Quick Look – Pax Online 2020

I don’t think I ever realized just how many gaming expos there are until they all went online! PAX Online is just about wrapping up as I write this, but there were quite a few demos available on Steam between September 12 and September 20. Many of them I have already taken a look at during prior expos, but several were new to me.


Unpacking – Planned Release Date 2021

I’ve been following the developers of Unpacking on Twitter for quite awhile now, and this small little idea – of a game where you just take things out of boxes and put them away – has really been catching people’s imaginations. The demo felt good to play (although there were definitely items that I couldn’t immediately identify visually), and it was easy to start to make inferences about the character to whom all these items belonged. I’ll be looking to pick this one up close to release, assuming I’m comfortable with the release price.


Polter Pals – Planned Release Date Fall 2020

It wasn’t that I disliked Polter Pals – in fact, I found the whole aesthetic to be delightful. The actual meat of the game, however, felt weak to me. The idea of puzzling out murder was done far better in Death Coming (although that game is also not without its flaws). It felt too simple for my taste, and although I appreciated the social media humor, it just wasn’t compelling enough to earn a place on my wishlist.


Trash Sailors – Planned Release Date 2020

Trash Sailors was the one demo that I played that I really wished I had been able to play with someone else. As a single player game, it felt like it could be interesting, but that the true joy in the game would be from trying to coordinate with your raft-mates. The game is designed with local co-op in mind, but also takes advantage of Steam’s Remote Play Together functionality, so it might be worth a pick up if I can persuade my friends to give up an evening or two to try it out.


Neon Noodles – Available Now in Early Access ($14.99)

I don’t think I’ve ever realized just how many programming focused games there are (although Neon Noodles is more direct about being a programming game than many others). Playing the demo felt a little abrupt – the introductory levels are short and simplistic in order to introduce the player to the mechanics and the programming style used. If I’m still looking for more automation style games after playing similar titles in my queue, this is one I’d absolutely pick up.


Growbot – Planned Release Date Spring 2021

I’ve looked at this game during previous expos, but was never jazzed enough about it for it to make the cut. Growbot is super pretty, and the music in the very short demo is lovely, but there’s nothing about this puzzle adventure game that particularly excites me. Considering the sheer quantity of puzzle adventure games I already have in my backlog, it’s not anything I’ll be keeping an eye on.


Hell Architect – Planned Release Date 2020

This one was already on my wish list, but it came perilously close to coming off. I absolutely love the game play, but man, do I hate the aesthetic. The problem isn’t that the game wants you to torture people – I was expecting that, even if it is a bit gruesome. No, the thing that turned me off was the food & beverage production track; taking resources from the lavatory to produce water felt like juvenile gross-out humor that just didn’t sit right with me. It wasn’t enough to completely put me off the game, and I completed the full demo. More concerning is the planned release date this year, but with a Kickstarter beginning in November. I’m just not sure the devs on this one have it together yet.


Neurodeck: Psychological Deckbuilder – Planned Release Date End 2020

Normally, I would have skipped right over Neurodeck because I’m so not feeling deck builders anymore, but the conceit was so different I had to give it a shot. The idea of fighting phobias with coping mechanisms is very cool, but it plays just like any other deck builder (and not as well as some). For someone who is into this type of game, it might be an interesting twist on the formula, but there isn’t enough here for me to get over that hump.


Innchanted – Planned Release Date “Coming Soon”

Innchanted might be great when played with friends, and it might get more interesting later on, but the demo made me feel like I was playing a Diner Dash knockoff. Now, I’m not saying that’s a bad thing – I’ve spent many hours with time management games. But I didn’t love the controls – a casualty of being designed to be played with controllers for local co-op – and nothing really stood out for me, as someone who’d be most likely to play this one on my own.


Industria – Planned Release Date 2021

The Industria demo feels really really early. The opening scene oozes atmosphere, but when the demo jumps you forward in the game (I assume so you can get a feel for the way shooting works), I got myself stuck in a train. I did manage to take a few shots – the shooting feels good, but I have no idea what I was supposed to be shooting at. Also, bullets have no effect on windows. I’m leaving this one on the wish list for now, but I’d definitely want to check in on it again closer to release.

