, and a hilariously inept Redundant Researcher.
  • Area 5 of Contra III: The Alien Wars is a top-down desert with 'shifting conveyor belt sand' and 'swirling spinning sand.' The boss of the level must be fought while on 'spinning conveyor-belt sand', forcing the player to turn at the same speed of the spinning sand in order to keep the boss's weak point at sight.
  • Diablo II, Act II is set in the desert surrounding the city of Lut Gholein in the region of Aranoch. Prince Jerhyn, ruler of the land, is dressed in white robes and a turban, and has (or had, rather) a harem living in his palace, which has a giant onion-shaped dome typical of Mughal architecture.
  • Earthbound has two of these. Fairly early in the game, during the trip from Threed to Fourside, your bus gets held up by a traffic jam in the middle of the Dusty Dunes Desert, where one has to watch out for poisonous insects and heatstroke. Later, your party takes a trip to the Egypt-themed Scaraba, which comes complete with haunted, mummy-infested ruins.
  • The Noise Dunes of Fantasy in Eternal Sonata.
  • Pretty much every Final Fantasy game has a Huge Desert somewhere.
    • The one in Final Fantasy V even has a pyramid.
    • Bikanel Island in Final Fantasy X.
    • Final Fantasy XI has the Altepa Desert, a vast desert region with an elaborate system of ancient ruins just underneath the sand.
      • The area around Bastok is also a badlands type area (described ingame as a desert), but doesn't fit the strict "endless sand dunes" definition.
    • Pretty much the whole start of Final Fantasy XII is a Shifting Sand Land. The first town of Rabanastre is in the middle of the desert, and the first three zones outside the town are two deserts and a flood plain in the middle of the dry season... that happens to be named "Giza". Later in the game there is also the Ogir-Yensa and Nam-Yensa Sandseas, primarily featuring a series of decrepit oil rigs and home to a race of humanoid arthropods who happen to carry scimitars and dress like bedouin.
    • Final Fantasy VIII has the aptly named Desert Prison, which actually consists of a series of screws that go up and down into the desert ground.
    • The Lynari Desert in Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles is extremely large and requires purposefully sinking in quicksand in order to access the rest of the map. There are cactuar, lamia, and scorpion enemies. In single player mode, the moogle companion is easily tired in the extreme heat of the desert.
  • Golden Sun has a desert, where it eventually DOES become too hot for the group and they start taking damage unless they rest at an oasis. And the oases are magically hidden, to boot - you have to use a spell to see them.
    • A second desert later on in the game isn't as hot, possibly because of all the sandstorms caused by dust-devil lizard monsters.
    • The sequel has another desert, although there is no heatstroke mechanic there. Instead, there's a monster that digs through the sand that must be lured into a certain area with judicious use of the "Pound" spell.
  • The first stage of Gradius III.
  • The desert around Las Venturas in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas qualifies to some degree: although it's rather realistic, it has Native American reservations, ghost towns, rock formations with funny names, an abandoned airport, oil pumps, a big Hoover-like dam, a geyser, and even the Area 69, the local version of the Area 51.
  • Guild Wars has several: The Crystal Desert in Prophecies (including pyramid teleporters, sandworms and ghosts) and the Desolation in Nightfall which includes sandworms that you can ride through a Pac-Man maze.
  • Antagonistan in Heavy Weapon. The boss is appropriately enough, a giant robotic Sand Worm that leaps out at your tank from under the sand.
  • The Kar-Nyar Desert in The Horde. The gimmick of the level is that it requires the player to direct a moat to irrigate the land and allow grass to grow so they can build.
  • The Dunerys level in Hydorah comes complete with sandstorms, a Sand Worm like boss, and even a Temple of Doom.
  • The Deserts around Spargus City in Jak 3.
  • James Bond for Gameboy. You have to find a escape spot in the desert. Fortunately for you the desert is a toroid, and you should have already encountered the coordinates for the destination. Unfortunately for you scorpions love to sting and, in a subversion, dehydration is a concern.
  • Agrabah in every Kingdom Hearts game
  • Kingdom of Loathing has The Arid Extra-Dry Desert. Frequent trips to the nearby Oasis to stay "Ultra-Hydrated" are necessary.
  • King's Quest V has a desert-maze. Dehydration tends to be a problem, and when you find an oasis - "Life giving water, nectar of the gods. Graham can now feel strength and renewal flowing through him."
