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Shifting Sand Land

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

"Ah, yes! Some more sand and some more cacti! How do you stand such a boring landscape?"
Goombario, Paper Mario 64

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 usually the second world on the itinerary after Green Hill Zone. Thankfully, heat stroke and dehydration are usually not a problem — unless they are, in which case they may be worked in as environmental effects that deal you constant damage unless you use special gear or power-ups.

Some desert worlds have stages that take place in or on the Pyramids; others may include oil rigs and refineries as part of the stage or in the background, in reference to Saudi Arabia being largely desertic and at the same time incredibly rich in crude oil. 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, living sand, 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. You can be sure that any attractive under-dressed 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 and/or a sandstorm. Also common are rivers and whirlpools of sand flowing into Bottomless Pits (when there isn't an Antlion Monster at the bottom). Spiky cactuses will also be common, and hurt you if you run into them. Camels 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.


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.

The nongame variants are the Thirsty Desert, in cases where survival is the main concern, and the Sea of Sand, when orientation and monotony are the chief issues.


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  • Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin: Sandy Grave and the Forgotten City both start in the desert and lead into pyramids.
  • Cave Story: Sand Zone is the game's local reservoir of sand, featuring crocs ready to bite anyone stepping on their patch of sand. Also a location of red flowers storehouse.
  • James Bond 007 for Gameboy. You have to find a escape spot in the desert. Fortunately for the player, the desert is a toroid, and they should have already encountered the coordinates for the destination. Unfortunately for the player, scorpions love to sting and, in a subversion, dehydration is a concern.
  • Deadly Creatures takes place entirely in the real-life deserts of the American southwest.
  • EXTRAPOWER: Giant Fist: The desert stage surrounding Blackberry's pyramid. Mostly populated by fanatics in the cult of the ancient wizard Diamond Mine, some of whom spawn snakes or attack atop camels or flying carpets. Also home to a few Scary Scorpions, one the size of a tank. Hitting a certain part of the stage will expose the secret Lucky Lamp, giving the player the earliest encounter with a bonus genie that gives, for a limited time, unlimited use of special attacks and the ability to use EXTRAPOWER without being at low health.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Several games have one of these, usually found in Hyrule's southwest past a ridge of high cliffs:
    • Zelda II: The Adventure of Link: Tantari and Parapa Deserts are both located north of West Hyrule, and the latter is where the first dungeon (Parapa Palace) lies. During the Random Encounters that take place in them, Link has to deal with hovering rocks and erected centipedes (Geldarms). Tantari Desert features a cave with a plot-critical item necessary to progress in the game. In the southwest corner of Parapa Desert, a coast in front of the sea, there's a secret location with a Heart Container.
    • The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past: The Desert of Mystery is located in the southwest portion of Hyrule and home of the second dungeon (Desert Palace). In both locations, enemies that hide under the sand (such as Leevers) are frequent, and some vultures which stand on cacti start attacking Link upon his proximity to them.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening has the Yarna desert, roamed by Pokeys (cactus-like enemies from Super Mario Bros.) and divided into a network of paths by rows of cacti that will hurt Link if he runs into them.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time: Gerudo's Valley and the Haunted Wasteland, the latter of which contains a river of quicksand. There's also Desert Colossus, home of the sand-dwelling Leevers and the Spirit Temple.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask: Though the game doesn't have an overworld desert,note  the battlefield where you fight the boss of Stone Tower Temple (Twinmold) is a wide desert under a sandstorm. Link has to avoid straying too far from the starter area, or else he'll sink down instantly due to quicksand (even if he grows big with the Giant's Mask).
    • The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker: Due to the game's Tropical Island Adventure setting, there are no desert areas in the overworld. However, the boss Molgera in Wind Temple is fought inside an underground chamber filled with a very large pool of sand (and is constantly supplied with sand falling from the ceiling). During battle, the boss can not only dwell beneath the sand, but also hover in the air and then land downward to create a sinkhole to expose its head again. The Lanmolas it releases every time it takes damage can swim through the sand freely as well.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures: The Desert of Doubt serves as the home of the Gerudo and Zuna tribes. The nearby sandstorms will send anyone back to the start if the wrong path is chosen, not unlike The Lost Woods. The second and third stages are set within Temples of Doom instead (Desert Temple and Pyramid respectively).