Natural Instincts – Planned Release Date TBA

Natural Insticts wasn’t on my radar prior to PAX Online, but I find the concept intriguing. It’s (mostly) peaceful, with a strong lean towards being educational. The narrator’s voice is soothing, the graphics look pretty good, and I can see this being a game I might just boot up to chill out and take care of some bunnies. However, I think it also might be missing the mark a little bit – this would also be a great game for kids, but some parents might find mating and hunting behaviors to be a little too blatant for their comfort. It’s not necessarily a must have title for me, but I respect the effort at building something different.


On the one hand, I’m a little disappointed not to find a new title to get excited for, but at the same time, my wish list is already so long. I am still enjoying these online conventions, and the access to demos for all sorts of upcoming games, and I hope they continue in a post-COVID world for those of us unable to travel to conventions regularly.

Indie Arena Booth 2020 – Lucifer Within Us Demo

I got interested in Lucifer Within Us because it intends to be a purely deductive detective game, without mini games or QTEs. You simple look around for evidence, take testimony, and find the contradictions in order to solve mysteries. Sure, it gets a little bit out there with motives based in demonic possession, but it’s completely up front with it. You play as an “digital exorcist”, but don’t let that put you off. You’re a detective, through and through.

The demo gives you access to the one case with two possible suspects, and thankfully, errs on the side of over-explaining how you do what you do. Even still (and I credit this to nothing by my super-short attention span), I got stuck near the end because a mechanic for obtaining additional evidence had slipped my mind.

If you’re not comfortable with a lot of reading, and with making a lot of mistakes, you probably want to give this one a pass. Pieces that felt like they should fit together often resulted in the suspect telling me he had no idea what I was trying to get at. I’m not sure if it’s intended to have more than one way to get to the proper conclusion, but I did find it slightly frustrating to not be able to structure the evidence in the way that made the most sense to me.

It took me about half an hour to muddle my way through the case to a successful accusation, at which point the demo ended rather abruptly (and required me restarting it to have a way to exit the game without force closing it). Lucifer Within Us is still in need of a bit of polish, but if the other cases are already pretty much finished up, I don’t see any difficulty with the team smoothing out the rough edges before an anticipated October 15, 2020 release date.

Indie Arena Booth 2020 – To the Rescue! Demo

As far as I can tell, this is the first glimpse we’ve gotten of To the Rescue: A Dog Shelter Simulator, and in fact, the demo describes itself as “an early alpha build”. I was particularly interested in trying this one out, as I backed it on Kickstarter last year. Unfortunately – at least for me – the demo was more frustrating than fun, although I can absolutely see the bones of a really delightful game here.

My struggle started in the tutorial – time is your biggest enemy here. You’re not given any time prior to opening or after closing to care for the dogs, so you have to do everything during the shelter’s open hours. As far as I can tell, nothing that you do stops the clock, which means if you want to take the time to read about the dogs in your care, you’re not actually taking care of them during that time.

I attempted two play throughs of the demo, and both times, I failed before the week was up. There just wasn’t enough time or money to take care of all the dogs being dropped off, and since I was so rushed trying to not screw everything up, I failed the adoption mini game more often than not. Between the lack of income, the cost of adding kennels for all the dogs coming in, and the fines for not properly caring for them all during my limited work window, I was bankrupt (and feeling really bad about myself) before day three.

I am really really hoping this is a tuning issue, and not a “realities of shelter life” issue, because making this game too realistic is going to make it depressing as hell to play. I realize that running an animal shelter is a whole lot more complex than just playing with puppies all day long, but if the outlook is too bleak, playing is going to be torturous.

I will be receiving a copy of To The Rescue: A Dog Shelter Simulator when it releases, due to having backed it, so I don’t have to make the hard decision of whether or not to purchase it. I am, however, really hoping that the event frequency in the early game gets brought way down to give the player time to acclimate to the things that need to be done, and that they consider auto-pausing the time when you are reading about the dogs in your care (since it seems like you can’t do anything when those windows are open anyway). The game looks delightful, but right now, is an unpleasant chore to play.


