I’ve said this a few times before on stream, but one of the things I love the most about what I do is that I get to check out all kinds of new and upcoming indie games. Not only does it jettison me back to the halcyon days of shareware demos, it also takes me back to the Xbox 360 Summer of Arcade, when my love for gaming was truly reignited with an intensity I wasn’t expecting. What a pleasant surprise! Steam Next Fest really encapsulates the same feeling I got from both of those specific points in time, because I get to try out all kinds of demos for such a myriad of genres. It’s a gaming buffet that’s only limit is your hard drive size and time you have to squeeze them all in. That being said, I nearly topped out at 50 games over the last week or two on my stream, and I can’t wait to talk about them all a little bit right here. Soon I’ll make a video to mark my top 5 or 10 of the bunch, but for now, here’s a comprehensive list of everything that I checked out during Steam Next Fest this summer, along with my first impressions of each.
Super Adventure Hand
This game had some of the same qualities to it that stuff like Human: Fall Flat might, or even a chaos game like Just Die Already. At its core, it’s basically a puzzle platformer. But the sentient hand that’s reminiscent of The Addams Family is enough to make it kind of creepy, but not in a bad way. If there’s community modding down the road, I would love to see those hands from Elden Ring make it into this game to really ramp up the full creepy factor.
Wizard With A Gun
Most people would assume, based on look, that this is by Klei Entertainment and shares similarities to Don’t Starve. That isn’t a terrible comparison, though this one has a fair amount of differentiating mechanics to make it stand alone in an interesting way. Plus, how many wizards actually have guns? I mean, come on. There were roguelite elements here in the way that portal worlds work, and base building seems a bit less stressful than something like Don’t Starve. I only spent a short time with Wizard With A Gun, however, so I can’t say for sure. It’s definitely a fun and unique game that I’m certain will take over many platform game directories upon release, though.
Lies of P
Lies of P was on my list of most anticipated games for the year, and after playing the demo I can safely say that it remains in a spot of considerable hype. Most will know this as the Pinnochio Souls-like, and that is a pretty accurate description. However, where I find a lot of Souls-like games tend to mimic their inspiration far too much, Lies of P manages to craft a really interesting world with an engaging narrative that should be familiar given the familiarity of it, as well as one of the most solid interpretations of the Souls mechanics, but adapted into its own thing. I really enjoyed my time with this demo, though I didn’t play a lot of it. Apparently it was a fairly sizable demo, too. Hopefully it will still be available after Next Fest if you didn’t get a chance to play it!
Growth was taking a lot of inspiration from Dorfromantik, which is one of the most relaxing and engaging games that I’ve played on stream in a very long time. Growth‘s mechanics seemed a little more complex, however, as you had to try to find wildlife in order to expand territory on the map. If you didn’t, there was definitely a failstate, which meant of course that I couldn’t quite grasp exactly what to do, and I had to restart several times. I definitely chalk some of this experience up to having new kittens and needing to pay attention to them, but also… I think fans of Dorfromantik would definitely enjoy this, though it might not be quite as relaxing and fun depending on what you’re looking to get out of it.
Venba was a game I picked up the demo for during the Wholesome Direct showcase, and mostly because it involved cooking. It also just looked genuinely cozy and, well, wholesome, and on both of those notes it definitely delivered. Venba tells the story of a family of immigrants, but manages to weave a pretty engaging narrative about their life through cooking and conversation. Definitely a nice chill game for those who like a more casual experience.
Station to Station
I remember when I first caught glimpse of voxel style, and didn’t quite know what to make of it. I could see based on the description that it had potential for something unique, but it seems like it took a lot of time for developers to figure out how exactly to apply it in a visually striking style, and mechanically unique way. Games like Nivalis, Shadows of Doubt, and Teardown have more than exemplified some of the neat mechanics and visual styles you can create with voxels, and I would say Station to Station fits right in there with those titles. It’s a puzzle game that uses trains as the main vehicle (rimshot), and not only is it one of the most beautiful games I played during Next Fest, it was also super cozy and engaging. I think train enthusiasts might find issue with some of the aspects of the game, but if you’re into solving puzzles, Station to Station might speak to you.
