For the last two Next Fest events, I made a concerted attempt to keep the number of “must play” demos manageable. I ended up covering only five in October 2021, and eight in February 2022. However, with this most recent iteration coming right on the heels of Wholesome Direct, meaning I already had more than a few demos downloaded, I’ve decided to go all in.
Initially, I had 21 demos downloaded. One I immediately decided was not for me, and another ended up being a VR-required title, so that pared it down for me to 19. That’s still way more games than I wanted to cover in a single post! I realize I have a tendency to get in my own way sometimes, so I may not get through all of them, but I’ve already played through 8 demos, which seems like a good number to post about at once without being overwhelming.
As someone who’s played entirely too much Viscera Cleanup Detail, and Powerwash Simulator, I thought that The Mystery Cleaner would be right up my alley. You’re tasked with cleaning up iconic locations, and you’ll probably discover some secrets while you’re picking up trash. Unfortunately, I found the actual mechanics of cleaning to be rather clunky, and I didn’t feel like that – for me – the “mystery” aspect added anything to the more meditative cleaning gameplay loop I was looking for
Grand Theft Gato: Vice Kitty feels like a proper spiritual successor to Goat Simulator. There’s a bit more structure in this one – there are lots of quests to find and complete – and the physics feel slightly less wacky. I doubt this is going to be anyone’s Game of the Year, but I expect it’ll be a fun romp nonetheless. If you ever wondered what it would feel like to drive a stolen car while being a housecat, you might be a fan of this one.
My lack of significant playtime in the Horror Tycoon demo is a little misleading. Once I closed the game, I spent probably 40 more minutes watching the developer stream. I’m not sure that I am in love with the storyline on this one – you need to build haunted house attractions good enough to scare your patrons to death to fulfill a bloodline contract to collect souls. However, the mechanics of building a haunted house attraction look like something I could lose myself in for days. This one is still a bit rough around the edges, but I like the bones of it quite a bit.
The bit of Garden Simulator I got to try out has nothing egregiously wrong with it. You clean up the small patch of yard available in the demo, buy a pushmower and mow the lawn. Then you can start buying other important gardening tools like a shovel and watering can. Get some plants, keep them watered, harvest them for money to buy more gardening goodies. For me, I felt like I’d played enough in less than 15 minutes, which doesn’t say a whole lot for the game’s staying power.
If Townseek hadn’t been the last demo I played in this batch, it might have enticed me to stick around just a bit longer. The demo really could have benefited from some sort of tutorial, but I muddled my way through. You explore the world in your air ship, visiting different cities to trade goods & complete quests. It feels like the main focus is on buying and selling, but you can also gather materials as well as do some fishing if you need more inventory. It feels super accessible, and the art style is delightful.
The wholesome level is off the charts in Hello Goodboy, but the actual game play is so simplistic it may turn players off. I stuck with it through the entirety of the demo’s available content, but it’s definitely far more story-focused than mechanically interesting. You help people through a series of choice-based conversations & simple minigames, and is potentially a great game to play with younger children.
Fashion Police Squad has been on my wish list for what feels like forever, but as far as I’m aware, this is the first time a demo has been available. This delightfully cheesy FPS tasks you with fixing crimes against fashion with your arsenal of weapons designed for exactly this purpose. Unfortunately for me, I struggled even on the lowest difficulty. Still, I liked the execution of the concept even more than I expected to.
I downloaded the demo for The Fabulous Fear Machine on a whim and with low expectations, and it turned out to be my favorite game of the bunch so far. Plant the seeds of urban legends, send out your operatives to explore, infiltrate, and extract resources, and spread your message before your opponents can. The comic book art-style just seals the deal, and this is probably going to be a day one purchase for me.