Edited 2:20pm 8-28-20: The developers are already tweaking the demo – my third try was considerably less hectic and overwhelming. Using the ribbons to move dogs between their regular kennels and the show kennels is also a game changer – this was referenced in the tutorial and I missed it! The fact that in one day the play experience is already smoother bodes well for the game, and I look forward to playing it upon release!

Backed It! Beasts of Maravilla Island

I am forever looking for the next deeply chill game to add to my library for days when I just want to relax and not think too hard. I’m also kind of a sucker for games where taking pictures is the main way of interacting with the world, despite the fact that my IRL cameras mostly collect dust these days. So when I stumbled across Beasts of Maravilla Island on Kickstarter, I didn’t even hesitate.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that a meager $5 pledge gets a digital copy for either PC or Switch, and that the game is anticipated to release before the end of the year. Sure, Kickstarter is always kind of a risk, but I’ve pledged quite a bit more for projects that I was less excited about.

There is a demo of Beasts of Maravilla Island currently available over on Itch.io, so even though I’d already backed the project, I decided to give it a whirl. It’s a little glitchy at the moment, but it’s also adorable and delightful, and it just made me more excited for the full game.

There’s some light puzzle-solving, but mostly, you are expected to wander around and take photos of all the creatures of Maravilla Island. You have your grandfather’s journal, full of his observations and drawings of the local wildlife, and you have a photo album to fill (as well as a checklist to help you fill it).

Ideally, the developers would like to release Beasts of Maravilla Island for free, but they haven’t made a final determination of the release price – it may end up being more than the $5 you’d get it for by supporting the campaign. They have already reached their Kickstarter goal, but they’re just over a week in, so there’s plenty of time to back this one if you’re so inclined. I can’t wait to see how it all comes together!

The Nope List – Steam Game Festival

With the impressive number of demos on offer during the Steam Game Festival, there was just no way to play everything that looked good, but boy, did I try. All told, I managed to download and play 30 demos during the 6 day long event.

The games in this post are ones that intrigued me enough to try out, but for one reason or another, didn’t quite grab me the way I had hoped. With one notable exception, I didn’t think any of these games were so deeply flawed as to be irredeemable – they just weren’t for me.

I previously wrote about the demos for BattleCakes, Lumberhill, and Paradise Killer, but decided to keep the rest all together in this post.


Anomaly Hunter – Estimated Release Date Q4 2020

A time-travel hidden object game that had me stumped more often than not. You’re tasked with finding the things that went wrong and fixing them, jumping back and forth in time to do so. Definitely could use a more robust hint system, especially at the start of the game when it relies far too much on the player comprehending how everything works. I like the idea, and there’s plenty of time for the devs to put some more polish on it.

Potentia – Estimated Release Date November 2020

I have been known to play a post-apocalyptic action adventure game a time or two, and I liked the look of this one. The environmental graphics so far are gorgeous, but the actual people inside the world are a little on the blocky side. The voice acting is downright awful, and the controls are not as smooth as I would like them to be. I died more times in the demo than I care to admit (apparently, fire hurts), but the saving grace for me is a piece of music that was part of a cut scene for the intro level was so beautiful and perfect. I’m not sure if I’ll buy the game, but I’m damn sure going to keep an eye out for the soundtrack.

Model Builder – Estimated Release Date Q4 2020

I am absolutely not the target demographic for this one, but I just had to see it. Virtually building models is an idea that has so much potential for the right audience, and it seems to capture that pretty perfectly. You need to cut the pieces from the sprues, then put them together piece by piece, just like you would an actual model. It looks like the modeling desk enthusiasts would kill for, and I can see this just being a meditative experience for folks who love this sort of thing but don’t have the time, space, or money to be able to do the real thing.

Imagine Lifetimes – Estimated Release Date September 25, 2020

This one felt like more of an experience than a game, despite the inclusions of some clever mini-games in between making choices. I think the play through I did got stuck at the end, as all I could do was click the light on and off, but there didn’t seem to be any sort of progress after that point. Although the demo is supposed to have 9 different endings, I lacked any enthusiasm to go through the early stages of just blindly picking things more than once.