    • The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess has the Gerudo Desert (luckily, no quicksand or mazes here) followed by the Arbiter's Grounds, a sand-filled Temple of Doom with many quicksand pits that must be waded through, other times crossed with the magnetic Spinner. Switches or objects are sometimes buried in the sand as well, requiring you to dig them out in wolf form.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass has the Isle of Gust and two desert-themed dungeons: Temple of Wind and Goron Temple. The Isle of Gust and Temple of Wind are sandy locations with numerous wind currents emerging from the floor; Link can use his shovel to dig through sand to look for Rupees and hearts, and take advantage of the wind gusts to place bombs into high targets he wouldn't be able to blast otherwise. The Goron Temple, on the other hand, is filled with quicksand, so Link cannot walk through them; he instead has to use the Bombchus to guide them up to beyond the quicksand to activate distant switches.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks has the Sand Realm, though it doesn't affect gameplay at all, seeing as you can only stop at the sanctuary and the temple (which does have plenty of desert-themed motifs, including an item to manipulate sand, the Sand Wand).
    • The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword: The Lanayru region has a desert, albeit one with Tomorrowland and Eternal Engine elements thanks to the presence of Timeshift Stones. Even in its scorched present time, there are enemies that attack Link with electricity, so it's advised not to come here with the Iron Shield.
    • The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds: The Desert of Mystery and its dungeon from A Link to the Past return, now as an enclosed territory that can only be accessed from Misery Mire in Lorule (incidentially, Desert Palace's boss isn't fought there, but in the sandy part of Misery Mire itself).
    • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: The southwestern section of Hyrule is comprised of the Gerudo desert, to which the Gerudo race has returned for the first time since Ocarina of Time. During the day, the environment becomes very hot, requiring you to prepare accordingly (whether via heat-reducing elixirs or equipment). At night, however, the temperature drops dramatically, requiring you to account for that if you're taking long treks through the wastelands.
  • 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).
  • Metroid:
    • Metroid Fusion: The game features Sector 3 — PYR, which is also a lava level as it not only features sandy dunes but also rooms whose heat cause metallic setups to shine in red hot form. Enemies that are adapted to extreme heat, like Gerutas and Sovas, can be found here.
    • Metroid Prime: Chozo Ruins is a sandy, labyrinthine location with some acidic rooms. Burrowing enemies like Plated Beetles can be found here, and it serves as the second majorly explorable location after Frigate Orpheon (Tallon Overworld isn't fully explorable by that early point yet). Five powerups can be retrieved here, and the second major boss Flaahgra appears (as do a few minibosses).
    • Metroid Prime 2: Echoes: Agon Wastes is a sandy, cloudy wasteland overrun by large worms (Sandiggers), Space Pirates, and War Wasps. There's a mining facility that was originally run by the Luminoth, and is now under the control of the pirates. It is here where Samus gains her formal access to Dark Aether (as her first visit overall, in Temple Grounds, was much shorter and a lot less pleasant).
  • Tomb Raider: Lara Croft has been to Egypt a couple of times. Averted, in that, when you are in Mexico in Tomb Raider: Underworld it is scruby and wooded, rather than being a stereotypical American desert.
  • Luigi's Mansion (Series):
    • Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon has the Old Clockworks, which combines this trope with Eternal Engine, and Big Boo's Haunt. Sand can be absorbed with the Poltergust 5000, but there are other dangers to watch for (such as ghosts disguised as mummies). The boss is the Overset Possessor, which takes control of the topmost floor's clock.
    • Luigi's Mansion 3 has Floor 10, the Tomb Suites. Its starting area is a very wide desert field whose main attraction is the pyramid located at the center. The boss is Serpci, who traps Luigi into the basement of the pyramid and the latter has to make his way back to confront her.
  • Borderlands: Pandora is usually depicted as being nothing but a huge desert infested with bandits and abandoned ruins. While in Borderlands 1 there was no actual explanation for that, later games started elaborating on that: in Borderlands 2 it turns out that Pandora's solar years last several Earth years, the previous game took place during a Pandoran summer, and now that it's Pandoran winter you get to see more varied biomes such as grasslands and polar glaciers; and in Borderlands 3, it's implied that you're only actually visiting the desertic parts of Pandora.

