Steam Next Fest – June 2022 Edition – Part Three

This iteration of the Steam Next Fest is just about over, and I couldn’t resist sneaking in a couple of extra demos before they disappeared again. I had six left from my original batch of downloads, and nabbed a couple more last minute additions that I missed on my first pass through. This brings my total demos played this time around to 22.

Although I’ve enjoyed most of what I’ve played this time around, I can never seem to resist saving quite a few of the best for last. In case you missed the rest of my super quick reviews from the past week, part one is here, and part two is over here. If you were hoping to play any demos yourself, don’t dally – at the time this post goes live, there’ll be just over one day left in the event!


There was a lot of things to like about Dragon Forge, but the actual game play of it is very much not for me. I knew as soon as the game explained that I would continue earning resources while the game was closed, that it was not going to fit the way I play games. It is very pretty, though, and if you don’t mind some real time mechanics & a bit of a mobile game feel to your games, this might turn out to be pretty great.


While I didn’t dislike Dome Keeper, I tend to prefer my games to give me a little more direction than this one did. Since it appears to be a controller-required title, I played the demo on the Steam Deck, and it runs perfectly well. I’m still not sure what my actual goal was, but I like the loop of dig for resources to upgrade your base, and defend your base from the bad guys. It’s not a game I’m going to be in a rush to buy, however.


Farlanders is another game that seems to want to err on the side of explaining too little rather than being overly hand-holdy. It looks great, but it was just a little bit obtuse for me to get a good feel for the gameplay. You’re tasked with setting up a colony on Mars, and believe me when I say the planet’s surface is not inclined to cooperate with you. I like the idea of having terraforming as a key game play component; I just wish it were a little bit more transparent how exactly it works. I think this one might take a little time to warm up to, but I can also see myself losing hours upon hours to it.


I played the demo for The Spirit & the Mouse to completion, and it was everything I wanted it to be. It’s a puzzle adventure game with collectibles, and light platforming mechanics, and it’s highly likely to give you a warm fuzzy feeling. This one recommends a controller, but I didn’t struggle too much on mouse & keyboard. If this game were already available, it’d be in my shopping cart by now.


I can see a lot of potential in Above Snakes, but it definitely feels a bit rough around the edges right now. The core game play of explore, harvest, and build with survival mechanics is great, and the gimmick of building your world one tile at a time is fantastic. However, resource balance is not great in the demo build – one quest requires you gathering three of a specific resource to upgrade your workbench, and I didn’t encounter even one in my play time. Hunger & thirst feel a little overtuned right now as well, but assuming they work those kinks out, the bones of the game are solid.


Colony builders have just gotten adorable with Catizens. The current demo build showcases the objectives based campaign game play, and although it’s feels a little too micro-management heavy, it was enjoyable enough to play. Your starter cats have important jobs, and all your recruits have their own quirks. Right now, it looks like it’s aiming to land on the chiller, more wholesome end of the colony management spectrum, and that might just be enough to set it apart.


Potion Permit may just do for alchemy what Stardew Valley did for farming. Gather ingredients to brew potions to help a small town who’ve had a previous bad experience with chemists from the big city, and maybe make some friends along the way. The potion making mechanic is an untimed packing puzzle, rather than a set list of required ingredients, which I appreciated. Nearly an hour went by in a flash, and the demo feels polished enough that I wouldn’t be surprised if this title drops in a full release rather than early access.


No need to consider if I want to buy Roots of Pacha – I backed this one on Kickstarter! The game is currently already in beta, and is expected to hit full release before the end of the year. The hook for this life sim is that you’re part of a primitive tribe, and the members of your community will come to you for help with their ideas for progress, enabling the player to determine the way the society develops. You won’t be running to the shop for supplies, though, so plan to forage and craft whatever you might need.


I’m fairly sure at this point, my wish list contains more unreleased games that ones that are already out, and Next Fest certainly didn’t help with that problem! Even sticking mainly to my favorite genres, there were just too many great games out there to try out.

Did any of the Next Fest demos blow you away this time around?

Steam Next Fest – June 2022 Edition – Part Two

My main issue with these virtual game conferences being so damned short is that I find I either need to be really particular and miss out on stuff, or I’m going to end up playing some demos when I’m just not feeling them. Which, I suppose, is also an issue with non-virtual game conferences, but it somehow feels worse to miss stuff when you can play at home in your pajamas instead of waiting in line all day.