Little Kitty, Big City
This game got brought up to me several times, though I can’t imagine why. Little Kitty, Big City was like if Stray meets Untitled Goose Game. It was cute and mildly challenging and …well… what more do you really want? Exploring the city as a cute cat trying to get back to it’s sky-high perch is the kind of game we all needed.
I played a fair amount of Hammerwatch on my Switch, and kind of skipped over Heroes of Hammerwatch entirely. I only bring this up because I didn’t quite know what to expect with Hammerwatch II, but what I got was something that I can already tell I’ll be sinking a lot of time into. It’s a gorgeously retro-styled top-down open world fantasy game – I LOVE THOSE WORDS TOGETHER! Hammerwatch II seems to take a slightly different approach in its open world, which speaks to me. I seem to recall the Hammerwatch games also emphasizing multiplayer, though it wasn’t impossible to play alone. That seems to be a bit of the case with this one, but as I said… that won’t stop me from sinking a lot of time into it on a handheld device. Loved it.
While I was streaming, one of the developers of this game came in to ask me if I would check it out. I’m so glad that they did that. Broken Lens ended up being a very cozy but complicated “spot the difference” game with a narrative that seemed to sport a similar delivery to something like Tunic, and some wildly imaginative artwork to match. Definitely one of the more memorable game experiences of my time with Next Fest.
I’m always up for a good horror experience. Unholy seemed to have a pretty engaging storyline involving the disappearance of a child, your child – as you are playing the main character. You seemingly traverse between two different worlds or dimensions and solve puzzles, which is the kind of horror game I’m more drawn to as of late. However, I managed to get stuck near the end of my time with Unholy, so while I am curious enough to give it a go upon release, I’m slightly weary of whether or not some of the puzzles are going to be a tad convoluted. Guess we’ll see – I’m definitely wishlisting this!
Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew
Desperados meets Sea of Thieves? Count me in. I was nervous initially that Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew was going to be like XCOM – not that it would be bad if it was, but I’m pretty bad at XCOM and games that are like it, so I was a bit worried it’d be something I would suck at. Turns out it wasn’t, and while I’m not necessarily any better at real-time tactics or stealthy games, I managed to have quite a bit of fun with this one. I’m of the opinion that we need more pirate games, and this definitely scratches the mighty itch for one.
Choo Choo Survivor
I’m normally a pretty big fan of games that basically model themselves after Vampire Survivors. I’ve heard these called “bullet heaven” games – I don’t know about that, but what I do know is that in Choo Choo Survivor I finally found a game of this genre that I didn’t enjoy. Nothing about this made a lot of sense mechanically. The UI was a mess to look at. There wasn’t a lot of variation in power-ups. As you were a train, you could only move forward, so the kind of dynamics you get from lateral movement in literally any other game of this genre simply did not exist here as far as I could tell. Nah, I didn’t care for this one at all. Big miss.
The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood
This seems like a dating sim wrapped up inside of a lot of other interesting and complex systems. I was already in, because The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood is about witches and building tarot decks and mystic forces and all of this stuff that I think is super cool, but the narrative was engaging, the visuals were wild, the card building was like nothing else I’ve ever seen, and all around it was a win. I can’t wait to see what the full game is like.
House Flipper 2
I’m a big fan of House Flipper. It’s one of my go-to relax games, both on stream and off stream. Naturally, House Flipper 2 was a win for me. Graphically it clearly got an upgrade with this one, and mechanically it did as well. Some of the mechanics are a far stretch from what the first one had to offer, which means there’s a bit of a learning curve from what you’re used to in the first game. If you can overcome that, you’ll love House Flipper 2. I imagine people will be divided over this one because of that, but it wasn’t enough of a departure to sway my feelings. It reminded me of the upgrade in systems from The Sims 2 to The Sims 3; I was so used to how 2 operated that 3 was offputting. Similarly for some, House Flipper 2 will feel different, almost too different, and it’s something to consider before going in. Try the demo out if it’s still available, and you’ll understand what I mean. Otherwise, I think House Flipper 2 is kind of a no brainer win for me.