    Action Games 
  • 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.
  • The Sand Table in Mario Pinball Land. The presence of a pyramid also gives it an Egyptian feel.
  • The fifth world in Jet Force Gemini, Cerulean, is a desert planet whose sands are blue-colored. Since its lone level is played during nighttime, there aren't any heat-related hazards.

    Adventure Games 
  • 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.
  • Touhou Kenbun Roku: Where a good ordeal of the first three chapters are set in, on occasion reaching the levels of Impassable Deserts.

    Beat 'em Ups 
  • 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 Games 

    First-Person Shooters 
  • 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.
  • Halo:
    • The first Ark level in Halo 3, and the Sandbox/Sandtrap multiplayer maps.
    • In Halo 4, Requiem has a fair amount of desert in it.
  • Several levels in Spaghetti Western-inspired FPS Outlaws are set on arid areas of the American frontier.
  • The Sandblasted Corridors in Deep Rock Galactic is made entirely of sandstone, and features such hazards as underground sandstorms and Nayaka Trawlers, the latter of which can snatch unsuspecting dwarves from below and drag them across the caves.

    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: Act II is set in Caldeum, 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.

    Light Gun Game 
  • Lost Land Adventure has a stage set in some ancient, abandoned ruins in the Middle Eastern desert, where you're exploring some lost Arabic Empire only to discover the ruins to be full of rock golems which you must shoot at. Said desert ends with a boss battle against a rock krakken (complete with brick tentacles).

  • Worldof Warcraft:
    • The game has a massive one of these at the southern end of the continent of Kalimdor. It's actually two zones: Tanaris and Uldum (the latter was introduced in the Cataclysm expansion). Tanaris is littered with bones, while Uldum is Egyptian-themed. Unfortunately, due to poor quest design, both areas are universally hated.
    • The zone of Vol'dun in the Battle for Azeroth expansion is full of traditional desert things like snakes and foxes, except the snakes and foxes are humanoid and can talk (and are called Sethrakk and Vulpera, respectively). There are also huge ruins (in this case, the buildings are Mayincatec because that's the style the Trolls use), and spirits, treasures and alpaca mounts.

    Party Games 
  • Mario Party:
    • Mario Party 2: Western Land. Uniquely among the majority of worlds and levels in the Mario franchise, this board isn't designed with Egyptian or Middle East motifs in mind, but instead those based on the stereotypical Wild West. Players are dressed like, and thematically roleplay as, cowboys in favor of the law. The board takes place in a desert next to a plateau, and features many saloons where the inhabitants live. Some of the walkable parts of the board have rails built within, so when a character lands on an Event Space a train will ride that part; if a character is in the middle of the train's route, they'll have to run to the board's starter area.
    • Mario Party 3:
      • Spiny Desert is a board located in a sandy desert inhabited by Pokeys, Kleptos and a Chain Chomp. It's designed with a day/night dichotomy in mind, as the southwest half takes place during the hot day and the northeast half takes place during the cold night (you can even see the reflection of the moon in an oasis moat). There are two Millenium Stars in the board, but only one of them is real while the other is a mirage.
      • In the minigame Boulder Ball, one player stands atop a sandy slope and uses a machine to drop boulders onto it, while the other three have to scale the slope to reach the solo player. If a player is hit by a boulder, they'll be stunned and will slide down. If the solo player manages to keep away all three characters for 30 seconds, they win; but if one of the climbing characters manages to reach the goal, then the trio wins.
      • In the minigame Storm Chasers, the players are in a corral located in a desert surrounded by cacti, while holding a potted Piranha Plant. Above the area of the corral is a raining cloud, and the players' objective is to chase the cloud so its water can feed the Piranha Plant. After 30 seconds, whichever Plant received the most water will grow taller than the rest, and its player will win the minigame.
    • Mario Party 7: Pyramid Park is a desert with many pyramids built within, in which Chain Chomps live. The board breaks the gameplay style, as the players have to pay the Chain Chomps to steal the rivals' stars (as all players already have them at hand since the start of the party session). Among the things Bowser can do here is to summon a large Tweester to ravage the bridges connecting the two halves of the board, requiring three turns for their repair. There's an oasis in the southwest, where players can collect coins in a moat while avoiding the bites of the local Klaptraps (of Donkey Kong Country fame). Lastly, if one reaches a palatial building and disturbs the Bowser Sphinx, he'll perform one of many possible curses (redistributing everyone's coins, swap the colors of the red and blue spaces, or halving the prices to ride the Chain Chomps.