This batch maybe didn’t get me quite as excited as they might have on a less brain-foggy sort of day, but I also think I was successful at figuring out which ones I would be most likely to enjoy.


Zombie Cure Lab is a game I think I’d really enjoy if I were in the mood to figure things out. As is, the tutorial could use tweaking – it dumps the information, and then you seem to need to close the tutorial box to progress. I got hung up on the early building, and realized I’d probably need to restart, but I liked that it combines both pre-fab buildings you drop down with some you need to actually design & build one wall segment at a time. I’m not 100% sure about the zombie-cure premise, but I’ll keep an eye on it as it gets closer to release.


Paper Trail is every bit as lovely as I had hoped, but it leans far more towards pure puzzle gameplay and away from a compelling story to go alongside the beautiful art. Unfortunately, it didn’t take too long for me to get stuck – I’m not sure if I just couldn’t figure the puzzle out at that point, or if I did something to soft-lock my progress. Changing things via folding the background felt great, though.


Alchemia: Creatio Ex Nihilo feels like the next step in the evolution of the deck-building roguelite. Instead of drawing cards, you draw elements from your pouch, and use those elements to craft spells. I played through one run (which ended in my death), and while I’m not sure how much staying power the gimmick is going to have, I was glad to see there’s some meta-progression. I also really liked the spell book mechanic; I feel like there’s probably some benefit to memorizing combos if you play a lot, but you can also just have the game remind you of what the spells you know during a run look like.


Thus far, Spirittea was the biggest let down for me this time. Everything about the control scheme was completely unintuitive, and having to WASD my way through an onscreen keyboard while I was playing with both a mouse and an actual keyboard kind of ruined the character creation for me. The opening was super slow, and when I couldn’t find the destination of my very first task, I gave up in annoyance. This might be a great title for someone with more patience than I have, but the demo experience completely turned me off rather than left me wanting more.


On the other hand, I played the Escape Academy demo right up until the end. I managed to get through the first three escape room puzzles, and I thought they were clever, if not particularly challenging. Price relative to length is probably going to be the biggest factor in whether or not I pick this one up early or wait for a discount as I don’t expect it’ll be very replayable.


Lonesome Village feels like it has a lot of potential, if it can manage to get out of its own way. Everyone has disappeared, and it’s up to you to rescue the whole town from a creepy puzzle tower utilizing a few tools and the power of friendship. I expect the puzzles to become more cerebral as you climb higher, but you’ll need to take frequent breaks from your mission to help out the folks you’ve already rescued, and to find the resources the tower requires of you to progress. It’s a great concept, and the artwork is fantastic, but the controls are a bit clunky, and everything feels like it’s running at half speed.

Steam Next Fest – June 2022 Edition – Part One

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.

Steam Next Fest – February 2022 Edition

Yes, I realize I’m late, but better late than never! The February 2022 edition of the Steam Next Fest ran from February 21st through February 28th, and featured a whopping 628 demos. Usually, I spend a few hours poring over pages of available demos and carefully curating what I want to try out. This time, I went primarily for games already on my wish list, and plucked a few gems from fellow bloggers Magi and Paeroka, and decided that would be more than enough for me this go around with everything else currently on my plate. I followed my typical pattern of playing the demos from the ones I was least sure of my interest in to the ones I was most looking forward to in order to keep myself motivated through all eight titles.


I think the idea of a word game roguelite is fantastic, but there was something about Writer’s Block that didn’t grab ahold of me. I played through the first few battles before I realized that letters didn’t need to be touching to be used, and I think that took the game from frustratingly difficult to perhaps a bit too easy. It may have been something I really got into if I were in a particular word-game sort of mood. I may have only played for a handful of minutes, but I did toss it on my wish list.


It hasn’t been too long since I was on a pretty significant simulator game kick, and I love photo-focused games, so Birding Simulator should have been a perfect fit for me. What threw me off was the heavy story-focus – not at all what I expect from a realistic sim title! I got frustrated when I was still in the tutorial section (at least I think I was) when I couldn’t manage to find the correct bird to study. For a game with so many aspects that are right up my alley, I’m afraid that this one probably isn’t going to be for me.