    • Space Quest has the planet Kerona, where you will die of thirst unless you drink the dehydrated water in your survival kit.
  • The Great Sandsea in The Last Remnant.
  • Deadly Creatures takes place entirely in the real-life deserts of the American southwest.
  • Pretty much any Zelda game has one of these.
  • Little Big Adventure's Desert Island may not fully fit this trope, but it is still interesting, especially in the second game. Here we got: Arabian-themed buildings, a camel, a wizard on a flying carpet, a Temple of Doom... and homicidal moving cacti (really).
  • Magical Battle Arena has the Desert Planet stage taken from Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha.
  • Every Mario Kart has had a desert race starting with Mario Kart 64.
    • Mario Kart 64 has Kalimari Desert.
    • Mario Kart Super Circuit has Yoshi Desert and Sunset Wilds.
    • Mario Kart Double Dash!! has Dry Dry Desert.
    • Mario Kart DS has Desert Hills.
    • Mario Kart Wii has Dry Dry Ruins, a desert-themed battle course called Thwomp Desert, and Desert Hills as a retro track.
    • Mario Kart 7 has Shy Guy Bazaar, and Kalimari Desert as a retro track.
  • Several of these are to be found in the Mega Man franchise, usually with Arabian-themed bosses at the end.
    • Pharaoh Man in 4.
    • Flame Man from 6 takes place around in an Arabian temple filled with oil.
    • Overdrive Ostrich's stage in Mega Man X 2. First part of the level features a sandstorm (albeit one created by a machine). The boss fight zone wraps around, creating a sense of "featureless desolate expanse."
    • The first Mega Man Zero has one which, like some other areas in the game, hosts more than one stage; in fact, it is technically the most-visited area mission-wise, with two missions fully traversing it and two missions requiring you to travel a short distance through it before going underground. This is perhaps intentional, since it's the first game in a series in which most of the Earth is now a barren wasteland. All four times you must deal with fire-breathing camels.
      • Part 2 kicks off in a desert as well, and has you face off against a titanic Scorpion robot.
    • Mega Man ZX features a desert as well.
  • The first and second stages of Metal Slug 2 and X.
  • Sector 3 - PYR in Metroid Fusion (also a lava level), and parts of Chozo Ruins (Metroid Prime) and Agon Wastes (Prime 2: Echoes).
  • My Sims has a desert region, accessed by pickaxe.
  • The Selenetic age in Myst is a desert island with a touch of Lethal Lava Land and a Rollercoaster Mine.
  • The Ruborian desert in Overlord.
  • The Dry Dry Desert in Paper Mario (pictured above).
  • Motavia in Phantasy Star I and IV.
  • Pokémon has a few examples of this.
    • Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire versions feature a desert area in Hoenn's Route 111, complete with fierce sandstorms (in fact, the desert cannot be crossed without obtaining a pair of Go-Goggles, leading to a rare case where the goggles do SOMETHING), homicidal cacti, bizarre spinning artifact-creatures, and weird convergently-evolved-to-be-ant-lions things. There's also the Desert Ruins in the southern area of the desert, which house the sleeping legendary golem Regirock.
    • Oh yes, and in Emerald, there's the Mirage Tower that disappears into the sand once you get a fossil from it. Clearly a load-bearing fossil. Also, underneath the desert is the Desert Underpass where the other fossil that disappeared before in Mirage Tower becomes available.
    • Pokémon Colosseum and XD: Gale of Darkness take place in Orre, which mostly IS a Shifting Sand Land.
    • Pokémon Black and White have Resort Desert and Relic Castle, with the latter featuring quicksand you can fall through.
  • Nearly all of Quest for Glory II: Trial by Fire.
  • The Planets Aridia and Tabora in the Ratchet and Clank series.
    • Tabora is sort of a double dip, as the caverns below the desert are filled with hot lava.
  • The Kharidian Desert in Runescape, which is home to the former second biggest beast in the whole game. And you have to take water and light clothes to survive long enough there, mind you.
  • Most of Sands of Destruction (both the video game and the anime) takes place in a world like this.
  • Secret of Mana has a massive desert in which, when you crashland in the wrong location, is an endless ocean of sand until you get picked up by an Airship. After that part you find the village and the desert becomes seemingly smaller. Odd that.