Not to spoil my top games, but this definitely was, without question, one of them. Fortune’s Run feels and plays like a DOOM total conversion mod Ashes 2063. Set in a crazy cyberpunk setting, it’s incredibly immersive, deep in its narrative, and pretty brutal in its gameplay – stealth notwithstanding. I didn’t want to put down Fortune’s Run, but I didn’t spend too much time with the demo because I knew I’d be playing this one on release.
Gord is a game I’ve been following for a bit, so I was stoked for the demo – and it did not disappoint. Set in a grim fantasy setting that is heavily inspired by Slavic folklore, Gord is a colony management and real-time strategy sim that feels similar in gameplay and scale to something like the Spellforce series. This was another title I didn’t really want to put down, but did so knowing I would play it on release.
I was reminded while playing The Invincible that I need to round back on my backlog and play Deliver Us The Moon, as I’ve already played Deliver Us Mars and enjoyed it deeply. I only bring this up because The Invincible felt similar in a lot of ways; you’re investigating the goings-on at a planetary research site, and things seem like they went, for lack of better words, awry. Mechanically this had some quirks, but overall was a pretty engaging narrative that I’m definitely going to round back to on release.
Dontnod are most well known for their critically acclaimed series Life Is Strange, but Vamypr taught me that they are definitely capable of more than just heartfelt teen melodrama, and Jusant definitely bolsters that opinion for me. The game is minimalist and the mechanics are climbing and puzzle solving, so it kind of just feels like a newer Zelda game in a way. I think fans of that may like Jusant. I definitely know I’ll spend a fair amount of time with it on release.
Unfortunately the demo for Mall Craze was fairly incomplete, and mostly was a proof of concept for the building. I believe the game is going in the direction of a tycoon sim, in that you’re to build a really awesome mall and see it to success, but as it stands the demo didn’t really have anything for me to bite into, so I only spent a few minutes with it. Swing and a miss! I’ll check back in with it down the road, because the concept of building a mall in 2023 and reliving the glory days of 80s and 90s mall culture sounds great to me.
Some would say the perfect game doesn’t exist. I would show those people Pizza Possum, a co-op game where you, a possum, and your raccoon friend terrorize a town by stealing all of the food you can find while trying not to get caught by the puppy police. Still not convinced? You’ll have to see the possum when he gets overstuffed. I promise. In reality, it’s a simple game that won’t appeal to all, but it’s cute and it’s fun and I enjoyed it.
Escape From Mystwood Mansion
I’ve never been to an escape room, nor have I really played any of the other escape room games that are out there. But Escape From Mystwood Mansion definitely grabbed ahold of my attention and refused to let go, as I found myself up in the wee hours of the night trying to finish this demo with a sizable host of viewers on two platforms both highly engaged in the outcome of this task. Needless to say, I’m ready for the full release already of Mystwood Mansion. Good puzzle game.
World’s Worst Handyman
This game has some of the same DNA as Little Kitty, Big City or Untitled Goose Game, except it feels a little less open. It still has some of the cartoonish chaos of both though, and that’s why I think it’ll appeal to audiences who enjoy those. World’s Worst Handyman puts you through levels of tasks to help customers on jobs that usually involve rescuing animals and unclogging toilets, but you have to often avoid things like… cranky old women and… cranky old women. Decent fun, and will likely check it out for Try it Tuesday down the road.