I realize it’s weird to say that a game I played for less than five minutes was one of my favorites, but I really liked Robo Maestro. More of a toy than a game, really, you’re really just playing around with music by pressing buttons in its main Maestro mode. In creative mode, you can really set up just about any kind of combination of sounds you like. Depending on release price, this could be a day one purchase for me.


Dragon’s Wandering Tavern feels like the sort of game I could absolutely devour, but some kind of quirky controls mean I’m not completely sold just yet. The retro art style takes a bit of getting used to as well, but I love the whole idea of wandering around a cursed forest, foraging, trading, cooking, and helping people. Hopefully, it’ll smooth out a bit as it comes closer to release, and there’ll be another demo to try. Otherwise, I’ll be waiting for some reviews to hit, but I’m definitely going to keep an eye on this one.


I like the idea of taking the life & farming sim formula and putting a science-y twist on it, but, for me, the demo for Research Story felt a little bland. The graphical style didn’t do anything for me, and I had difficult navigating the map and distinguishing the low-poly character sprites from the background and from each other. I didn’t encounter anything deal-breaking, but I also didn’t find it so compelling as to make it a must buy for me.


Stardeus is where my plan went off the rails completely. I usually try to spend no more than 20 minutes or so per demo (especially when I put off playing them all to the night before the end of the festival), and I spent almost a full hour on this one. It already feels like a pretty fleshed out colony sim, and it drops you right into the middle of a crisis – your ship has been damaged and you must set the robots to fixing it before all the colonists wake from cryo-sleep and die from exposure. If I didn’t still have two more demos to get through – and my most anticipated two at that – I could have lost multiple hours on the demo alone. This is a likely day one purchase for me.


It already has a place on my most anticipated games I’m expecting to release this year, but I probably didn’t give World Turtles demo a fair shake. I did find the building controls a bit clunky, but nothing that would dissuade me from playing it when it releases. I’ve been really craving a good, peaceful city builder, and I still expect this will fit the bill nicely.


I finished up my demo-palooza with a quick look at Fata Deum. I’m already full invested in this one – I backed it on Kickstarter what feels like ages ago. So far, the mechanics seem solid, even though the controls are still a little finicky. I expect the learning curve to be pretty steep, but honest-to-goodness god games are such a rarity, and this one seems to really get what makes them work. I didn’t want to get too involved in the demo, but I am definitely still very much looking forward to this one.

Steam Next Fest – October 2021 Edition

When virtual game festivals became the big thing last year, I jumped in with both feet. The first few, I made an attempt to try out absolutely everything that even vaguely interested me. After all, I loved the idea of having all these demos I could play right from my home computer! No crowds, no travel, no waiting in line.

And obviously, it something that has been working out – at least well enough – for the developers, because it feels like these events are happening more often, and each time, there are oodles of games that had managed to fly beneath my radar. However, my demo-consumption pace turned out to be unsustainable. I went from choosing upwards of 20 demos to try out, to restricting myself to a dozen, and finally, in this iteration, choosing only a handful. One seemed to me to be broken, which left me with only five games to report on, but on the upside, all five were pretty great in their own way.


Beasties was actually on my wishlist prior to this iteration of the Steam Next Fest, but to my knowledge, this was the first time a demo had been available. It plays a bit like a fusion of the Pokemon games and Puzzle Quest – instead of your standard turn-based monster battles, you get turn-based match-3 battles instead. The demo is short – my 21 minutes played saw the available content through to the end, but I like the idea, and this one stayed on my wishlist.


Prose & Codes is a game of cryptograms – classic letter substitution puzzles. However, it takes its phrases from the pages of classic literature that is in the public domain and available to read via Project Guttenburg. In fact, there are links directly in the game that will take you right to the book in question, which is honestly pretty great. Even better, a portion of the game’s sales will support Project Guttenberg. The demo only had a handful of puzzles, but the full game is supposed to have over 350, so – at least for me – price point is probably going to be the determining factor of if I grab this one right away, or wait a bit. Nothing groundbreaking here, but it is the only demo I went back into after closing it the first time. I do like a good puzzle.


If you ever wanted to play a time-management game in the universe of Sweeney Todd, you’ll want to keep an eye on this one. You control both the husband and wife team, who have just opened up a combination tailor shop and pub. He kills customers, tosses their bodies in the basement, and repurposes their clothing for sale, while she grinds the meat, cooks the pies, and serves the customers. In its current state, Ravenous Devils suffers from some translation issues, and it was unclear from the demo what the failure conditions might be. Still, it’s definitely a unique game idea, and I’ll be interested to see the finished product.


I might have passed over this one entirely if I hadn’t read Magi’s thoughts on it in his second Next Fest review post, and I’m so glad I did because this one went immediately on the wish list. You wouldn’t think a game about identifying plants and reading letters would be quite so riveting, but I was all in from the get go. Primarily, it’s a puzzle game – you need to figure out which plant is which from customer descriptions while also unraveling a much larger mystery. Only the first few days of gameplay are available in the demo, but if it maintains the level of interesting things happening, it’ll definitely be one I’ll struggle to stop playing.


Wytchwood is a crafting-focused adventure puzzle game. You play as a witch, who awakens from a nap to find a goat has eaten her recipe book, and it just gets weirder from there. The early game (and store page) hints at some farming-sim type content, but I mostly picked up ingredients from the ground, used my special sight to figure out environmental puzzles, and wandered around, gawking at the gorgeous art work. Unfortunately, the release year for this has already been pushed back a few times, but the demo felt both playable and rather polished, so I’m going to remain optimistic that this game isn’t too far out now.


Unfortunately, I didn’t get around to trying these demos out until the Festival was just about over, however, I’m glad I found the time to play this handful of games, because every one of them now has a spot on my wish list. However, I’m hoping that some of these demos will stick around for a bit after the Festival’s official end!

Steam Game Festival – Autumn 2020 Edition

I’ve really been enjoying the opportunity to sample all kinds of demos during online game conferences, but man, I never knew they happened quite so often! For this one, I decided to choose a day, and power through all the demos I could, to better simulate that con experience, and write up a few thoughts on what I’ve tried out.

I spent most of Saturday playing demos, and managed to play twelve different ones to the point where either (a) the demo ended or (b) I had seen enough to make up my mind. In the end, five of the twelve ended up on my wish list.


Watch Me Stream My Mental Breakdown – Estimated Release Date 2020

Warning: If you’re on Discord while playing this, your friends might contact you to express some … concern.

I know I’ve been complaining about the glut of deck-building card games, but here it works. What I’m less sure of is the tone – the whole concept of making your living as a streamer is heavily ridiculed by, well, everyone in the game except the player’s character. Gameplay is fairly polished, but the balance feels off in the early game (you will go into debt – deep into debt). This one didn’t earn a place on my wish list, but I’ll probably check on it a few months after release to see what people are saying about it.


Milo and the Magpies – Estimated Release Date Q1 2021

Beautiful graphics, lovely music, and unfortunately, I found it really irritating to play. The demo does not explain the controls, and it doesn’t seem to behave quite like a point and click game, although I think that was the design intention. I managed to pass through the first yard, mostly due to randomly trying to make things work, and got stumped (and unable to even move) in the second. I think this game probably belongs on the spectrum between point and click adventure games and puzzle games, and having it marketed as a hidden object game is a bit disingenuous.


Zoo Economy – Estimated Release Date Q2 2021

This one is an adorable little economic simulation focused on the breeding and trading of animals. The demo includes a multi-level tutorial, which is good, and the game play loop seems solid. With both a campaign mode and a sandbox mode, my concern with this one is that the concept is too niche to be successful at a reasonable price point. Unlike a lot of zoo-focused simulations, you’re looking at lists and budgets instead of watching cute animals be cute. This one aligns closely with my tastes, so I’m adding it to my wish list, but price point is going to be the biggest factor in whether or not I pick it up.


Supermarket Shriek – Estimated Release Date October 23, 2020

I think we should just file this one under “What was I thinking?” Now, I’m not saying the game itself is bad – in fact, it looks like it could be a lot of wacky fun when played in co-op. It’s just not at all for me. I’m not a huge fan of racing games and obstacle courses when the controls are tight – this one felt super floaty (which I’m sure is great when the goal is adding to chaos), and the screaming would drive me crazy in no time. I’m just not the intended audience for this game.