    Platform Games 
  • Stage 2 of Aladdin (Virgin Games) takes place in a desert. In this stage, Aladdin must collect the three pieces of the Scarab, while dodging the palace guards, snakes, and Iago.
  • Gobi's Valley in Banjo-Kazooie. Sand doesn't suck the player in, but it's so hot that walking on it is harmful. There are also many pyramids with different traps and challenges.
  • Bug!:
    • The original game has Reptilia, 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 horned lizards.
    • Bug Too! has "Lawrence of Arachnia", which takes place on the set of the titular film. Scene 2 in particular takes place in the sandy parts of the desert.
  • Clustertruck has its first world as a desert, except with a whole ton of trucks populating it instead of anything else.
  • Commander Keen:
    • In Secret of the Oracle, the 4th Episodic Game in the series, the north-west section of the World Map consists of a desert. It contains 3 levels, 2 of which are mandatory in order to proceed. Surprisingly, although the same game also features 4 pyramids, they are not located in this area of the map but rather in a forest more to the south.
    • In the fanmade Episode 8 (Dead in the Desert), Keen is stranded in a desert planet. Many of the levels explored here are set on hot yellow sandy dunes, many of which have a labyrinthic design underground, though there are some levels showcasing other settings (such as Lethal Lava Land and Down the Drain) for variety's sake. Once Keen retrieves the Plot Coupon that allows him to repair his ship and escape, he's betrayed by a creature who was trying to help him, and the climax pits the two in a boss battle. After Keen defeats his enemy, he escapes the planet and the episode ends.
  • Donkey Kong 64 has Angry Aztec. The main floor hazard here is lots and lots of sand, but it doesn't swallow you up; it just hurts for a slice of melon, complete with Knockback, if you touch it when you're not invincible.
  • In The Flintstones 1993, the third level, Desert Drive, takes place in a desert. In this level, Fred drives the Flintmobile across the desert in search of Pebbles, dealing with such hazards as cacti, quicksand, and cow skulls.
  • The Deserts around Spargus City in Jak 3: Wastelander.
  • Kirby examples:
  • LittleBigPlanet:
    • The Mexican-themed Canyons from the first game.
    • The Egypt-themed Golden Sands from the PSP game.
    • La Marionetta from the PS Vita game is circus-themed, but also inexplicably placed in a desert. Downplayed since most of the levels are indoors.
  • Looney Tunes games:
  • In Lost Home, the second world is a desert where the player encounters enemies like buzzards and meerkats, and includes a level where it is possible to die from the heat.
  • Several of these are to be found in the Mega Man franchise, usually with Arabian-themed bosses at the end.
    • Pharaoh Man in Mega Man 4.
    • Flame Man from Mega Man 6 takes place around in an Arabian temple filled with oil.
    • Ground Man in Mega Man & Bass has a temple full of it.
    • Commando Man in Mega Man 10.
    • Overdrive Ostrich's stage in Mega Man X2. 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."
    • 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.
    • Mega Man Zero 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.
  • Ori and the Will of the Wisps has the Windswept Wastes, the once-home of the Gorleks before The Corruption forced them to flee, leaving behind Egyptian-esque ruins.
  • In Quackshot, Mexico and Egypt both start out as desert-themed levels. Both these levels end at a pyramid with a Locked Door which Donald needs a key from another level to unlock.
  • Quest for the Shaven Yak: Starring Ren Hoëk & Stimpy has the Stinking Dry Desert, which serves as the second world of the game. Enemies include cacti that shoot prickles, lizards, vultures that lay eggs, scorpions that act as mirages of lemonade glasses, wildebeest skeletons, spiders, crabs, and hopping toads. The boss of the world is a spitting cobra.
  • Quik the Thunder Rabbit has Oblivion Desert (Level 2, unsurprisingly), whose sandy ground is host to a strange abundance of saguaros and palm trees.
  • The Planets Aridia and Tabora in the Ratchet & Clank series. Tabora is sort of a double dip, as the caverns below the desert are filled with hot lava.
  • Rayman Origins has the Desert of Dijiridoos and Grumbling Grottoes which are also mixed with Gusty Glade and Band Land.
  • Rocket Knight Adventures:
  • Shantae
  • Sonic the Hedgehog:
  • In Songs for a Hero, an Egyptian-styled desert is the fourth level, divided into three acts: Lühnee Dunes, Pyramid Skeeme and Ottoh Tomb, though this trope is more present in the first one. The enemies are vultures, giant sand verms and walking cactuses, and the Hero can suffer hallucinations from the heat and get stuck in moving sand.
