Last week was the Steam NextFest for June 2023 and I almost didn’t look at it at all, but a friend was talking about the games she was checking out and I couldn’t help myself. The thing is, usually when I pick out demos from NextFest, they sit on my PC until I ultimately uninstall them, unplayed. I’m just not a big demo/beta kind of gal. But last week was tough for me and I suppose unfocused game hopping was just what I needed, so it fell perfectly.
What really struck me was how different each game was from the next, and how vibrant that made each one feel as a result. The diversity that indie games bring to the table make me so happy, and I believe that’s something that the Steam NextFest really highlights.
So for once, I have something to feed back to you. I figured it’d be worth sharing the demos that I most enjoyed. Maybe you’ll find something new to look forward to, or perhaps we can just compare our faves. Also worth noting that a lot of these demos are still up (at time of writing), so you may still be able to check them out for yourself.
Games I Liked Enough To Wishlist
This is a visual novel based around music in a world where the gods walk among us. It’s graphic style is very comic-book styled animation and the voice cast is absolutely stacked. I played for 10 minutes, which was long enough for me to almost cry and experience the first song. I will now spend the next 5 weeks pining for the full game. I think this is going to be something special.
I got Goose Game vibes from Little Kitty. You’re a little black kitty who falls off their ledge in a high rise while sleeping and lands across the city somewhere, lost and wanting to get back to their home. You knock things off walls, jump around things, flee from scary puddles and doggies, collect things for a crafty crow… it’s just a delight. And you should know I’m a huge cat person so if a game has a cat focus, I’m probably in.
Funny enough, I don’t think I’ve played a JRPG before. Nothing comes to mind anyway, but Eternights is like… it’s like playing an anime, and a dating game, and an action game all rolled into one. The story is odd but compelling, with an apocalypse and … I just can’t sum it up without spoiling it. But there are zombies, there’s combat, there’s dating game aspects and it was interesting. I really want to see where it’s going.
Hidden object games are so good. And this particular style of hidden object game just touches a sweet spot for me that cannot be sated. I think of them as like “Where’s Wally?” but Hidden Folks is a better comparison for Hidden Through Time, I think. Anyway I never played the first game, so I definitely need to pick that up, but Myths & Magic is really cute, a little silly, and just solid.
I had no idea House Flipper was getting a sequel but I immediately grabbed the demo for it when I saw it because that was a game that was satisfying in a way I never expected. House Flipper 2 has kinda refined what it’s doing, the game feels a little more polished, and yet it’s still doing basically the same thing. You tidy up the trash, clean the dirt, knock down the walls, install the light fittings, paint and wallpaper and furnish an old run-down house for profit. And it still has silly little hidden things to bring a smile to your face.
This was another one that took me by surprise. Usually if I see a game using pixel graphics I will lose interest in it quicker, not because I’m a graphics snob or anything like that, I just don’t have the nostalgia for pixel graphics and often the kinds of games that utilise them aren’t to my tastes. That said, for The Cosmic Wheel, the pixel graphics are beautiful. And that isn’t even a part of what I loved here. So you play as a witch, I guess witches are immortal (or as least long-lived) in this world, as this one has been exiled to an asteroid for 200 years of a 1,000 year sentence and summons a forbidden Behemoth who tasks her with making her own tarot* deck. The story is super interesting, making your own cards is really cool, and I didn’t even play long enough to see her interactions with other people.
*it’s an oracle deck. Tarot is a specific thing with specific symbology, a deck created in the way this game does it would be an oracle deck. A small niggle from me but they did specifically use the word tarot in the game.
City builders are a really zen kinda game for me, and Laysara was no different. This game tasks you with creating a civilisation that lives upon a mountain summit, with an Asian theme to it. It felt pretty smooth to play and looked beautiful. It was as satisfying as a game like Tropico for me, and that’s really all I look for. I liked it a lot.
Shadow Gambit was one of the first demos I played so I recommended it to a bunch of people while NextFest was still ongoing. Basically, you’re a pirate cursed with undeath in a hostile world. You sneak and assassinate your way around and the gameplay was just fun. It’s a strategy game, with a lot of life and colour to its graphics and story. It had me chuckling a few times, as well.
Another one that surprised me. I was sure metroidvanias were not my thing. Something about the unfamiliarity of a side-scroller like this that I’ve struggled with in the past. However, F.I.S.T. felt pretty comfortable and I love the dieselpunk vibes, I describe this one as “dystopian Beaststars”. Also this one is already out!
Rini told me I’d like this one so I grabbed it. The whole idea is you’re building a TTRPG character and the monsters from the game spawn on your desk and start attacking your character sheet, killing it before it’s ever had a chance to be played. They reduce your stats and HP and all sorts. And you have to match dice, Bejeweled-style, to be able to cast spells and aim weapon attacks. It was a really cool idea for a game. Could use some polish but even without, it’s fun.
And another surprise. On paper games like this one should be my bag entirely, it’s adorable, chill, and has plenty of little tasks to get on with. Yet too often I find myself bored if I have to manage a farm or build up the area around my home and craft materials and whatnot. I don’t know why. Paleo Pines, however, didn’t tickle that same boredom. You get to take care of a dinosaur, a very special one called Lucky, and get on with your little tasks. It was a nice time.