Grounded – Estimated Release Date July 28, 2020

I didn’t actually expect this one to blow my skirt up, but it’s absolutely visually stunning, and absolutely not the game play style I gravitate towards. If you’re a fan of first person melee combat, base building, and survival mechanics, though, this looks like it’s going to be a winner. I just got eaten by bugs because of course I did. I do have to give bonus points for the relatively in-depth accessibility options and the arachnophobia warning.

A Little Shop in Squirrel Town – Estimated Release Date August 6, 2020

This one gave me some Stardew Valley vibes, and I would have liked to check it out, but sadly, the demo wasn’t available in English (although according to the Steam page, the final game will be).

UEDI: Shadow of the Citadel – Estimated Release Date Q1 2021

I didn’t not like this one, it just felt kind of average. The movement controls were a little less tight than I wanted, the shooting was good enough, and I liked the aesthetic. But the writing (or translating, I’m not sure) wasn’t great, and there was nothing that made me desperately want to play more. I just felt like I was playing some pretty but generic shooter, and I didn’t much care about what was going on.

Unforgotten – Estimated Release Date Autumn 2020

If I wasn’t sure before, I am now – I am so very much over the Tinder-style swiping in games. It makes even less sense when there’s a lot of “cards” that are exposition instead of choices, and timed events where you have to make a decision almost as quickly as you can read the card. The story seemed interesting enough, but the vehicle they chose for it is a huge turn off for me. To top it all off, the translation work was mediocre at best.

Lord Winklebottom Investigates – Estimated Release Date Q1 2021

Probably not a game I would pick up for myself (and I strongly doubt the comparisons to the Danganronpa games that Steam is implying in the “similar to games you’ve played” area), but looks like a delightful comedic point-and-click mystery. I felt clever when I figured out the puzzles (ah, adventure game logic), but as the demo still lacks a hint system, I didn’t get very far at all. I loved the look and sound of the game, and I can see it being a hit with adventure game lovers.

Just Die Already – Estimated Release Date Summer 2020

At least for me, this one is just too much. Super gory sandbox with a neat (if dystopian) concept – perform challenges to finance your retirement living expenses. Pretty much the first thing I did was decapitate myself on a ceiling fan, and it didn’t get less messy from there. This one would probably be more fun as a sort of perverse party game, but I think I’ll stick with the devs earlier title – Goat Simulator – if I want pure mayhem.

Lovingly Evil – Estimated Release Date Sometime in 2020

Nope, I still mostly don’t care for dating sims. Sure, it’s cool you get to chat with Satan, and I appreciate the inclusion of a few mini-games, but I’m just not that into the idea of a super-villain conference where I can learn how to be more evil and try to pick someone up. It seemed polished enough and probably will be good for fans of the genre, which I keep forgetting that I am not.

Mr. Prepper – Estimated Release Date Unknown

This one feels a little too possible, especially if you’re living in the U.S. right now, and I was vaguely uncomfortable with the meme-y-ness of it. That said, the game play felt pretty solid – follow your plan, turn household items into materials to build your bunker, or trade and forage for supplies. Basic crafting & placing of objects was serviceable. Movement was a little janky, but having to remember to hide the evidence of your subversive activities was a nice addition. If I’m completely honest, I might have been more jazzed for this one had I played it earlier in the week – as is, I am content to say it’s interesting and move on.

Nuts – Estimated Release Date 2021

The idea of a squirrel surveillance simulator is intriguing, but the game play is kind of tedious. I think I’d have more patience with it if the day time color scheme was a little less headache-inducing, and/or if there was a “return to trailer” button once all your cameras were placed. It’s still got a while before the planned release, so maybe they’ll add in some alternate color schemes, which would solve my biggest issue with this one.

Freshly Frosted – Estimated Release Date 2020

An adorable if somewhat simplistic puzzler about automating donut production. The demo features only one relentlessly happy tune which started to grate within the first handful of puzzles. This game was designed for controller input, but feels like something better suited for touch screen on a mobile device. Without knowing the price point and the total number of planned puzzles, it’s hard to say whether or not it would be worth the purchase, but I have plenty of simple puzzlers in the backlog already.