  • Sengoku Basara 3 has the aptly named Gassantoda Castle stage, a mass of sand dunes and cliffs with no castle in sight. Due to the nature of the stage, enemy soldiers don't show up on the map, and the boss, Amago Haruhisa, is capable of avoiding you by hiding beneath the sand, only popping up when and where he feels like it.
  • Sigma Star Saga has a Desert Planet, complete with an underground temple large enough to comfortably fly a spaceship through.
  • The Sims 2 has Strangetown, which is located in the desert, although its actual Sims are mad-science/supernatural themed rather than Arabian.
    • The Sims 3's first expansion pack, World Adventures, has Egypt as a travel destination.
  • Nasr and the Temple of Pyrynn in Skies of Arcadia.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog:
  • The second worlds of both Super Mario Bros 2 and Super Mario Bros 3.
  • Arabian Night from Wario Land 4, Whoopsy Desert and Disturbing Tomb from Wario Land: Shake It, and Pecan Sands from Wario World.
  • The main Mushroomy Kingdom in Super Smash Bros Brawl. It's World 1-1 of the original Super Mario Bros., although looking a bit less lively...
  • Similar to the Golden Sun example, Tales of Vesperia has a desert area where you have to find cacti that contain water for your party to fill their canteens with. When they run out of water, they start to take damage.
  • A good 90% of the maps in Team Fortress 2 used to be this, even including an Egypt-themed map. More recent maps, however, have focused on diversifying the themes, with more alpine and industrial landscapes.
  • Lara Croft has been to Egypt a couple of times. Averted, in that, when you are in Mexico in Underworld it is scruby and wooded, rather than being a stereotypical American desert.
  • In keeping with the Wild West theme, practically all of Wild Arms 3 takes place in a desert. You even have a sand cruiser rather than a ship.
    • Sand rivers and ocean themed areas appear in most of the other games in the Wild Arms series, as well.
  • The Wasteland levels in Video Game/Wonderboy and Adventure Island, where food is scarce, unsurprisingly.
  • In World of Warcraft, the Silithus desert is home to sentient insects with quasi-Egyptian architectural tastes, and the Tanaris desert is just a massive box of sand with a few oases and troll ruins very loosely scattered around the map. Post-Cataclysm, Tanaris has become a popular vacation spot due to the dramatically increased size of the beach area.
    • Desolace, Badlands, and Durotar verge on this with a bit more of a sense of wasteland than Shifting Sand Land. Depending on how strict the definition is with regards to zones slipping into the Mordor archetype, maybe a half dozen more zones.
    • Introduced in Cataclysm is Uldum, which combines this trope with a culture clearly modeled on Egypt with a south-flowing Nile-analogue to boot.
  • Shows up without fail in every Fire Emblem, short of Fire Emblem: Thracia 776. Tends to be That One Level as well due to reduced mobility for all units except for Squishy Wizards and flying units, and also the hidden treasures in the sands.
  • The second stage of Ice Cream Island in Kirby's Adventure and its GBA remake is a desert island.
    • Kirby's Dreamland 3 gives us Sand Canyon as the third world.
    • Kirby 64 also has Rock Star, a desert planet, as the second planet Kirby and company can travel to.
    • Sky Sands from Kirby Air Ride is a desert track. And not to mention, Top Ride's Sand track.
    • Kirbys Epic Yarn has Pyramid Sands and Dusk Dunes as sand-themed levels, both located in the second world, Hot Land.
    • Raisin Ruins in Kirbys Return to Dream Land also has a fair bit of Ruins for Ruins Sake, as the name would imply.
  • The Sandsea in Dragon Fable and Adventure Quest Worlds?
  • Tales of Symphonia has the Triet Desert, complete with sandstorms and an oasis.
  • The first Ark level in Halo 3, and the Sandbox/Sandtrap multiplayer maps.
  • The South Shrine from Shining the Holy Ark is set within a massive pyramid. Despite the fact the closest village is made up of Ninjas and the Kingdom itself is your Standard Fantasy Setting. Inside you get to face mummies, sand monsters and also travel on the ceiling.
  • In Disney Theme Parks, we have Frontierland as the main proponent of the trope, but there's also Morocco in EPCOT and parts of Dinoland U.S.A. in Disney's Animal Kingdom.

Notes

  1. And there's no Slippy-Slidey Ice World to apply sand to. And That's Terrible!
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