  • Spyro the Dragon has an assortment of desert levels in the first three games, complete with an unusually sensible distribution of cacti (no clearly non-American style desert has them). The majority of the Peace Keepers world is arid/desert (with little actual sand); Scorch in the second game is Arabian-style with sloping hills of sand acting as the level borders; the third game's Desert Ruins is a (presumably Egyptian-style) ruin half-buried in the sands of the desert, and Dino Mines in the third game is Wild West in concept.
  • Strider (Arcade) has a desert camp stage exclusive to the PC Engine version, where it is (optionally) inserted between the original first two levels.
  • The Super Mario Bros. games frequently include a desert world with pyramids and Pokey, usually as the second world in the game:
    • Super Mario Bros. 2 has Worlds 2 and 6. In addition to classic features like quicksands, sand-dwelling enemies (including the debut of the living cacti known as Pokey) and an overall arid environment, these worlds have various caves and dungeons where Mario and his friends have to dig through sand. And since there are many enemies patrolling the inner parts of the sand, the holes the dig leaves will make them fall under and approach the characters, potentially harming them.
    • In Super Mario Bros. 3, World 2 takes place in Desert Land. Some levels do have oasis with water where Mario and Luigi can swin in, while others have pyramids (and one of them can be explored from the interior). Fire Snakes, Chain Chomps, Fire Bros. (only present in a hidden part of the map) and the Angry Sun are first seen here as well.
    • Super Mario Land has Birabuto, one of Sarasaland's kingdoms. Uniquely for a Mario game, it is the first world. It is based on real-life Egypt, and many pyramids can be seen on the background. The boss is King Totomesu, a living sphinx that breathes fire.
    • Super Mario 64: The Trope Namer is Shifting Sand Land, the eighth world. It is a relatively flat location packed with hazards like instant-death quicksand, Fly Guys, Pokeys and a pyramid full of traps (and home to the level's boss: Eyerok). A small oasis is located here as well.
    • New Super Mario Bros.: World 2 in all games in the subseries (called Layer-Cake Desert in New Super Mario Bros. U). Besides bringing back features seen in previous games' desert levels, these worlds also introduce geyser-like streams of sand that elevate Mario and his friends towards higher spots, including Star Coins that would be unreachable otherwise.
    • Super Mario Galaxy has the Dusty Dune Galaxy, while Super Mario Galaxy 2 has the Slipsand Galaxy. In both games, the nonstandard gravity makes sand move and behave in unique ways (sometimes working in Mario's favor, sometimes not).
    • Super Mario 3D Land: Desert stages are scattered throughout the worlds, such as 3-1 (a large sandy terrain which has a tall tower where the level's exit lies at the top, and is home to the sand-dwelling Sandmaargh), 5-1 (a sandy Death Mountain that has to be climbed while dealing with enemies like Pokeys and Boomerang Bros.) and 6-2 (the interior of a pyramid filled with dunes that rise and lower periodically).
    • Super Mario 3D World: The map of World 2 is desert-themed, but only the first level (Conkdor Canyon) is actually set in a desert; the sandfalls located in certain spots can be used to reach high places. There's also Plessie's Dune Downhill in World 8, where sand sculptures modeled after Bowser can be found.
    • Super Mario Odyssey: Tostarena in the Sand Kingdom is a desert with ruins, a Mexican-inspired town, and sombrero wearing sugar skull inhabitants. It's the third world (followng up the Cap and Cascade Kingdoms), and is unique in that the desert is initially cold (to the point some ice crystals are formed), though this is reversed later when the heat is restored. Outside this kingdom, and as an Easter Egg, at the very edge of the grasslands surrounding Peach's Castle you can see a desert, a reference to how desert worlds often come after grass ones in the Mario series.
    • In Super Mario Maker 2, this is one of the added settings for level making and playing, being available in four of the game styles (including the one based on Super Mario Bros., which didn't have any explicitly themed worlds at all). The excluded style is Super Mario World, which instead receives a level theme based on Chocolate Island (a Death Mountain world). When played in Night mode, wind will blow (its direction and rate will depend on the game style).
    • Mario Adventure's seventh world is ostensibly this, but it functions more as a Minigame Game of sorts.
  • In the Tiny Toon Adventures Licensed Game for the Nintendo Entertainment System, Stage 2-1 takes place in a desert. In the first half of the stage, you have to deal with quicksand, and in the second half, you find an oasis.
  • In Wacky Races (1991), Stage A-2 takes place in a desert, with giant armadillos, scorpions, and quicksand. The boss of this stage is Sgt. Blast and Private Meekly in the Army Surplus Special.