I believe this is a port of an old Sega Genesis game, but that doesn’t really matter – schlocky horror fans are immediately going to love this if they don’t already, and for the uninitiated… well, if you’re a fan of Battletoads, Scott Pilgrim vs The World, or TMNT: The Arcade Game – basically any beat ’em up with a cartoon wrapping – this is going to speak to you. Loved it. Also, if you’re unaware of The Toxic Avenger, fix that right away!
There are a lot of horror games out there that go for the realistic graphics and the PT-style minimalism, but Luto may have come pretty close to it for me in its vague narrative, bleakly winding halls, and incredibly creepy sheet monster that moves inhumanly. Yeesh. The style of Luto won me over pretty quickly, but the demo had some genuinely creepy moments that made me want more. Can’t wait for this one to fully release – it’s a must play.
El Paso, Elsewhere
There was a free-to-play spin-off of this game released sometime last year called El Paso, Nightmare. Xalavier Nelson Jr. was kind enough to write me and ask if I had any pets I would want to feature in the game. I sent him photos of Gabby and Nathan, and what he ended up doing was putting Nathan into the game in one of the paintings you encounter. As we just lost Nathan, this obviously means a lot to me now. I bring this up because I’m quite certain that Nathan will make another appearance in El Paso, Elsewhere – an obvious nod to Max Payne where you’re fighting hordes of undead, werewolves, and other supernatural creatures in some kind of strange hellscape dimension that you’re looking to escape. The narration is on point, the original music slaps, and El Paso, Elsewhere is going to be a total hit when it releases.
Laika: Aged Through Blood
I’m not sure who came along and decided that there was a need for a Souls-like but with motorcycles, but I’m not mad at it. Laika: Aged Through Blood is an incredibly brutal story about a coyote mother who is on a warpath to get vengeance against those who wronged her and her tribe. The combat was incredibly unique, but insanely difficult to master… which I think is the point. A motorcycle is your literal method of transportation and often used as a weapon to parry enemy bullets and avoid obstacles. Eventually you get a gun, and that’s really when things start to get complex, because moving while shooting and parrying and not dying just feels like a lot of micromanagement. This will be an impressive game to watch people master, and while I’ll likely return to it on Try it Tuesday, it was almost too much for me.
Most people at this point have played a Kingdom game, so you know what you’re getting into for the most part with Kingdom Eighties, which from all appearances seemed like it played the same. I think there were a few updated mechanics introduced for this one, given the setting and whatnot. I do agree with someone in chat that some little nitpicky gripes I could bring up would be simple stuff like using slingshots for ranged weapons instead of bow+arrow, but eh. All in all, solid Kingdom experience that I’ll be making my way back to someday.
SLUDGE LIFE 2
Another sequel! SLUDGE LIFE was a blast of a game that I played a bit of during a Try it Tuesday, and news of a SLUDGE LIFE 2 is pretty rad. More or less, it’s just… more of the same game, from all I could tell, and that’s not a bad thing. The game plays in the same way as the previous one did – like a slice of life game where you go around collecting things, doing little tasks, having conversations, meeting citizens, tagging walls, smoking cigarettes, et cetera. The game is all style and chilled substance, and it’s not for everyone, but definitely for me.
The award for most unique game of the entire week of demos definitely goes to Viewfinder, which was a mind-bending puzzle game that fits up there with something like The Witness or The Talos Principle. Visually striking, complex yet not offputtingly frustrating, Viewfinder is one of those games that’s going to get talked about, will likely win awards, and should be noticed and hailed. Have I oversold it? I just thought it was neat! OK!?
I didn’t even know this game, or a previous game in its franchise, existed – yet I’m so happy I know now. ARKOS and ARKOS 2 are basically a voxel homage to Heretic, and I’m here for it entirely. Enjoyed it so much, I immediately bought the first game so I could play it ASAP on stream. DOOM-like games are an easy sell for me. 🙂
While The Iron’s Hot
I deeply enjoyed the cozy experience offered in While The Iron’s Hot, which is a side-scrolling pixel adventure game about blacksmithing. Gathering, crafting, adventuring – it seems like the only thing to really take into consideration with this game is your energy level, but otherwise it’s a pretty chill experience that I put on par with something like Graveyard Keeper, which is one of my go-to chill games. Can’t wait for this one to release, for sure.
