Shifting Sand Land

If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the desert.

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, or the second world on the itinerary after Green Hill Zone. 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, djinni, huge sandworms, giant antlions at the bottom of sand traps and other Big Creepy-Crawlies (Or anything out of One Thousand and One Nights). 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 likely have to deal with quicksand. Also common are rivers and whirlpools of sand flowing into Bottomless Pits (when there isn't an Antlion Monster at the bottom). 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 be going to a Temple of Doom at some point. The nongame variant is the Thirsty Desert.

Named for the desert world in Super Mario 64. It doesn't have to be a Drought Level of Doom, but it's a reasonable place to have one.


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     Action Adventure 

     Action Game 
  • 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. There is also a similar stage in Hard Corps: Uprising, with different perspective and enemies.
  • The first and second stages of Metal Slug 2 and X.

     Adventure Game 
  • 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."
  • The original Space Quest has the planet Kerona, where you will die of thirst unless you drink the dehydrated water in your survival kit.
  • The Selenetic age in Myst is a desert island with a touch of Lethal Lava Land and a Rollercoaster Mine.
  • Nearly all of Quest for Glory II: Trial by Fire.

     Beat 'em Up 
  • 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 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.

     Fighting Game 

     First Person Shooter 
  • 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.
  • The first Ark level in Halo 3, and the Sandbox/Sandtrap multiplayer maps.

     Hack and Slash 
  • 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.
    • Diablo III has Calduem, ruled by Hakan II, with a similar style of architecture (though the city is much larger in story), with Arabic like clothing and names, dangerous animals in combat areas, and numerous sand colored ruins.
  • 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.
  • Ninja Gaiden 3's second level takes place in an abandoned city in the middle of the Rubh al Khali desert in Saudi Arabia.

     Platform Game 

     Puzzle Game 
  • Meteos has three Single Biome Planets that fit this. Anasaze has a Wild West motif, Dawndus is in perpetual twilight due the atmosphere bending the sunlight it recieves (which leads to it's city-dwelling citizens to become insomniacs who fake sleeping), and Forte is a meteor-ravaged wasteland where it's denizens live inside the planet's giant cracks.

     Racing Game 
  • Sand Ocean from F-Zero.
  • 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.note 
    • 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.
    • Mario Kart 8 has Bone-Dry Dunes, and Dry Dry Desert as a retro track.
  • Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2 has threenote  tracks that take place in a desert.

     Role Playing Game 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Earth Dragon Island in Chrono Cross.
  • 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.
  • 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. Downplayed through an obvious Anti-Frustration Feature as the party doesn't suffer heatstroke in Scaraba itself. Only when they enter the nearby desert do they start to feel the heat. MOTHER1 gave the music to Dusty Dunes Desert in its own desert area, the Yucca Desert.
  • The Noise Dunes of Fantasy in Eternal Sonata.
  • Every Final Fantasy game has a Huge Desert somewhere.
    • The one in Final Fantasy V even has a pyramid.
    • 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.
    • 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.
    • 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.
    • Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII has The Dead Dunes, which contain climbable dunes and explorable ruins. There is a regular train service to and from the other areas of the game.
    • 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.
  • Many Dragon Quest games have desert regions as well, complete with vaguely Egyptian cities, each ruled by a queen.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Great Sandsea in The Last Remnant.
  • Super Mario Bros. RPG series:
    • The Dry Dry Desert in Paper Mario (pictured above). Oddly, the game got its vulture out of the way right before entering as an optional boss, there's no quicksand, the Bandits have more in common visually with Shy Guys than the turbaned fellows in Dry Dry Outpost (though they are said to be descendants of thieves, but don't interact with you as such), but the Pokeys will be your hostile animated cacti this evening, and dust devils are an annoyance if you're not trying to get certain optional stuff, since they send you to a random part of the desert.
    • The Gritzy Desert of Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time.
    • And Yold Desert in Super Paper Mario.
    • The Dry Dry Desert makes a return in Mario Kart: Double Dash!!, this time with huge quicksand pits.
    • Teehee Valley in Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga is more or less this.
    • Dozing Sands in Mario & Luigi: Dream Team.
  • Motavia in Phantasy Star I and IV.
  • Pokémon has a few examples of this.
    • Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire versions and their remakes 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. 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 Pokémon XD: Gale of Darkness take place in Orre, which mostly IS a Shifting Sand Land.
    • In Pokémon Diamond and Pearl there's Route 228.
    • Pokémon Black and White and their sequels Pokemon Black And White 2 have Resort Desert and Relic Castle, with the latter featuring quicksand you can fall through.
  • 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.
  • Fiery Sands, the third dungeon in Children Of Mana, is one of these.
  • Secret of Evermore had an endless desert before reaching the Greek themed city, and it hides a couple of well-hidden secrets nobody tells you about..
  • Nasr and the Temple of Pyrynn in Skies of Arcadia.
  • 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.
  • 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. Fittingly, it borders both Silithus and Tanaris.
  • The Sandsea in Dragon Fable and AdventureQuest Worlds.
  • Tales of Symphonia has the Triet Desert, complete with sandstorms and an oasis. And a giant hulking sandworm that can swallow you whole.
  • 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.
  • The Desert in Monster Hunter 1 (old) and 2 (new). In 3, the Sandy Plains takes this role. During day, certain areas are so hot that the player will continually lose HP unless a Cold Drink is consumed. During night, those same areas will be instead very cold, and decrease the player's stamina unless a Hot Drink is consumed. And various large monsters happen to love lurking in them (especially if their names are Nibelsnarf, Sand Barioth or Diablos).
  • Might and Magic VI has Dragonsand, or more specifically the parts of the Dragonsand region that isn't around the one oasis or off-shore, but plus the desert areas of surrounding provinces that would probably be in Dragonsand if in-game regions didn't have to be squares. As the name indicates, the usual monsters for this type of region is replaced with a variety of dragons and reptiles. Also, the pyramid is actually a remnant of an ancient starship, and Dragonsand used to be a fertile region up until there was a disagreement around a millennium ago.

     Shoot 'em Up 

     Simulation Game 
  • The desert in Actraiser has a pyramid hidden in the sands.
  • My Sims has a desert region, accessed by pickaxe.
  • 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.

     Sports Game 

     Strategy Game 
  • 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.
  • Many Fire Emblem games feature a desert level, which imposes large movement and sometimes defense penalties for most unit types. It's particularly bad for mounted units, who can be reduced to moving one tile at a time.

     Wide Open Sandbox 
  • 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 ''Area 69'', the local version of the Area 51.

Alternative Title(s):

Desert Level