    Puzzle Games 
  • 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.
  • World 3 of Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition breaks the Mario tradition of the desert world being World 2, due to a cave world being World 2 instead.
  • The Witness: The northwest portion of the island contains a desert and sandy cliffs, complete with a temple.

    Racing Games 

    Role-Playing Games 
  • 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.
  • Bug Fables: The Lost Sands, shown on the world map to actually be an abandoned garden sandbox, are a vast, sandy area dotted with cacti. Environmental hazards include pits of quicksand and large crevices filled with cacti, while the local enemies are scorpions, small Sand Worms, animated cacti, and a gang of Desert Bandits. The area eventually leads into an ancient Egyptian-esque castle as well.
  • 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. Then in Mother 3 comes the Death Desert, which Salsa has to guide Fassad through, much against his will.
  • The Noise Dunes of Fantasy in Eternal Sonata.
  • Etrian Odyssey (both the original game and its remake Millenium Girl) has the Sandy Barrens, a desolate desert with dried, withered flora overrun by monsters and creatures, though it's also inhabited by a reclusive race known as the Forest Folk. Its primary features are spots that warp explorers from one room to another, currents of sand that are impossible to override (thus acting like conveyor belts), one-way junctions through certain walls, and a large area patrolled by F.O.E. and the boss Iwaoropenelep. This stratum returns in Etrian Odyssey Nexus, though the warp points are removed (they now appear in one of the game's mini-dungeons, Illusory Woods). Nexus also features the Mini-Dungeon Forest of the End, which has even larger rivers of sand (though here they're pretty useful to dodge the F.O.E., even when they dive under that flowing sand).
  • Every Final Fantasy game has a Huge Desert somewhere. Expect Cactuar and their signature 1000 Needles ability!
    • 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.
  • Dragon Quest:
    • Many games have desert regions as well, complete with vaguely Egyptian cities, each ruled by a queen.
    • Dragon Quest III was the first, with the city of Isis and a Pyramid dungeon located in the heart of a vast sandy desert.
    • Dragon Quest VII has the Dune region, this time with a Sphinx dungeon.
    • The city of Gleeba and the desert island of Djust in Dragon Quest IX.
  • Golden Sun:
    • Golden Sun has two deserts:
      • The first of which (based on the Taklamakan Desert) 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. However, some of them aren't oases but contain an Antlion Monster.
      • The second desert isn't as hot (despite being based on the Sahara), possibly because of all the sandstorms caused by dust-devil lizard monsters.
    • Golden Sun: The Lost Age 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.
  • Kingdom of Loathing has the Arid Extra-Dry Desert. Frequent trips to the nearby Oasis to stay "Ultra-Hydrated" are necessary.
  • Paper Mario:
    • Paper Mario 64: The Dry Dry Desert. Oddly, the game got its vulture out of the way right before entering as an optional boss, there's no quicksand, and 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.
  • Paper Mario: Color Splash: Mustard Cafe is located in a desert. The Chef is resting on a large colorless spot which turns out to be a sinkhole.
  • Paper Mario: The Origami King: The Scorching Sandpaper Desert, a very extensive desert zone split between multiple sub-areas, consists of a tremendous expanse of empty dunes dotted with cacti and ancient ruins and populated by Toads turned into lizards, snakes, scorpions and desert beetles, cactus enemies, and the walking dead. Despite the name, it's actually quite chilly — abnormally so, as the sun was literally plucked out of its sky and replaced with a black, empty hole. Returning the daystar to its proper place and restoring the desert's naturally scorching climate is a major point of the third section of the game.
  • Mass Effect: Andromeda has Elaaden, a desert moon, where all the people too rough and crazy for Kadara wind up. Temperature goes as low as fifty degrees celcius in the shade, and there's only one source of water, kept secret by a local merchant who only hands it out to people she likes. Also, there's a krogan colony around, because they actually like the place.
  • Pokémon has a few examples of this. They’re usually home to Ground-type Pokémon and covered by constant, blowing sandstorms that will actually affect the battle by damaging every non-Ground, Rock and Steel type every turn.
    • Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire versions and their remakes feature a desert area in Hoenn's Route 111, with sandstorms so fierce that the desert cannot be crossed without obtaining a pair of Go-Goggles, (leading to a rare case where the goggles do SOMETHING), home to cute armadillos, 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 with the Mirage Tower becomes available.