Mega City Police
Mega City Police is going for something similar to Broforce or Enter The Gungeon with how it plays. Imagine Robocop, but as a co-op twin-stick shooter. It kind of works! I think that, while fun, my biggest problem with it is that it’s not really bringing anything new to the table for this genre, so it wasn’t exciting me enough to play too much of. Still, not bad for those who just love this kind of game.
Island Of Winds
Island Of Winds definitely hooked me with the whole witch in the woods in Iceland vibe it had going for it. Beautiful landscape, interesting story, loads of exploration. Controls were a bit wonky, but I could forgive that. I can also see why it might lose many – the delivery of the narrative feels too slow and obscure for some, and the combat is also a bit slow and stale – but it’s a game that definitely drew in my interest, and I’ll be sure to return to down the road.
This game had a lot of style, and played just like a DOOM-y game that I would enjoy. Luna Abyss bills itself as a bullet hell platformer, and I can see it. I didn’t find it to be too entirely challenging, but I can’t honestly recall if I selected a casual difficulty (probably) or if I’m really just not too bad at these kinds of games (maybe, but not likely). The story seems interesting too: you, Fawkes, are a prisoner of a planet called Luna that’s caught within some kind of prophecy that you’re trying to… well, escape, I think. I’ll be seeing you again soon, Luna Abyss.
I’m a sucker for dungeon crawlers, and this one has some kitschy tongue-in-cheek humor mixed with actually hilariously stupid moments you’ll find yourself getting into. I had a blast with Neverlooted Dungeon, and while it wasn’t that graphically impressive, it had all of the things about dungeon crawling that I love: winding corridors, traps and enemies, treasure. I’ll definitely be revisiting this one when it’s out.
I kind of wasn’t sure if I even wanted to check out En Garde when I saw the trailers for it, but it was highly recommended… and I’m glad I listened to everyone that spoke up. En Garde ended up being a really fun action-adventure game with some fun fencing combat that you don’t get too often in games. The dialogue was a bit corny, but that doesn’t really dissuade me from giving this a pretty high score. Again, there aren’t enough pirate games out there to consume.
ANTONBLAST had a pretty strong vibe of cracked Nintendo – like Warioware but without the random games. I haven’t played Pizza Tower yet, but a lot of people were comparing the two. It was a pretty wild platformer that I would say is quite enjoyable, but my time with it was rough because it was late in the night and the game was a LOT. Prepare for sensory overload with this one. Definitely worth checking out, though.
This game had some pretty strong Contra vibes to it, but with a name like Iron Meat I wanted it to lean more in an…. I don’t know, meaty direction? It was fun, it had some merits to it, but wasn’t entirely doing anything different. Stylistically, I was hoping for something like Carrion but from the perspective of the guys trying to fight the monster. I don’t know. Solid middle ground game.
The Last Alchemist
I simply couldn’t get enough of The Last Alchemist, and it’s probably one of the games I think about the most in the wake of Demo Daze. Finally, a game comes along that takes the whimsy of alchemy and really applies some of the things I have always wanted from it – complex ingredient research, gathering, crafting, and tinkering. Exploring a beautiful land to find both what you need, and your next task. My only gripe is that I didn’t give myself enough time to play more of this fantastic game.
Coreborn: Nations of the Ultracore
Coreborn‘s mission is pretty ambitious, as they’re trying to create a sandbox MMO that truly brings together groups of random people for PVE adventures. Working together to build cities and defend them from a spreading evil, Coreborn‘s central gameplay loop seems to be like that of any other survival sandbox: gather stuff, craft stuff, gather more stuff, craft more stuff. These kinds of games already have my attention based on this alone. The unfortunate side is that Valheim has set the bar so high for me, that I’m not sure I have a lot of room for any other game of this type. Coreborn seems like it has a lot of potential, but the demo experience felt a bit empty and grindy. I’ll be sure to check back in on it as it matures, though.