What I Wish Listed – Steam Game Festival

With the impressive number of demos on offer during the Steam Game Festival, there was just no way to play everything that looked good, but boy, did I try. All told, I managed to download and play 30 demos during the 6 day long event.

The games in this post are ones I either added to my wish list or that I confirmed belonged on my wish list after playing the demo. These are just quick looks – there was no way I could do a full post even on the my favorites of the festival.

However, I did manage a few more in-depth looks – here’s a list, in case you missed them:

For the rest, I wanted to at least write a quick paragraph about why they made the cut for me.

The Eldritch Zookeeper – Estimated Release Date TBD

This one has been low-key on my radar for so long, I honestly thought it was one of those really cool concepts that ended up dead in the water. I was absolutely thrilled to see it show up with a demo. That said, a five minute video tour, no matter how cool it looks, is not a demo. Still, I know this is a game I will like, and it was enough progress to hold its spot on my wish list for awhile longer. I’d really like to see this one go into early access if that’s what’s needed for the solo dev to get it done. 

LOVE: A Puzzle Box Filled With Stories – Estimated Release Date 2020

Gorgeous art, gorgeous music, and a heartbreaking tale told through photographs. The demo only had one puzzle, but it brought tears to my eyes. The fact that the developer contributed their previous game (Word Forward) to the Itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality just makes me more eager to throw some money at them.

Cartel Tycoon – Estimated Release Date Late 2020

I’m kind of a sucker for tycoon games in general, as well as economic-focused city builders, and Cartel Tycoon definitely has aspects of both. Its logistics are kind of fiddly at the moment – when placing buildings it’s hard to tell where you need to connect the roads in order for them to function appropriately. The foundation in solid, and with months to go before the estimated release date, I expect the fiddly bits will get cleaned up quite a bit. It’s not so unique that I feel like I’ll need to buy it immediately on release, but it looks well thought out.

Circadian City – Estimated Release Date July 24, 2020

This game was on my wish list already, but actually trying out the demo wasn’t necessarily a good thing. Character customization isn’t implemented yet, and a lot of the basic systems (like working in your office or at your home) are completely non-functional. I know the devs are planning an Early Access period, but it doesn’t even feel ready for that. I’m a little disappointed – the concept is enough to keep on keeping an eye on it, but the reviews are going to have to be pretty good to convince me to pull the trigger. If they don’t have a whole lot more going on that what you get in the demo, that’s unlikely to happen. If the game isn’t ready, I hope they at least push back the EA release.

Sovereign’s Will – Estimated Release Date Fall 2020

I’m grateful to Paeroka for pointing this one out – it totally flew under my radar. I found it interesting enough to keep an eye on, especially since the demo was clear that the English translation isn’t yet final. As it stands right now, I found too much of the text to be poorly worded, and it kept me from truly being immersed in the game. However, I do love a text heavy strategy game, and this one has a lot of potential if they can hammer out the finer details.

Sayri: The Beginning – Estimated Release Date 2020

An absolutely gorgeous puzzle adventure that is focused on helping and healing instead of killing and looting. After crashing on a foriegn planet, you must explore the world and help the creatures you come across to learn about your new home. In a lot of ways, it reminded me of Ode, which I loved despite being so far outside of my normal comfort zone, and I think I’ll love this as well. There seems to be no fail state, and the themes of friendship and cooperation make me think this is going to be the ultimate feel-good game. The demo recommends a controller, but I had no issues using keyboard and mouse.

The Final Earth 2 – Estimated Release Date Q3 2020

This was the very last demo I tried, because I was afraid that if it wasn’t timed, I’d lose hours to it. It’s an absolutely delightful little city builder, oozing charm, and easy to learn. With both story mode & sandbox mode planned, this is going to be the perfect chill out and play game. Provided the price point stays reasonable (currently, the dev is estimating around $10 USD), this will be a release day pickup for me.