    • Pokémon Colosseum and Pokémon XD: Gale of Darkness take place in Orre, which mostly IS a Shifting Sand Land so barren that wild Pokémon are only found in a few scattered oases.
    • In Pokémon Diamond and Pearl there's Route 228, a somewhat moister example than most, home to more walking cacti and to sand-spewing hippos, bipedal rhinos made of rock, and little triplet mole heads.
    • Pokémon Black and White and their sequels Pokémon Black and White 2 have the Desert Resort, where the sand is so fine and deep you can sink up to your waist and home to more of the antlion-things from Hoenn, mariachi cacti, and sand crocodiles. Within it there’s the Relic Castle, home to Egyptian ghosts and more of the spinning artifact-creatures.
    • Pokémon X and Y has Route 13. The wild Pokemon follow you in tunnels and suddenly pop out. The Gible aren't a big problem, but Trapinch and Dugtrio can have Arena Trap, which is annoying if you haven't got the right counter for it, and repels do nothing to stop encounters. The other big problem is the strong wind, which makes walking or skating extremely slow. Thank Arceus for the grinding rails scattered throughout it.
    • Despite being based in England, Pokémon Sword and Shield manages to have a desert ruins area with Falinks, Maractus and a few others running around as well as a wild area desert region with recurring sandstorms.
    • Pokémon Sun and Moon has the dangerous, maze-like Haina Desert. It's unbearably hot by day, and plagued by sandstorms at night.
    • New Pokémon Snap has a desert area with trapinch and Flygon, rolling Cacnea, buried Minior, Lycanroc, Kangaskhan and legendary Zeraora in it. There are ruins and an oasis as well.
  • Runescape: The Kharidian Desert, 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.
  • 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.
  • Wild ARMs 3: In keeping with the Wild West theme, all of the game 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.
  • 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.
    • In Battle for Azeroth, the new zone Vol'dun is half arid rockscapes and half shifting sandbox, filled with ancient troll ruins. The zone also happens to be the place the Zandalari trolls exile their criminals to, perhaps alluding to that other desert country where everything is trying to kill you.
  • The Sandsea in DragonFable 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.
  • Monster Hunter: The Desert in Monster Hunter 1 (old) and 2 (new). In Monster Hunter 3 (Tri), the Sandy Plains takes this role, while the Wildspire Waste does in Monster Hunter: World. During day, certain areas are so hot that the player will continuously 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). 3 also introduces the Boss-Only Level Great Desert, the battlefield of Jhen Mohran and (in 4) Dah'ren Mohran. While Monster Hunter 4 itself doesn't have a regular desert area, both its expansion 4 Ultimate and the follow-up Monster Hunter Generations bring back the desert of 1 as a Nostalgia Level. Generations Ultimate both brings back the desert of 2 and introduces the Forlorn Citadel, another boss-only area, and it's where Ahtal-Ka is faced. Monster Hunter: Rise brings back the Sandy Plains in a revamped form, and this time it's no longer required to consume drinks (they're not present in the game anyway).
  • 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.
  • Xenoblade Chronicles X has the continent of Oblivia. It is not a totally straight desert because it does have an oasis in the middle. Instead of extreme heat or quicksands, the primary environmental hazard is an electrified sandstorm that gradually depletes the party members' HP, as well as that of the Skells if they're being piloted.
  • The desert continent of Aurora in Fable III, which is actually called the Shifting Sands, made up of jagged rocky peaks, wide open flatlands, and valleys of rolling dunes. It is populated by nearly no plant life save for multicolored flowers, and no animal life save for small birds and rabbits. The only things that otherwise move are the wicked Sandfurries, ancient Guardians, and otherworldly Shadows. The former two make sense, as the entire region is a desert version of Lovecraft Country, complete with ancient alien temples and Eldritch Abomination hidden beneath the sands. The hero ends up there after washing up on the shore, and the story goes on from there.
  • The Neksdor Kingdom in Miitopia is this, complete with Build Like an Egyptian and All Deserts Have Cacti.
  • In Neverwinter Nights' first expansion Shadows of Undrentide, set in the Forgotten Realms setting, the Interlude between the campaign's two chapters takes place in the Anauroch Desert, also known as the Great Sand Sea, an unusually northerly desert created when the ancient empire of Netheril fell from the skies and shattered the land below. Magical radiation makes it extremely difficult for most normal plants and animals to survive there.