The second city builder I checked out was Aztecs The Last Sun. In this one you’re an Aztec leader who must build his community, providing for them, while appeasing the Gods with blood sacrifices to ensure they have enough power to drive back the fog that threatens your people. It didn’t present any of this as an inherently evil thing either, just a part of their culture. It felt good to play and it had some interesting aspects to it.
Never did I ever expect my first soulslike to be gritty steampunk Pinocchio but here we are. Lies of P has you, teenage Pinocchio, puppet of Gepetto, doing… something. Yeah I can’t really remember. But the setting was really cool, kinda Bioshocky, the combat was super fun and satisfying, and I died 2 or 3 times before realising that hey, it was late and I didn’t have to keep dying when there were other demos to play and sleep to obtain.
I already had Venba on my wishlist so it was really nice to be able to check out a little preview. This game is a kind of visual novel with a lovely art style based around an Indian couple barely making ends meet in Canada that is heavily food-based. I just can’t wait to pick this one up some day, it played pretty much exactly as I expected it would, and that’s exactly what I want from it. Wholesome storytelling.
This was a later addition to my list of demos, in fact these next few were, and it’s pretty fun. I believe it’s set in maybe 1700-1800s South America/Spain and the tutorial has you walk through combat and swinging about to parkour around the place in chase of this debonair and totally-not-obviously-her-male-friend-in-disguise-oh-no-no individual. It’s very silly and tongue in cheek and felt pretty good to play. I’d certainly be interested in seeing more from this game, can always use more light and fun vibes in gaming.
Here’s one I wouldn’t usually add to my wishlist at all had I not tried the demo. Ebenezer and the Invisible World is a side-scrolling platformer where you play as the eponymous Ebenezer Scrooge (I believe) the year after his fateful meeting with the 3 Christmas Spirits. Having come out the other side of his encounter a better man, he is now able to see spirits and help them. Or even beat them up if they’re being a pain. He runs about London helping the downtrodden poor and spirits who have nowhere else to turn, and there was talk of some secret society I think? I was very fascinated. I often say I can’t do platformer games, I end up getting all muddled and frustrated but this one grabbed me.
Ah! Now this game ticked off a lot of my boxes. You play as a recently hired half-goblin steward of a crappy evil dungeon run by a Wizard who has no idea how to run an effective dungeon and you have to pull things together and ensure the staff are happy and healthy. It’s a management sim that put me in mind of Theme Hospital/Two Point Hospital but with a Dungeons & Dragons lick of paint. You run a tavern to bring in money so you can build up the dungeon to be bigger and better and hire staff, hopefully meeting their needs and demands. Or fire them if they’re too unreasonable. Another very tongue-in-cheek kinda game, and one I’m sure I could sink hours into.
A proper visual novel, now. I pretty much saw gorgeous artwork, “visual novel” and “ghosts” and downloaded this demo because I’m simple to please. Ghostpia is a visual novel through-and-through, as well. I believe it mentions there are no choices to make, just a story to follow along with. The story shows us a snowy town where everybody within are ghosts that can only come out at night, and we slowly watch the story unfold from there. There’s clearly something tragic going on and I’m positive if I get around to the full game one day I will sob.
Another one Rini told me was really nice, Broken Lens is a spot-the-difference game! Really cute art, zen music, and satisfying. I always loved these little puzzles so it’s nice to see a game of this for us older folks.
Alright, last but not least, a demo that felt a little janky to me but it hit on notes that are enough that I can ignore issues I had. Blockbuster Inc. plays a lot like The Sims, but instead of controlling people’s lives, you’re running a movie studio; building the rooms, hiring the producers, directors, actors, picking the sets to film on. It’s basically a management sim, but it felt familiar and I just love the way it felt to play. I had my issues with the tutorial which railroaded you so much you couldn’t even slightly differ from exactly what they were asking you to do, and if you placed your first room right over the studio’s entrance and hated it, tough luck. But this game has all the signs of a game I’ll spend hours in, regardless of jank. That said, this was just the demo of course and not a final representation of the exact game, so we shall see!
These games I didn’t end up wishlisting but I did enjoy so I wanted to share them anyway as they might be up your alley!
This is one of those run around and grab stuff while somebody chases you, complete an area to unlock the next, with each becoming exponentially tougher kind of games. In this one, you’re a possum, and you must eat everything while avoided the police dogs. Very silly, fun nonsense. Not much replayability for me, personally, but Rini said it may have multiplayer? That would certainly improve matters.
Cataclismo has a really interesting artstyle. It’s a little exploratory strategy game where you make your way through the woods, occasionally killing “Horrors” with your minions who each have their own combat needs, including height differences for ranged guys, and gather supplies so you can build ramps and stairs to achieve this and traverse ruins that otherwise you could not enter. It was really interesting! Ultimately not quite interesting enough for me but I can recommend it.
And here’s one of the games which I figured wouldn’t be my thing and it almost was, but didn’t quite make it. Wildmender is a lovely survival game, you wake up in a desert beside an oasis with a little spirit guiding you along. You have to build a base, craft things, all that jazz. It’s absolutely lovely but just isn’t my favourite game genre.
And that’s all I have to mention! Did you check out any demos from the Steam NextFest this time around? Which were your favourites?