Ruinarch Demo (Steam Games Festival)

If you’ve played Rimworld in the past, and thought it was entirely too kind and gentle, you might want to take a look at Ruinarch. This demonic invasion sim is delightfully evil, and packed full of different ways to reach the end goal of wiping out entire villages.

Ruinarch is less about building things – the build mechanics are super simple – and more about inflicting torture and insanity on the people in the world. Sure, you can just flat our murder them, but if your threat level increases too much, you’ll find yourself facing down a host of angels bent on sending you back to the hell dimension from whence you came.

It would seem that it’s far more beneficial taking the subtle route when possible. There are multiple ways to turn you villagers against each other – make notes of their relationships to one another, and you will soon be able to sow enough discord to have them taking each other out. Steal items from one villager, and plant them in the home of another. Whisper in a villager’s ear what his neighbor is up to. Click on tables to poison the food there.

Or if that’s not your style, summon demons to attack villagers directly, drop meteors on their houses, and set oh-so-many things (including people) on fire. However, make sure to watch your energy and pick up chaos orbs or you’ll find yourself without any powers before you know it.

It’s hard to judge how balanced things are while learning mechanics in a short demo, but if Maccima Games can get that right, I can see getting hundreds of hours out of a game like Ruinarch, After only 20 minutes of play time, it’s gone from something that wasn’t even on my radar to something I hope to be picking up as soon as it launches into Early Access.

Ruinarch is currently expected to enter Early Access sometime in August 2020.

Trainwreck! – Streamer Life Simulator

Ok folks, I don’t even know where to start with this one. So I’m going to state the obvious – impulse buying is bad! Impulse downloading of free demos can also be bad. However, neither of those is likely to be quite as bad as the Streamer Life Simulator demo.

Become one of the most popular people in the world, starting from scratch. Improve your character and buy yourself new equipments. Move from your bad neighborhood and settle in new neighborhood with stronger internet infrastructure. Create the computer with the features you want and start streaming. You can chat with your followers and collect donations. You can invest with the money you earn and increase your money. By following the new games and events. Buy new games. By playing the right game at the right time. Let new people discover you. Prove yourself to people and win tournament prizes by participating in tournaments of popular games. You can interact with your environment and do some different work to earn additional money.


It sounds ok, doesn’t it? I wasn’t expecting the all-time best simulator ever, but I am just boggled here. The little bit of the core mechanics I played around with were fine – set up your desk, put your PC together, set up your streaming account, and buy your first game. A little fiddly, but no big deal. Possibly also a whole heck of a lot of copyright infringement, but … eh, satire, I guess?

While waiting for my newly purchased game to download on the world’s slowest internet, I decided to go exploring outside a bit, and well, now I understand why the internet sucks.

WHAT IS THIS EVEN?

Apparently, something very very bad indeed has happened out here, and I no longer care about Steem or starting my career in streaming, I want to know what’s up with the world because I am no longer expecting the microphone and camera I ordered to ever show up because this is some post-apocalyptic nonsense right here.

Since nothing in the outside world is interactable, and after looking around the whole neighborhood, my game is STILL downloading, I decide I’ve probably seen more than enough.


Better late than never, I take a glance at other games put out by the same dev, and it all makes just a little more sense now.


Hey, I understand that not all art is created equal, and I although I might criticize details, I hate calling any kind of art bad. But the Streamer Life Simulator demo was definitely some kind of trainwreck, and it was one I had to escape by force closing the program through Task Manager.

Quick Look – Barn Finders Demo

When we started subscribing to PhiloTV, we indulged in a lot of reality TV we didn’t have access to previously. That included way too many seasons of American Pickers – sure, it was mostly background, but it was also really fascinating to see what kind of junk people hold onto, and how valuable it can actually be.

I am not going to tell you that Barn Finder is “American Pickers: The Video Game”, but it comes pretty darn close. You get leads, explore abandoned properties, bid on storage unit auctions, and then do your best to scavenge every bit of value out of the trash other people left behind.