    Shoot 'em Up 

    Simulation Game 
  • Animal Crossing: New Horizons Happy Home Paradise has a desert area you can design a vacation home with. Cacti can be placed and creepy bones. You could hypothetically use the sand path to make your own island a desert too.
  • The desert in ActRaiser has a pyramid hidden in the sands.
  • MySims 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 
  • Battle for Wesnoth has a few scenarios set in a desert. Sand hexes are hard to cross for most units, making dirt hexes in such scenarios important as a road.
    • "The Desert of Death" in Son of the Black Eye where the orc protagonists must cross a desert filled with scorpions and human bandits to reach an oasis.
    • The protagonists of Under the Burning Suns are desert elves who travel well in sand, although only the first three scenarios are set in sandy desert. The second one in particular has the elves crossing a desert so hot even they can be affected by dehydration.
  • 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.
  • Warcraft III: The Barrens consists of more than just sand, being based on the rockier North American deserts.

    Third Person Shooter 
  • Mars in Warframe is, aside from Corpus-controlled poles, mostly sandy valleys where you can find desert skates, ruins of ancient civilisation etched into cliffs and Grineer forces wearing desert camo. It's also the location of the quest Sands of Inaros, which has you visiting an Egyptian-looking temple to reconstruct a pharaoh-themed warframe.

    Wide-Open Sandbox 
  • Dwarf Fortress: Deserts come in three types — badlands covered in dry soil, rocky wastelands and sandy deserts — all of which have extremely low rainfall, making farming difficult and trees (and thus wood) very rare. Desert wildlife includes plenty of camels (which can provide a good source of meat) and the feared giant desert scorpions, over three times the size of a dwarf and armed with a powerful toxin that will rot away their victims’ nervous tissue.
  • Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas: The desert around Las Venturas 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.
  • Minecraft: The desert biome is composed of rolling hills of sand overlaying layers of sandstone, dotted with cacti (which will hurt you if you touch them) and very scarce sources of natural water. It’s one of the worst biomes to spawn in, lacking necessary early-game resources such as wood, meat (except for extremely hard to catch rabbits) and stone (as sandstone cannot be used to build tools). Even in the late game, the desert’s only real draws are the possibility of trade at desert villages and the pyramid-like desert temples with hidden rooms full of valuable items, if you can get past the booby traps. The desert has a unique zombie variant that spawns only there, the withered, mummy-like Husk, which does not burn in the sunlight.
  • Terraria: There are occasional deserts strewn throughout the map. The 1.3 update added an Underground Desert to the mix, 1.3.3 made sandstorms possible, and 1.4 added Oases.
  • TerraTech has a desert biome. The sand does little more than facilitate tyre track formation, but it's definitely sand.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Desert Level


Wild Canyon

The stage takes place in the desert close by where Eggman's secret base is. Appearing to be based off of a canyon and the obvious desert, this stage seems to be some kind of Egyptian ruin, as it has quite a few Egyptian statues and secret rooms to it.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / ShiftingSandLand

Media sources: