Note: Spoilers are waiting in the sand like desert spiders and scorpions, ready to pounce upon any unwitting victims. Watch your step.

The natural world is rife with beauty. There's just something so satisfying as going out to see the world: whether you are basking in the tropical sunshine on some Caribbean island; whether you are admiring the snowy vistas in the Alps, or even just gazing out at the brilliant, blood-red sunset overlooking the west coast of Wales. People just love the natural world; appreciated in the moment or through a heavily-edited photograph-turned-screensaver, there's nothing quite like it.

But what about the wonders of the gaming natural world? Since graphical capabilties became more than just a few pixels, programmers have been creating wonderful areas for us to explore, whether they are delightful or deadly. As such, gamers worldwide have areas that are particular favourites of theirs, and I will endeavour to honour the natural world in video games in my new series I call Iconic Gaming Geography. Today, I will be counting down the top ten most iconic forests in video games, and unlock the secrets of their success.

Today, we tackle the mighty deserts of the gaming world, wide expanses of sand or emptiness where many a weary traveller has lost their way, become the victim of deadly thirst, or been attacked by monsters too hideous to bear description. Each desert is vastly different in scope, size, threat and beauty, but each one is special: each one is truly iconic.

However, what does it mean to be "truly iconic"? For me, the desert must be an essential component of the game, or is memorable for a unique mechanic which sets it apart from the rest of its ilk. Each of these deserts are significant in their respective games or to the wider gaming community, and so tiny patches of sand or the illusion of a desert will not qualify.

With that settled, lets drape ourselves in a nice flowing robe, grab a canteen or five of water and pray to the gods that we don't get ourselves lost as we count down the Top 10 Iconic Gaming Deserts!

I open my list with the first of two entries inspired by real world deserts. I have always loved Naughty Dog - the Crash Bandicoot series was essentially my gaming gateway, and for that I am eternally grateful. It's incredible, however, when you think about the huge leaps in technology made between those games, the Jak games and 2011's Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception. The graphics are so beautiful, and form the basis for one of gaming's iconic deserts.

In real life, the Rub' al Khali is one of the largest deserts in the world, encompassing the southern third of the Arabian Peninsula: that scale is replicated magnificently in the gaming version. After a thrilling action scene followed by a plane crash, Nathan Drake scrabbles around for water or a map, where he fails miserably. Without any supplies, he cleverly decides to wander into the desert, walking endlessly through the day and the night where the searing heat causes him to hallucinate. He also finds a well which (naturally) is totally empty save more sand. To make matters worse, it turns out he was walking in circles, until finally he manages to find a settlement.

What I most love about this entry is just how well the game captures the desert environment. You truly feel a part of the world, a part of Drake's exhaustion and dehydration. What I also love is that through his hallucinations he hears parts of one of my favourite poems, T.S Eliot's 'The Wasteland', which is incredibly apt. An iconic desert to open up this list, for certain.

Ahem, there's SAND on my boots! See also: Red Dead Redemption features a wonderfully crafted section through the deserts of Mexico. More games should feature Mexico.

"Oh, what a surprise!" I hear you all cry. If you are familiar with my lists, you will know that each one seems to contain a Final Fantasy entry at some point. Well, I am here to tell you that the reason it crops up so much is because the series remains very much in the public consciousness, for better or for worse. No one can seeminly fully desert this series (ha ha); speaking of deserts, the most iconic of all appears in Final Fantasy XII. And when I say deserts plural, I mean in it with no ounce of hyperbole.

These deserts are vast. The city of Rabanastre, capital or Dalmasca, lies in miles and miles of uninterrupted and sparsely populated desert: only nomadic peoples make the deserts their permanent home, save for Rabanastre and the oasis of Nalbina. The Estersand houses millions of cactoids, a beautiful river, a labyrinth of tunnels and murderous dinosaurs; the Giza Plains to the south is home to vast tracts of sun crystals, cockatrices and becomes a quagmire when the rains come, while the Westersand batters unwitting travellers with storms, wolves and glowing energy balls of death. This doesn't even count the Sandseas, home to vicious tribes, flying fish and a desert where one step in the wrong place will kill you. Lots going on, and certainly memorable for the player.