Each location shows you a progress bar of how many collectibles you still have left to find in a given location, which is immensely satisfying to the completionist in me – no questioning if you’ve moused over absolutely everything in a given location. While you’re out looking for treasure, you might as well recycle the valuable trash you come upon – it’s not a lot of money, but at least in the early game, three dollars is three dollars more than you had. In fact, I wasn’t able to even go to the first scavenging site until I managed to sell more than $50 worth of valuable trash on my home lot – which mostly consisted of the beer bottles hanging around in my room.

Although you won’t be haggling with the owners of the items you’re scavenging, you do get to bid on auctions, and haggle with customers in your shop. You’ll also need money for tools (which can be upgraded), additional display space for your shop, and building cleaning, repair and assembly stations. Overall, Barn Finders feels like living the picker life, even if it’s a little heavy on the caricature.

… and then the aliens show up.

The demo includes a couple of days worth of play, but if you like it, it is available for purchase now. Barn Finders currently has a 30% price cut through July 9, but even the $20 base price isn’t outrageous for an expected 12-15 hours worth of content. This is the second game I’ve played during the Steam Games Festival I’m planning on picking up in the very near future.

Three Demos That Didn’t Convince Me

Not every game is going to be for me, and I am 100% okay with that. That said, I like to try things that might be outside of my comfort zone to see if I can instead expand my comfort zone. All three of these games looked to be if not precisely in my wheelhouse, at least wheelhouse-adjacent, so I decided to give the demos a whirl.

All three were interesting in their own ways, but none of them left me needing more.

BattleCakes

A turn-based RPG that’s both sweet & salty.

Turn-based combat isn’t my favorite, but given the right packaging, I can get behind it. BattleCakes has you playing as a party of sentient cupcakes (only one of which is customizable). Fighting is not necessarily the solution to all your problems, though – you can use friendly moves in combat to see if perhaps you can win the baddies over to your side instead of beating them up.

While I appreciate the aesthetic, and the puns, and the super-snarkiness of the dialogue in the (very short) demo, the combat – for me – was lackluster. You cannot choose your class (or the class of your party members), and the abilities seem to be hit once hard, hit twice less hard, or hit a bunch of times like a Wet Noodle. I’m sure there’s strategy there, but I wasn’t feeling it.

BattleCakes is slated to release sometime in 2021.


Lumberhill

Co-op lumberjacking in chaotic situations.

I might be more jazzed about Lumberhill if I had a bunch of friends who were also into this sort of chaotic game style. It’s reminiscent of Overcooked, in that you have a job to do, and everything (probably including the other players) seem completely determined to get in your way and keep you from doing it.

I must have fallen off the edge of the map about 5 times in the tutorial level, which was about half a dozen times less than I set myself on fire. This was not due to me trying to solo a co-op game – this was due to the movement being a little persnickety and the fire being far larger than it appears.

I did manage 2 out of 3 stars on the first real level.

Obviously, a game that’s designed for multiplayer shenanigans is likely going to be a whole lot less fun solo, so I don’t blame the game at all here. In fact, I can see this being hilarious with a group.

Lumberhill is due out in September 2020.


Paradise Killer

You are pulled from exile to investigate murder on a dead world, but nothing is as simple as it seems – or is it?

Now this one I really wanted to fall in love with. I was expecting some Danganronpa-style mystery, and I was prepared for the weirdness that would come alongside it. But this? This might be too weird. Like, this makes Monokuma look positively mundane.

I thought I had the gist of things pretty well in hand, until I started talking to people and wow. I’m sure there is some scathing social commentary here to accompany your murder mystery, but I just kept feeling like I wasn’t getting it. Which is too bad, because the investigation mechanics look really solid, and I like the idea that if you build a convincing enough case, you can convict anyone of the crime…

… but that isn’t at all the same thing as solving it, necessarily.

I’m not ruling out playing Paradise Killer in the future – it may just be that this is the type of game that requires a specific mood to really get into. I also was trying to race the clock – since the demo was timed, I wanted to see as much as I could, so I didn’t spend too much time poring over the information I’d acquired before moving on.

For me, this is still intriguing, but nothing I’m going to rush to buy on release – more likely, I’ll check out the reviews on launch and wait for a sale.

Paradise Killer has no release date available on Steam, but is expected to come out sometime in the Summer of 2020 according to its website.