Strobophagia: Rave Horror – Estimated Release Date October 28, 2020

This one is creepy and stunning and – at least as someone who doesn’t play a lot of horror – pretty damn unique. I’ve added it to my wish list, but to be honest, this might be the type of game I enjoy watching more than playing. I can see myself getting frustrated by the trial-and-error aspects of the puzzles because the game doesn’t give you any indication of what the items are you’re picking up. I knew the answer to the first riddle, I just couldn’t find the thing I needed (despite believing I had it more than once). As a freshman effort from a small development team, this looks and sounds amazing, but I’m not 100% sold on how it actually plays.


Dealer’s Life 2 – Estimated Release Date Q4 2020

I’m usually into anything that let’s you buy stuff, sell stuff, and negotiate for better deals, but I found Dealer’s Life 2 to just be underwhelming. You get a pitifully small number of transactions a day, and it all plays the same without ever giving you any real feedback on the choices you’re making. I guess it could make for a fine little timewaster, but I would rather replay something like Pickers or Barn Finders with a little bit of variety to break up the monotony.


This is the Zodiac Speaking – Estimated Release Date October 15, 2020

I really wanted to be captivated by this one, but for me, it’s just missing the mark. Everything feels ok; nothing feels great. I do appreciate the devs inclusion of a straight-up story mode for people who don’t want to deal with the stealth/combat part of the game play, but I don’t know that there’s enough left without that to pull you through the story. The demo was very slow paced, with really obvious puzzles and a rather awkward UI, and I didn’t particularly want to keep playing.


Scrapnaut – Estimated Release Date January 2021

This is probably going to be a really cool game, but it won’t be a really cool game that I play. I never realized how much movement controls factor into my first impression of a game, and although WASD & mouse-facing sounds pretty standard, it felt super awkward. I also tend to prefer a slower introductory experience, even in a survival-style game. I got stuck on every landscape feature while trying to run away from an enemy I was unprepared to fight, which didn’t quite manage to kill me before lack of oxygen did. I think I was supposed to be able to reach the quest target safely, but since I missed a directional cue (if there was one), I ended up going the wrong way. I guess I want a little more hand-holding to help me get started, and have the difficulty slowly ramp up, and I don’t want the biggest enemy in the game to be the controls.


The Tenants – Estimated Release Date Q1 2021

Despite being absolutely right up my alley, I might have missed this one if Ctrl Alt Noob hadn’t give it a spin early this weekend. Despite the name, this seems to focus a whole lot more on doing renovation jobs than maintaining your own properties (at least in the early game, which is what you get in a demo). For me, that’s perfect. I really enjoy the chill gameplay loop of clean up / build / design / furnish. The time and budget constraints seem generous, allowing you to put your own touches on the requested renovations. I can see myself losing hours upon hours to this one. It’s absolutely going on my wish list!


Going Medieval – Estimated Release Date Late 2020 for Early Access

Full disclosure: this one was already on my wish list, although I don’t recall how I first discovered it, or honestly, even putting it there. Granted, my time with it was short, but I definitely got Rimworld vibes from it. For me, that’s a good thing, but I also have some concerns about the scope – it’s easy for developers to shoot for the moon, and very often, they miss. What they have so far looks promising, and this might even be an Early Access pick up for me, depending on the launch price.


Palindrome Syndrome Escape Room – Estimated Release Date October 14, 2020

I really like the concept of this one – it’s a sci-fi spin on The Room series style of game. The demo is very short, but I found every puzzle within it both satisfying and logical, and am intrigued by the smallest hints of the story. I’m always interested in a solid puzzler with no time limits and some nice window dressing, so I’ll definitely be checking this one out when it releases in a few days – whether I pick it up or not depends on if I feel the launch price is worth the 3-5 hours of play time the developers anticipate.


Tree House Survivors – Estimated Release Date TBA

I had saved this one for last, because I was probably the most excited about it, but it is – at best – half-baked. I actually think the graphical style is fantastic, but the tutorial is lacking (in fact, the store page tells you more than the tutorial seems to). The sheer number of people you have right off the bat is overwhelming, and no one is happy. It’s a frustrating place to have to start from. It looks like this is a solo dev project, and no where near being ready, so I’ll check back on it at a later date – possibly well after release – to see if they’ve managed to pull it off. Right now, it’s stuffed full of things that just don’t work right yet.

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!