So why isn't it higher? Although the majority of the early game takes place here, and although the climactic battle takes place above the desert, it is so vast and so featureless in places that the player can easily become bored. After picking up your four thousandth Wolf Pelt and skinned your millionth cactus, its lustre becomes dull very quickly. As a location, however? Beautiful, teeming with life and overall the best in the series.

I've been through the desert on a horse with no name... See also: Almost every game in the series boasts a desert. From IV's Kaipo, V's Shifting Sands, VI's Figaro, VII's Corel Desert, VIII's Desert Prison, IX's Desert Palace, X's Bikanel Island... you get the idea. Better dress appropriately.

One of the more prominent features of deserts is that once in, they are notoriously difficult to navigate unless you have a compass, a map or a guide. A few games have deserts like this: Final Fantasy VII and Paper Mario both contain deserts where a casual player can get a little lost, or at least forgetful of the path you took. However, at least both of these examples aren't too difficult to be remedied, as you can either find the path of be rescued after a while of traipsing around. King's Quest V's desert can kill you dead.

The game, the first in the series to be a point and click adventure, is typical of many games of its type in the early days of gaming for its puzzle solving elements, and the need to really think about where you need to go. However, the desert in this game is so large that you need to map it out yourself, and is so featureless that the player can easily lose track of where they are. What's worse, you can only move a maximum of six screens before you die of thirst, with only three oases, and therefore you need to be very careful otherwise you will be found by the local bandits as a dehydrated corpse.

What I love is that a gaming magazine at the time praised the game for its graphics, sound and general playability, but made a point of criticising the gigantic, yet almost pointless, desert map. For players of the genre, this game is a milestone achievement, with a frustrating and featureless desert at its heart.

...it felt good to be out of the rain... See also: Kingdom Heart's Agrabah world is surrounded by desert: at least you get to ride on your magic carpet to get around. Just watch out for Kurt Zisa....

Have you ever stepped on a plug? A piece of Lego? Several thumb tacks sat in the corner of your room? I have, and trust me if you have never experienced such a pain I highly recommend not searching it out. How about putting your feet into a campfire? Again, not something I would say is a great idea, but is certainly one that the player characters of Golden Sun come close to experiencing.

The Lamakan Desert, according to in-game lore, was once a vital crossing points for merchants of the Silk trade. Even as a desert, it was once bearable enough to cross, but the eruption of Mr. Aleph and the release of evil Psynergy stones that fell into the desert caused the heat of the sand to ramp up to such an extent that it became impossible for ordinary humans to cross it. Luckily for our player characters, they are apparently not so normal, and as such they get to cross the desert for themselves. Battling antlions, unbearable heat and your comrades constant whining, one is able to cross safely, but only if one is able to locate veiled oases that aid your travel.

Lamakan Desert is special for two reasons. Firstly, there are special gameplay mechanics at play - if you are on the sand, a bar fills up that, once full, leads to HP loss, and secondly it's an area that requires the player to carefully take note of a special ability to reveal oases to cross safely. Areas that have unique game mechanics are always well regarded by players, and this one is no different. It also leads me neatly into my next entry...

The first snowfall in the Sahara Desert in 37 years fell this week. See also: Wild ARMS' Filgaia is a world that varies between a decaying, war-ravaged desert wasteland to lush and lively and back again over multiple games. This also leads me neatly to my next entry...

One pattern that you may be beginning to spot is that RPGs tend to have some pretty iconic deserts. This is partly because all JRPGs have to go through the motions of containing every clichéd level design in the book, up to and including the space-travelling saga of Phantasy Star. However, what the desert planet of Motavia lacks in gaming originality it certainly makes up for in scope.

Motavia, also known as Mota, features in several of the series' games. At first, Motavia is a planet of arid desert and pretty much nothing else save some mountains and scores of impassable antlions. Spaceports, villages and wandering travellers are a feature of the planet; however, this all changes as between games the planet is terraformed into a planet of lush greenery and oceans, to such an extent that you wouldn't be able to tell deserts were even on the planet. This does not last in the games, as in the third millennium we find the planet has once again become a barren land, although its ocean is retained. Certainly, a lot has gone on in 3000 years.

I think this is what makes this planet particularly special. Rarely do we see entire fictional worlds transfer between games within a series, especially ones where such vast changes occur between entries. Moreover, unlike the world of Filgaia in Wild ARMs, this world is obviously meant to be a desert in the first place, and therefore the world itself is unique in this respect. As such I feel it deserves to be recognised.

Death Valley is home to the USA's lowest point, Badwater Basin, which lies at 282 feet below sea level. See also: The third Phantasy Star contains another desert world, Aridia, although I feel this world is nowhere near the calibre of one that features in multiple games...

I find the fact I am even writing this list rather ironic, as I have actually never ventured into a desert (unless you count the town centre of my hometown, Wrexham). I certainly haven't experienced such scorching heat that I feel that my face is on fire and my brains are slowly turning to porridge before my very eyes. However, if a gamer really wants that authentic "I-want-to-melt-into-the-sand" feeling that only a desert can provide, then Breath of Fire 3's Desert of Death delivers in spades.

This place could not be more aptly named. A menacing and dangerous place, the player's party has to cross it in order to reach an Oasis. However, being a desert, you must avoid the heat of the day and thus the player must not only travel by night in order to avoid said flesh-melting scorch, but also conserve as much water as possible in order to not, well, die. And you have to follow stars in order to find wherever the hell you need to go. And some of those stars are red herrings. And there's a boss half-way through, and one of your party collapses from heatstroke. This desert is certainly tedious fun for the whole family!

What makes this place stand out is that, unlike many deserts in other RPGs, there are unique and realistic gameplay mechanics that ensure that the desert is memorable and challenging for the player. The game forces you to think about every step you take as one wrong move can force you to start over - truly this is one of those areas that every RPG should aspire to. This is a truly deserving and deadly desert.

And of course I'd do anything for her. I'd search the moons of Endor. I'd even walk naked through the deserts of Tatooine... See also: A much more tiny desert lies in Chrono Trigger, where one leaves a certain robotic companion to create a lush forest many years in the future....

Nothing screams "apocalypse" more than a desert. Anyone who has read Cormac McCarthy's The Road knows that the wastes of a once prosperous nation is teeming with danger, hunger, misery and probably death. However, nuclear war-related Armageddons are thankfully still within the realm of fiction, yet the terrifying possible future that awaits us in the form of the Fallout universe remains an excellent example of what could (heaven forbid) happen!

The Mojave Wasteland consists of territory in the former US states of Nevada, California and Arizona. We are landed in the shoes of a courier in the city of New Vegas, who is attacked by a mobster named Beny voiced by goddamn Chandler Bing. After being rescued, you then go after Benny for revenge - but only after traversing the terrifying wastes of a USA ravaged by war. Although relatively unscathed compared to the rest of the USA, and though filled with slightly fewer super-mutants, the wasteland is filled with several warring factions, and perhaps even more frightening monsters such as scorpions, deathclaws and ghouls, and so death is only a step away.

What is great about this particular entry is how familiar the location feels. As stated earlier, the area has survived much of the nuclear fallout seen elsewhere in the universe, and as such the wasteland feels alive. Animals still survive there, and the water is still mostly safe - it feels like a natural expansion of the Fallout world and is a welcome relief from the traditional depiction of a post nuclear-war world. It's certainly unique, and certainly iconic.

The desert is a place of bones, where the innards are turned out, to desiccate into dust. See also: Tomb Raider III contains an entire level that has our titular (heh) heroine exploring the Nevada desert, as well as Area 51.

As a young gamer, two games stood out as ones that were essentially mythical - Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. With The Last Guardian having been released recently, propelling the studio behind the series to new and magnificent heights, I feel that I have to talk about a desert area that makes the middle game of that particularly glorious trio stand out magnificently: the Desert of the Dead. However, it's not really the desert that's the star of the show; it's what you have to deal with when you get there.

The world of Shadow of the Colossus is vast; your aim is to trek between huge tracts of lands hunting the enormous and intimidating colossi that wander the land. In the game, the desert is surrounded by forests and mountains, which disappear as you canter on your horse into the ruin-strewn desert. However, your arrival heralds Phalanx, the most enormous Colossus, and as you plow after him the scale of the desert becomes clear - you end up leaping onto its back and in its efforts to shake you off, it just keeps climbing higher, and higher, and higher...

What people love about the game is just how beautiful it is yet how straightforward it is. The locales are simple, but the sheer amount of action and glorious scenery you get to experience is second to none - there are no surprises in explaining why the game has become part of folklore, and the battle with Phalanx in the desert is just one part of that.

The first thing I met was a fly with a buzz and the sky with no clouds.... See also: Other RPGs containing deserts mentioned include Secret of Mana, Ys and Rogue Galaxy. They need to come up with some more unique locales...

There is rarely anything more satisfying than staring longingly at beautiful scenery. The sense of unimaginable satisfaction as the sun sets after a long summer's day over a picturesque meadow, or the quiet reflection of gentle sunshine on a meandering meadow, often make me feel glorious. When a video game can make you feel like that, it's often even more special, and Journey is one of those examples.

Indie games often shine and become well known for their art style. The creators of this one, thatgamecompany, were known previously for their work on both Flow and Flower, two games that were executed with simplicity yet were beautiful. Journey expands on that as you follow a robed man's journey through a seemingly endless desert, only supported by fellow travellers to a faraway mountain. Contending with the landscape and the ruins of a civilisation, you must make it to the top of the mountain - and my god, does it do it in style.

There is a reason why this game is often put in the category of greatest game of all time - it's just beautiful to look at, to listen to, and to experience. Journey is one of those games that takes such a small concept and makes it wondrous and magical, and as such has become an iconic game and an iconic desert. I just wish more games were like this one.

The madman's in the desert, looking to find you... See also: Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire's Route 111 is a desert that is filled with vicious cactuses and shifting winds. It isn't very exciting, but at least you get a fossil out of it....

When I first came up with the idea for the list, I had an argument with a fellow user about the conflict between what is iconic and what is generic. Granted, his arguments were strong: each game, especially on the early systems, resorted to what became very cliched and very safe bets for level design. You had to have an ice level, a fire level, a giant tree; the late nineties seemed to be transfixed by goddamn sewer levels. To be iconic, you have to have that spark, that little something extra, that element that makes design choice bigger than the game. For the desert levels of the world, which one do people often jump to when they first think of one? I would say the deserts of Super Mario Bros.

In many ways they are cliched locations. Desert Land in Super Mario Bros. 3, for example, contains pyramids, cactuses to overcome, and many typical features of desert level, including quicksand. What makes this desert special, however, is what it spawned: Angry Suns, Tweesters and Fire Snakes all originated here, enemies which have irritated gamers for generations. In future games, the Dry Dry Desert would become prominent, having showings in both Paper Mario and Mario Kart, and both of these feature the Pokey, one of the most iconic enemies in the series. The Dry Dry Ruins featured in this area is a great dungeon, while the featureless desert can mean you become easily confused about which screen you are in. Truly great level design can be found everywhere in Mario, and the deserts are no exception.

Perhaps you may be wondering why I have put it number 1: the deserts may not be the most essential to the plot, nor are they particularly unique. However, thousands of gamers worldwide hold Mario in high regards due to the atmosphere of the level design, their musical score and the designs of the enemies; don't tell me that the Angry Sun levels aren't a whole lot of fun. Simple, effective and well put together, these deserts are magnificent examples to round off the list.

Desert dwelling crocodiles were worshipped in the Egyptian city Faiyum, named by the Greeks as Crocodilopolis. See also: For many, Super Mario Land's Birabuto Kingdom is a perfect desert area, with one of the most memorable pieces of music on the GameBoy as its backdrop. Sadly, the graphics of the time mean the effect of the desert is mostly lost on the player, but remains an excellent entry in the series.

Honourable Mentions

Final Fantasy series
Super Mario series
Red Dead Redemption
The Legend of Zelda series
Chrono Trigger
Star Fox 64
Tomb Raider III
Megaman series
ActRaiser
Albert Odyssey: Legend of Eldean
Digimon World 3
Skies of Arcadia
Deja Vu II: Lost in Las Vegas
Ys Seven
Ogre Battle
Custer's Revenge
Okage: Shadow King
Illusion of Gaia
Ratchet and Clank: Going Commando
The Wizard and the Princess
Kingdom Hearts
Wild ARMs 3
Brandish 2
Pokemon R/S/E
Dragon Warrior series
Rogue Galaxy
Banjo Kazooie
Rayman Origins

...and many more!


List by sirloinestake (01/03/2017)

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