Wood & Weather
God simulator games are always fun – this is why I sunk countless hours into The Sims 1 and 2. Wood & Weather is nothing like either of those games, other than you get to control the conditions in which a town of people need to exist in. You don’t create those people, you don’t get to infiltrate their lives per se, but you do dictate things like weather, help them out with simple tasks, or sow chaos across the land simply to see what happens. There wasn’t a lot in this demo, but what I saw was cozy, cute, and fun. Definitely something I’ll revisit for Try it Tuesday.
Sea of Stars
I understand why people are so hype for this game. I have no nostalgia factor for things like Secret of Mana or Chrono Trigger, but I understand inherently that those are fantastic games, and Sea of Stars definitely falls in line with them. Apparently it’s a prequel to the story of The Messenger? I think it is, at least that’s what Google tells me. Either way, the demo was absolutely incredible, and if you were already excited for this game I have good news: I think it’s going to be amazing.
Abathor is a single player, or co-op, adventure game akin to something like Gauntlet that kind of plays a bit like Volgarr the Viking. The artwork and character design is reminiscent of Conan the Barbarian or… I don’t know, the band MANOWAR. Nothing was too remarkable about the gameplay of this, but the ultimate powers were pretty cool, the boss design was actually AWESOME, and those facts alone brought this up a notch in my book. Could end up being a hidden gem retro platformer.
The Isle Tide Hotel
I’m a big fan of FMV games, and I couldn’t be happier that Wales Interactive is single-handedly trying to bring them back into our lives. They’ve released a ton of them in the last several years, and whether they’re good or bad really doesn’t sway me from playing them in the first place. Interactive movies! Such is the case with The Isle Tide Hotel, which felt confusing as a demo from start to finish, but I think means we’re in for a cracked experience that’ll be a ton of fun to stream when it’s out.
The Kindeman Remedy
The Kindeman Remedy is very much a game that’s like American Horror Story: Asylum mixed with Ravenous Devils that I wanted to like, but had difficulty enjoying. The demo was on rails, so I’m hoping it was just a mixture of mood and demo restrictions. It just felt like a lot? The story felt like it was being shoved down my throat too much for a demo, the on rails presentation felt like information overload, and at times I felt like nothing was connecting entirely for me in terms of what it wanted me to do. I don’t know. I may check this out on release, but I honestly wasn’t that impressed with the demo upon completion.
Captain Wayne – Vacation Desperation
Much like survivor games, or dungeon crawlers… well, I’m a sucker for DOOM-like games, which is exactly what Captain Wayne – Vacation Desperation was. It shared some of the same chaos energy that ANTONBLAST had, but in a format that was much easier for me to digest. It also kind of felt like a Lupin the Third game for some reason? I think some of the artwork had to do with that. Either way, one of the most creative games that runs in GZDoom that I’ve ever played. Definitely going to pick this up on release.
This one was an absolute trip! Patrick’s Parabox won me and the chat over with how simplistic it was in presentation, yet utterly complex it became mechanically. It’s a puzzle game through and through, but the design of it – graphics, levels, music and audio – aided in its success. It was actually kind of a soothing game to play, and it was DIFFICULT the further I got into it. Absolutely one of the better games I played during Demo Daze though, for sure.
I closed out my week and a half of Demo Daze with a horror game that took place on a boat, because I honestly never see that as a setting. Lazaret was kind of basic in the same way most horror games of this type are, but it did one thing absolutely unique that had my hair standing on end: there was a whistle mechanic that you had to use to judge how far the danger in the game was. You’d whistle, and a creepy whistle would return. I loved that! This game was something I’d play over a weekend horror stream, but it wasn’t necessarily anything to write home about. Horror junkies like me might be interested in it, though.